How I Met Your Mother – Who Was Ted Really Meant To End Up With: Tracy Or Robin?

Ted meeting Tracy for the first time.

After nine long seasons on CBS, How I Met Your Mother came to an end on March 31st 2014, revealing to audiences worldwide how Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and the mother of his children Tracy McConnell (Cristin Milioti) finally met. The finale sparked controversy as fans were disappointed with the highly anticipated series finale. Ted wraps up the story, revealing the mother has actually been dead for six years, and his children believe the reason he told this story was to get their permission to ask out Robin. Ted professes his love for Robin the same way he did when he first met her: standing under her apartment window holding the stolen blue French horn.

Since the beginning of the series and well past the finale, there has been the argument by fans of whom Ted was really meant to end up with. Who was ‘the one’ for Ted: Tracy or Robin? Who really was his soulmate? It has been four years since the finale premiered and I feel the heat has cleared to finally investigate this question fully.

Is It Really Ted Vs Robin?

How I Met Your Mother has always been a story hidden inside a story; a big misdirection. The title of the series alone leads audiences to believe that the entire focus will be on the mother, however, it’s more about the timing and the journey Ted has to go through and not meeting the mother. From the very first episode of the series, Ted is retelling this story after already loving and losing both Tracy and Robin; this information not revealed to the audience until the finale. Tracy and Robin both had different roles to play in Ted’s life, so let’s look into these deeper.

Within the first five minutes of the pilot, after expressing to the universe “Okay, I’m ready. Where is she?” Ted spots Robin on the other side of MacLaren’s bar. Future Ted’s voiceover together with present Ted’s fixed romantic gaze sets the tone for the rest of the series:

And there she was. It was like something out of an old movie. Where the sailor sees the girl across the crowded dance floor and turns to his buddy and says ‘see that girl? I’m gonna marry her someday’.”

Ted and Robin after their first date.

After Future Ted explains to his children “the true story” of how he met “Aunt Robin”, the idea of Robin being the mother is completely rejected. That did not mean, however, the idea of Ted and Robin was completely shut out. For nine seasons, Ted and Robin were one of TV’s biggest on again/off again couples, always being torn apart by bad timing, including all the way up to Robin’s wedding day when, hours before the wedding, she asked Ted to run away with her. Ted, who was still in love with her, knew this wasn’t meant to work out. Already accepting a job opportunity in Chicago, Ted finally decided to let go of Robin for good and leave New York City for a fresh start.

The moment Ted let Robin go, he met Tracy. Tracy had also been with someone she considered her ‘one’ before Ted, her late boyfriend Max. Episode 16 of Season 9 had Tracy show she believes “each of us only gets one” and she “got” hers already so she was on “permanent hiatus” in the “love department”. It wasn’t until she fully decided to let Max go that she met Ted. Unlike Ted and Robin who were always being torn apart by bad timing, Ted and Tracy’s paths have continually crossed for years before they even met each other, clearly fated to meet just at the right time. They were both at the same St. Patrick’s Day party, Ted accidentally lectured Tracy’s class on his first day at Columbia University, and Ted dated Tracy’s roommate. Tracy is Ted’s perfect woman: she played bass, loved the Renaissance fair, and they had the same goals and same dreams. They even named their daughter Penny after their love of coin collecting. The finale presented Ted and Tracy having a fulfilling marriage, raising two children, and growing older together madly in love. It then shows Ted realising he still has feelings for Robin, and Robin realising she still has feelings for Ted.

The first and last time Ted professed his love with the blue french horn.

The blue French horn was one of the biggest romantic symbols of the series. The horn represented “Ted’s eternal affection for Robin”. Josh Radnor who plays Ted believes it to be a symbol of “both romanticism and his [Ted’s] slight insanity” representing “the lengths to which he’ll go to win someone.” He can always go after the horn despite constantly losing it, mirroring how he always goes back to Robin. In contrast, the yellow umbrella represents the mother, love coming in unexpectedly through fate. Ted didn’t need to do anything to get the yellow umbrella. He physically found it after St. Patrick’s Day, but metaphorically it belongs to him, branded with – what he thought – were his initials ‘T.M’. Ted needed to perform a rain dance to win Robin, however, when he met Tracy it was already raining. Ted gave away the blue French horn but always went back to retrieve it. The umbrella found him, and when he ultimately lost it we see it blowing away, symbolising loss and moving on. They both symbolise his very different love stories: Robin’s which he controls, and Tracy’s which fate controls.

Who Was Ted Really Meant To End Up With?

To answer the question – to the best of anyone’s ability – of who Ted was really meant to end up with: both. The entire series would not make sense without ending up with both women. If Robin were Ted’s soul mate, the series would lose all meaning, however if Ted did not end up with Robin the series would also lose all meaning. Ted never would have met Tracy if it weren’t for Robin and Ted would never have ended up back with Robin if it weren’t for Tracy. Tracy was Ted’s soulmate and Robin is the love of his life. Neither of them are ‘the one’ because Ted was never meant to be with one or the other. For no matter how long, or how short a time, Ted’s destiny was to end up with both of them. The blue French horn led to the yellow umbrella. Ted letting go of Robin let to Tracy, and then letting go of Tracy led back to Robin.

How I Met Your Mother can be looked at from the angle of ‘what do you do after you’ve been with the one?’ Tracy believed her one was her late boyfriend Max, so for Tracy, Ted was her ‘after the one’. Ted always believed Robin was the one, so Tracy is Ted’s ‘after the one’. I, a fan of the series for years, have always sided with the argument that Tracy is Ted’s ‘the one’, but after looking deeply into it, my answer has changed.

As much as the finale will pain most fans, it did justice to the entire series, because Ted’s story has always been about Robin. It will always circle back around no matter how much time has passed and no matter how many women he dates. The title of the series alone is a misdirect, the viewers finding it hard to grasp the fact that future Ted’s happily-ever-after is not permanently with the mother of his child. But just like the series explores, that’s life. Tracy was the one for young Ted, the Ted who wanted children, a marriage, and a happily ever after. Robin was the one for future Ted: the Ted who had achieved his life goals. In the end, everyone ended up with who they were meant to be with. Tracy went back to Max, and Ted found his way back to Robin.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Contributing writer for The Artifice.

Want to write about TV or other art forms?

Create writer account


  1. I always thought Robin and Barney were meant to be together. During the first seasons, I always felt like they were so stupid for not realizing it. Then I remember that Barney wondered why he and Robin hadn’t hooked up, and Robin agreed that it was strange or something. That’s when I think I started liking them as a couple for real. And it was so darn cute in that fight episode when Barney pretended to have been in a fight so Robin would like him, hahah.

  2. Good read. Too often in life, people have dreams and wishes and expectations but it that doesn’t mean each of them is gonna come true.

  3. Lesley Wylie

    I think the moral of the story is that there is no “one”.

    • Something like that, yes. In May 2013, as soon as Ted finally lets Robin go, Tracy is the One, and she continues to be until Ted is ready to move on. In 2030, Ted has had his kids, Robin has had her career, Tracy has been gone for many years, and now Robin is the One.

      But after many years, it’s not possible to explain all that in the last few minutes of a show, and I think that’s why the finale was so poorly received.

  4. Harris Woo

    Ted always had to fight for Robin. He loved her, but their relationship never quite worked. With Tracy, it was just a perfect, sure thing. I think the finale is telling us that there are two kinds of relationships in the world: the ones that you fight for and the ones that are simply fate. BOTH of these are valid characterizations of love, but sometimes it just comes down to timing (another major theme of the show).

  5. Dimitri Adoniou

    It’s nice to see an article tackling the contentious How I Met Your Mother finale now that it’s been a few years.

    I sit at a weird place with the end of HIMYM. I think the last episode had some great ideas and moments – but it’s ultimately held back by the season that precedes it. I found the last season to be abysmal, as it stretched a wedding out for nearly the whole season – which was super forced and awkward and just didn’t make for good television.

    THEN, after making us all suffer that season they almost immediately (at least in screentime) get Barney and Robin to divorce after their wedding! It’s a complete slap in the face after having to suffer through a terrible season focused on a single wedding, to then have the marriage fall apart instantly. It makes the season feel meaningless. (Well, ti certainly did for me…)

    But I liked a lot of it too! Ted and Tracy work well together, and him meeting up with Robin at the end was satisfying. The show’s a mixed bag, and it’s good to see how people feel about it even after a few years!

  6. if Tracy didn’t die, I don’t think Ted would ever try to be with Robin again.

  7. For me, the message was loud and clear: Tracy was the one. Ted never loved nor will love anyone nearly as hard as he loved Tracy.

  8. If we calculate, Ted spent more of his happy times with Tracy than he spent with Robin. He spent 11 amazing years with Tracy, while he spent 8 years with Robin around (2005-2013). I prefer to assume that he spent the 6 year gap being unable to move on, at all.

  9. hess-hess

    Tracy was Ted’s soulmate – that much was blatantly clear. But she died, and had been dead for six years at the point when Ted was telling the story. While telling the story, he realized how much he still cared about Robin, his past love, and his children encouraged him to go after her. That doesn’t make Robin Ted’s soulmate – but considering that his soulmate was dead, he was looking for the next best thing: the person he had been in love with for years before he met that soulmate.

  10. emmelie

    I hated Robin and Barney as a couple.

  11. I’ve just re-watched the last season and the last episode. The season was near perfect, and then they’ve butchered it, by last episode. The whole point of the series, in my humble opinion, is to believe that there’s true romance and your other half is somewhere out there, even though there’s no evidence of it right now. At the end all those mistakes and hardships would be worth it. So every one of our favorite characters should’ve ended up with their dream.

  12. Stpierre

    They shouldn’t have killed Tracy and Barney and Robin shouldn’t have gotten divorced.

  13. I thought the finale made it pretty clear that both Tracy and Robin were Ted’s ‘true loves’. Ted only began considering moving on from Tracy 6 years after her death. Tracy wanted him to move on, I think she may have explicitly told him to reconsider Robin after her death (they knew all of each other’s stories after all). Ted telling his kids the whole story I thought showed how much he trusted his kids’ maturity and judgement – he was completely honest about everything. I thought the final scene with the blue french horn was absolutely beautiful. It’s not a victory of Robin over Tracy, it’s a victory of true love.

  14. Funny thing – once you accept the ending, it makes so much more sense. We see all the clues, we see the lessons they’ve been trying to teach us and overall, I’ve grown to really like the ending. I hated it at first, but the more I think of it, the better it gets.

  15. Snowden

    Tracy gave him the fulfillment of his lifelong desire for the perfect, fairy-tale romance…

  16. Robin was truly Ted’s love. Even though Tracy was perfect for him, his love for Robin never changed. He never truly let go of his feelings for Robin, he kind of just brush them under the rug. Tracy had all of the qualities Ted was looking for in a wife, but sometimes in life “the one” isn’t necessarily the person who fits a specific description. Therefore, Robin was Ted’s the 1.

    • Agree, and I’m sure if Ted would have met Tracy 2years ago(e.g) their relationship would have failed . The main reason they worked together was coz Robin married Barney and for Ted she will never be with him again.!!.

  17. The mother should’ve lived. There was really no point of killing her off, just so that Ted could be with Robin. That just didn’t make any sense, and probably was just writers’ own selfish unaccomplished desire of their own life. Anyway, despite all the mistakes and hardships that Ted and Tracy made through their life, the fate brought them together and that’s how they met each other!

  18. Every person you meet in life has a role to play. Tracy and Robin had different roles to play in Ted’s life. Also how your meeting with that person pans out is a great deal about timing.

  19. Slaidey

    Upon reflection, I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the ending, and I thoroughly enjoy that you wrote this article to help viewers just finishing the series now to sort out their feelings. It is a nice equilibrium that is reached between the relationships and the story as a whole.

  20. Team-Tracy. I didn’t dislike the way the show concluded by any means but I wish they didn’t have her pass away, it takes like 10 years to finally meet the girl of his dreams and marry her and have kids, but then he doesn’t get to live out the rest of his life with her. Sad. That’s life though

  21. Jae Dudley

    I admit, I felt cheated. Like watching a mystery that you think you have figured out and then having a character give a 15 minute speech about a whole bunch of stuff that comes out of the blue to invalidate pretty much everything you thought up to that point.

  22. Indigo

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. As a long-time fan similar to many I was annoyed by the ending of the show, but through reading your points here it has definitely made me question my original opinion. I may now have to watch the series again (for the 10th time).

  23. Loved the ending – showing how Tracy ended up with Max and Ted ending up with Robin, their ‘first loves’. Guess it’s time to rewatch again!

  24. I think that Ted was never meant to end up with either since there is no “the one”. He was lost without the mother and so went back to what he knew – Robin.

  25. I completely agree with you. I was a little hurt that even in the end he wanted to be with Robin but your write the way the story was told that made the most sense. I guess to be towards the end of the show time began to jump so quickly I feel like viewers didn’t have a chance to take everything in. We just fell in love with Tracy for us to not really see their life together just a montage of scenes that didn’t seem to do her justice and then she passed away. It felt like we didn’t get to see him mourning, moving on and eventually being in a place where he could love again and ask out Robin. I think that as someone whose finished the series I can definitely look back and say the whole story came from a place of love and lost but towards the end we didn’t get to feel it as much as the beginning. Overall amazing article, I especially loved the breakdown of the blue french horn and the yellow umbrella!

  26. A HIMYM fan

    Really put me at rest for being so depressed on how the show ended. Ted and Tracy were a bundled soul separated at birth (little thing I learned in philosophy) they were LITERALLY perfect for each other. But it may not seem that way with most couples in real life because we can’t see what they see in each other. Ted may have made the story sounded better then it was because who doesn’t do that when telling stories. Wish robin was just a close friend but if Tracy really had to die and that was fate I guess it makes sense that he’s with Robin. Bothered me that I had the thought if Ted had feelings for Robin while with Tracy but that’s impossible. That’s because I rewatched the final episode and when Ted was telling the time he was at the alter with Tracy he said that he would give everything he had to keep her happy and that shows how much to that day 6 years after her death she meant to him. Life can be really scary and the search for the one can be really messed up, I’m only a teen so mine hasn’t started yet. But one thing I can say about this show is that it made me believe in soulmates (not a philosophy class). I hope one day I can find my Tracy, I’d be willing to find a life partner like Robin but either as a close friend or during the journey to the one. Everyone deserves to find that one person in their life that makes it complete but the sad thing is everyone doesn’t and it’s sad when you see people you know that have not and probably never found that one very special person for them. Can’t imagine the feeling when you settle down with the one but it keeps me going everyday.

    Once again I would love to thank whoever wrote this article as it brought me back to my feet after finishing the show. It’s nice to steal and play with the blue French horn for a while, but one day not too late down the road you want that yellow umbrella to come your way.

  27. Ted being so romantic and family oriented person, deserved to have “The One” in his life. I wish he would have had a relationship like Marshal had with Lily. Ted struggled for years, got heart broken and finally found Tracy at the age of 34 to loose her again in few year! Even if he went back to Robin, things wouldn’t have been the same. Because Tracy’s memories would still remain in his life making him not love robin the way he did in the past or calling her his “The One”. Moreover Robin is not just his girlfriend but Barneys ex-wife that would make it awkward for the gang to hangout with each other like before. The love among each other wont be the same, The gang wont be the same. So much will be changed. And thats why we fans have right to be disappointed at the ending. Because most of our love-life’s aren’t perfect like Lily Marshall but are more like Ted, Victoria, Zowi, Stella, Robin, Royce(Wedding bride baggage girl), Cindy(Tracy’s roommate) ,Naomi or even Tracy. Hence at least in tv series we fan’s can wish to have a perfect magical happy ending!

  28. Every time I finished the show, I always go back here. It’s like cherry on the top for me. And yes indeed, Tracy was Ted’s soulmate and Robin is the love of his life because one thing led to another and the shows prove it that life do that to you.

  29. Well said. I agree. He did deserved a happy ending like Lily and Marshall. And at least in the tv series we should get a chance to see a happy ending. and yes Ted going back to Robin things wont be the same. Since Robin rejected Ted for several times, she didn’t deserve the chance to get him back. Ted should have been with Tracy forever. Robin should be faithful, hopeful and patient like Ted and find another Ted out there, who can be her soulmate.

  30. This explanation was just so so beautiful
    Thank You For That
    I needed to hear it after just watching it for the first time and being so conflicted with the ending, Now I am at peace

  31. But I think barney deserved robin, somehow I feel they did him wrong after showing how much he changed and how much he loved robin but I guess that’s life
    Barney for me deserved more

  32. “The One” is a mutating and ever-changing idea.

  33. Tracy went back to Max… 🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯

  34. The structure of the show made the audience root against Robin. Every few seasons, he would go back to her, and time after time, it doesn’t work out. It get’s tiring to watch, to the point where to me at least- whenever they get back together it makes me want to skip the episodes where they’re together and just jump to where they’re broken up. You’re watching Ted regress, and it leaves you unfulfilled when the writers tell you Robin is who he ends up with in the end, after you see them consistently clash and consciously choose not to stay together. And yeah, they may have had a lot of character development in the time between Robin and Barney’s wedding and the time they get married, but when you don’t see their time together, it just feels like a cheap ending.

  35. I agree with this. There is no “the one” and that’s what is unsatisfying for viewers. The fact that Tracy dies is something that makes sense for Teds journey because the whole series we see life repeatedly punishing him each time he thinks he can force things or get what he wants. People often think “once x happens then I will be happy” or “if I’m married then I will never be alone”. But people don’t think about the fact that marriage is not the end. It’s a new chapter. And life is long. Most people don’t die together like the notebook. most couples get at least ten years of someone being widowed. It makes sense for Teds journey and what the series and life was teaching him. The only painful part for me was the execution. Spending the whole last season on the wedding that got destroyed within five minutes and then killing the mom right before we see them meet just gave all of us emotional whiplash. We needed more time jumps to see Ted alone and grieving, to see Robin and Barney and how and why their dynamic stopped working for them. And we needed more care and time in robin’s character development. It made sense that she drifted away but we should have seen her happy and thriving at points. Marshall bad mouthing her and the idea they didn’t still do annual robots v wrestlers didn’t make sense. It was not delicately handled. But watching it back and processing it I think it all makes sense and is the perfect journey for Ted. All he wanted was the perfect woman and he found her and had to let her go. And find contentment and peace without her. It’s truly Buddhist in that sense. And probably why the story was something we all relate to because it mirrors life.

Leave a Reply