Ted Mosby is the worst, and now, at last, we have scientific confirmation. The mopey protagonist of How I Met Your Mother may be at least partially at fault for your cynical view of love, and this is not meant as another knock on the disappointing series finale. (Okay, it’s not entirely meant as another knock on the disappointing series finale.) New research in an upcoming issue of Psychology of Popular Media Culture suggests that fans of sitcoms with romantic subplots, like HIMYM or The Big Bang Theory, are less likely to believe in the mushier, gushier aspects of love and romance.
In the study, University of Michigan researchers asked participants how regularly they watched sitcoms, rom-coms, and marriage-themed reality shows (like The Bachelor), and also how strongly they endorsed statements like “When you meet the right person, you know it almost immediately,” or “My ‘true love’ will be nearly perfect.” (Editors’ note: Barf.) And they found that people who watched more rom-coms and romantic reality TV shows tended to have stronger beliefs in romantic idealism; for romantic reality TV fans especially, the more they watched, the more strongly they believed in romance.
For sitcom fans, though, it was the opposite. The more sitcoms participants watched, the weaker their belief in romance tended to be, including the idea of soul mates, love at first sight, or the idea of a “perfect” true love. Even if we aren’t aware of it, the researchers argue, we internalize the messages we hear on TV or in films. Watching the often sweet but flawed relationships on HIMYM between Marshall and Lily or Ted and Robin (then Barney and Robin, and then back to Ted and Robin) doesn’t exactly support the idea that one’s “true love” is supposed to be nearly perfect, for one. And single people on sitcoms tend to have multiple romantic partners throughout a series, which doesn’t quite fit with the idea of soul mates.
The real-life implications here are mostly speculative, but romantics usually report happier, more committed relationships than their more realistic counterparts. (Self-fulfilling prophecies are funny like that.) In sum: Ted Mosby is the worst.