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The Entire How I Met Your Mother Timeline Explained

Very few shows in history have gone through the sort of ups and downs in general consensus that How I Met Your Mother endured. Across its nine seasons and beyond, it's gone from cultishly adored to critically beloved to widely derided to cartoonishly outdated.

It produced one of the most divisive final seasons in recent memory, lingering far too long on a tortured plotline and then rushing the subplot that was the show's raison d'etre. Until Game of Thrones fell through the Red Keep floor trying to stick the landing, HIMYM was a strong contender for the worst finale of the 2000s. And ongoing dialogues about the way women are treated by lecherous and predatory men make one of the show's central characters nigh indefensible. As such, the storyline of HIMYM is something superfans have to keep straight in their heads, knowing that another trip to Ted's apartment might ruin their previous enjoyment of the series.

It can be hard to remember how HIMYM became such a sensation and the way some of its jokes entered our cultural lexicon. If you want to remember why we all cared so much about sad sack Ted Mosby in the first place — and if you want to see why the finale generated so much outrage — we've got you covered. Here's the entire How I Met Your Mother timeline explained.

How we meet Ted Mosby

The show was working with some interesting ideas, at least at first. For one, the entire series has a framed narrative: As the title implies, we're watching a story being told to the main character's children. Ted Mosby starts the series as an older man, sitting his kids down for a long-winded story about the way he got together with their (apparently absent) mother. After a bit of throat-clearing, we flash back to Ted's late 20s in New York City.

Ted is an underemployed architecture school grad who makes rent in the city by splitting a place with two of his college friends. Marshall Eriksen is a law student hoping to get into the field of environmental justice, and Lily Aldrin is a kindergarten teacher who dreams of making her way in the art world. Marshall and Lily have been dating since time immemorial.

Though Ted seems happy as a single man, his hopeless romanticism and the presence of Lily and Marshall's seemingly rock-solid relationship fills him with doubts about how he's living. They only get louder when Marshall proposes.

Thinking about the future

Once he sees his friends moving into the next phase of their lives, Ted begins to take stock. As he's unfulfilled both romantically and in his career, he starts thinking about settling down. Shortly thereafter, he meets Robin Scherbatzky and believes he's stumbled into the love of his life. Ted reveals his feelings for Robin, only to have the Canadian journalist tell him to pump the brakes. When Robin tells Ted that she'd rather be friends, Ted outwardly understands. Robin becomes the fifth member of the core cast and the audience learns that she's not the mother via Future Ted calling her Aunt Robin.

Not one to be down for long, Ted turns to dating a woman named Victoria. True to form, he falls fast for this rising baker, even agreeing to be one half of a long-distance couple when Victoria lands an apprenticeship in Germany.

A rocky start

Things quickly fall apart on Ted's side of the Atlantic. Seeing Ted in a happy relationship brings out feelings of jealousy in Robin. Diving into the root cause of those pangs of envy, Robin realizes she has feelings for Ted in spite of her initial brushoff. Ted sees this and decides to lie about his relationship status: He tells Robin that he and Victoria ended their relationship, finding the long-distance situation too difficult.

Ted and Robin start dating, but their relationship isn't long-lived. Ted's lie comes back to bite him when Victoria calls Ted and Robin answers. After learning that Ted deceived her, Robin breaks it off with Ted and tries to distance herself from him. Victoria obviously ends things with Ted over the phone, and he's left back at square one.

At the same time, formerly static relationships are shifting. The cracks are beginning to show in Marshall and Lily's relationship following Marshall's proposal. The impending matrimony has Lily thinking about paths not taken, and she starts to wonder if she needs to make a break so she can give living as an artist another go. She breaks off her engagement to Marshall and moves to San Francisco to take up an art fellowship.

Marshall on his own

Marshall has dated Lily for all of his adult life. He has no idea how to date. So the show's serial womanizer and resident skeeze, Barney, takes the devastated man under his wing. He attempts to teach Marshall his unethical and gross means of tricking women into sleeping with him, something the good-hearted and still heartbroken Marshall can't pull off.

He does manage to get the number of a barista named Chloe, who the gang warn him away from because of her "crazy eyes." Their one attempt at a date goes horribly, as Lily has secretly returned to the New York apartment and broken a picture of her and Marshall while sneaking around, leading Marshall to accuse Chloe. Lily comes out of hiding to reveal she broke the picture, then leaves the apartment crying. When Marshall goes after her, Chloe destroys the apartment, proving the gang's theory correct.

At the same time, Ted and Robin have reunited. Once again, it doesn't last long: They split over a disagreement about the future. Ted is dead set on marriage and children, while Robin is much less committed to either. They call it off but keep their breakup a secret from the rest of the gang, so as not to distract from Marshall and Lily's rescheduled nuptials.

Barney and Robin's backstories

Around the end of the second season, the show starts to dive into the backstories of its core cast. While we know that Robin is Canadian and a journalist, little is known of her life outside the U.S. When she reacts strongly to the idea of going to the mall, the show introduces the concept of a slap bet, a bet where the wager is being able to slap the loser with no repercussions. Marshall and Barney come up with different explanations for Robin's aversion, diving into her still largely unknown past. Barney believes she was a porn star, while Marshall thinks she's secretly married. They learn via Lily's researcher that Robin was a teen pop star named Robin Sparkles whose big hit was called "Let's Go to the Mall."

The show also makes an attempt at humanizing Barney. We learn that his ideas of manliness came up in a vacuum, as his father wasn't around and his mother lied to him about his parentage. Barney believed that his dad was The Price Is Right host Bob Barker. He obsessed over the show and finally getting to meet his "dad," studying the way the show worked so he could guarantee a spot in the final showdown where he could talk to Barker. He eventually nails the price of everything in front of him and, after being rejected by Barker, gives the winnings to Lily and Marshall for their upcoming marriage.

Moving on and moving out

The next season focuses on a once-again single Ted being led around by an ecstatic Barney, who is happy to have his go-to wingman back. Robin comes back from a trip to South America with a gorgeous new boyfriend named Gael (played by Enrique Iglesias).

Marshall and Lily make the decision to move out on their own and are suckered by a pretty but shoddily built apartment in a terrible neighborhood. After moving in, they realize that the apartment is severely tilted and that its trendy name of Dowisetrepla stands for "downwind of the sewage treatment plant." Marshall fights with the idea of working in corporate law to afford the life he wants for him and Lily.

Back on the romance front, Ted begins dating a dermatologist named Stella. Robin sleeps with Barney during a vulnerable moment and a furious Ted ends his friendship with him. Barney and Robin opt out of pursuing a relationship. Ted's relationship to Stella falls apart, and he gets into a car accident shortly after breaking up with her.

Though they are estranged, Barney wants to be there for Ted. In his rush to get to the hospital, he gets hit by a bus and ends up recovering in the same hospital room. The two men realize that their bond is stronger than their squabbles, and they decide to be friends again. Ted worries that his life is too short to dither away on casual relationships, so he proposes to Stella immediately after leaving the hospital.


Seeing Ted propose brings out the romantic in Barney. He realizes that he has deep feelings for Robin, even if they've opted to bury those under a layer of callousness. These only grow stronger when Robin lands a job in Japan. She quickly returns, quitting her job and coming back to New York for Ted's wedding, citing homesickness.

Ted gets left at the altar by Stella, and his singledom coupled with Robin's precarious situation leads the pair to move in together. Robin gets a job as an early morning anchor to avoid being deported. The close quarters breed resentment between Ted and Robin, who learn to vent their frustrations with each other by having sex. This situation doesn't sit well with Barney, who is secretly in love with Robin. Ted realizes that Barney has feelings for Robin when he goes to extreme lengths to keep the two roommates from fighting (and then resolving it in their way).

Ted realizes that Lily has been secretly steering his life, pushing him to break up with women she didn't think were suitable. When Ted and Robin realize that their initial relationship might have been severed by Lily, they relate to one another in their shared animosity toward her actions. The conversation turns toward being better friends to one another and they opt to abandon their sex-based resolution system.

Ted starts an architectural firm in his apartment, but can't seem to land any clients due to his fear of being rejected. Barney and Marshall, now working for a banking corporation, land Ted the gig of designing their new national headquarters, but the project falls through, leaving Ted back at rock bottom.

Ted runs into Stella and her new husband Tony, who offers Ted a job as a professor of architecture. Though he's initially too proud to take the offer, he later realizes it's the right decision. The class is the first time that Ted will cross paths with the mother of his children.

Making decisions

Around this time, Robin and Barney begin seriously dating. Though they initially commit to something entirely sex-based, they fall for each other and begin a full relationship after being forced to confront their feelings by Lily. Barney and Robin can't maintain their relationship, however, and they break up, though both of them clearly still have feelings for one another.

Lily and Marshall decide to take their life together a step further, realizing they want to have a baby. Ted dates a grad student and Robin dates her co-anchor. It's revealed that the grad student is not the children's mother, but her roommate is. Ted buys the house in which he'll raise his children, though it's a complete mess at the time. He breaks things off with the student and falls for another woman named Zoey. Ted's relationship to Zoey becomes complicated when he is once again given the Goliath National Bank headquarters project, because the proposed building is on the site of a hotel that Zoey wants to save by granting it historic landmark status.

Robin splits with the anchor after it's revealed that he took a job in Chicago, one Robin turned down to stay with him. Ted leaves Zoey over their differences.

At the same time, Lily and Marshall are attempting to make good on their plans. They struggle to conceive a child, and Marshall's father passes away. Though he still wants his family to be comfortable, the brush with death leads him to question his career yet again, and he quits his corporate job for a much lower-paying job as an environmental defense lawyer. Ted wants to get back with Zoey, meanwhile, but Barney and Robin stop him. Working together helps mend their relationship.

Hurtling toward weddings

Robin and Barney get back together for a time, but when they plan to leave their current partners for each other, Robin reneges and leaves Barney holding the bag.

Barney falls for a stripper named Quinn, who the gang object to. They try and throw a wrench in their relationship, but Barney and Quinn's counter-scheming only draws them closer.

Lily and Marshall decide to move out to the suburbs of Long Island, seeking more space for their growing family. They take a house offered to them by Lily's grandparents, but the culture of the suburbs clashes with the way that they live their lives. Fleeing Long Island, they come back to the city in search of another apartment. Ted offers them his bedroom in the apartment he still shares with Robin, noting that he can't move on from their relationship while they live together. This sudden move puts another rift between Robin and Ted.

Adrift, Ted contacts his former girlfriend Victoria to find that she's about to be married. When they meet up, Victoria decides to run away from her wedding and leave her fiancé at the altar. While they enjoy dating for a while, their relationship ends in a particularly dismal season for love that Ted calls "The Autumn of Breakups." Barney and Quinn separate over trust issues, Victoria leaves Ted because he still has feelings for Robin, and Robin leaves her boyfriend Nick for being immature.

Meeting the mother

Lily and Marshall have their baby and drift away from the gang due to time constraints. Robin and Barney get back together and start moving toward getting maried. In helping to plan their wedding, Ted hires a band that includes his future wife.

Robin shares her fears about being married to Barney in a vulnerable moment with Ted. Ted still harbors feelings for Robin and worries about the way he might act after she and Barney are wed. He makes the decision to move to Chicago and put half the country between himself and Robin, but doesn't share his plans with his friends. As the season wraps up, we see the mother for the first time, standing on a train platform and waiting to travel to Robin and Barney's wedding.

Wrapping up

The entire final season takes place in the hours before Barney and Robin's wedding. Marshall and Lily discover that they're having a second child as Marshall tries desperately to get to the wedding from a snowy Minnesota. Obstacle after obstacle comes in the path of the gang, but they all manage to make it in time for the ceremony.

In the very last episode, the show crams in the entire story of Ted and the mother, Tracy, who died six years before the conversation that frames the show. Barney and Robin divorce after three years, with the former going on to father a child accidentally and the latter still living the single life. Marshall becomes a judge and has one more child with Lily. The story wraps up in the present — the year 2030 — and Ted's kids urge him to rekindle his relationship with Aunt Robin, as he spent most of the story talking about her. He runs to her apartment, and the series closes with him standing outside her window.