What The Office Taught Me About Life and Love

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The series finale of The Office airs tonight. It’s hard to believe really. Through all the jokes about cast members leaving and the quality declining, this final season has actually been rather excellent, and it’s shameful to forget that the first few seasons were some of the best of any comedy ever scripted.

I’ve had a connection to this show for years, one that likely ran deeper than most casual fans. Early on, the show spoke to me, and influenced my life in unexpected and odd ways. You see, I was Jim. And back then, there was a Pam.

I first started watching back in 2005, my freshman year of college. It seems so far away now. I’d seen the British version, but my affinity for British comedy hadn’t really blossomed yet, and David Brent was more irritating than annoying, with Tim more mean than funny when tormenting Gareth.

The American version, other than the practically word for word pilot, was different. It was more lighthearted. Michael Scott was incompetent, but not a sociopath. The humor was subtle, yet present enough not to be overlooked completely.

And then there was Jim and Pam.

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The first three seasons of The Office were in part as excellent as they were because of the relationship between these two characters. Many shows have tried unrequited love plot lines, as it’s a tried and true way to engage audiences, but this one was different. Their relationship was so…authentic. It was in little glances, cautious smiles, it felt real. And it was a situation that many of us may had found ourselves in at some point in our lives.

We’ve all been “friendzoned,” to use an increasingly irritating term. It was obvious to everyone but Pam that Jim was in love with her, but she kept him at “best friend status” while continuing to be with her long term fiance Roy, who excelled at taking her for granted.

Back in 2005, I had such a girl in my life. We met in 8th grade, and I’d had a crush ever since, even if I tried to make myself forget about it as often as I could. As long as I’d known her, she’d practically been dating one guy or another, often for a lengthy stretch of time. During a gap in high school, I told her that I “like” liked her over AIM chat. She told me that she used to like me that way, but not anymore. It was crushing rejection at the time, but planted a seed in the back of my mind.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

I saw too many mirrors between us and Jim and Pam as those first two seasons were airing. As best friends, we were just so compatible in my eyes that I couldn’t understand why we weren’t dating, and neither could our friends. Her boyfriends hated me, though I never did anything shady. But I was closer to her than they were in a lot of ways. Yet there I was, forever the friend.

Then came Casino Night.

It was the season two finale of The Office, an episode that remains my favorite to this day. In it, the office throws a Vegas themed party, and Jim spends all night absorbing Pam’s adorable, flirtatious glances. Finally, he’s had enough, and after Pam gets in a row with her fiance, approaches her in a parking lot, which is far more romantic and far less creepy than it sounds. I had the scene memorized.

casino night

Jim: Hey, can I talk to you about something?

Pam: About when you want to give me more of your money?

Jim: No, I…

Pam: Did you want to do that now? We can go inside. I’m feeling kind of good tonight.

Jim: I was just… I’m in love with you.

Pam: [No longer smiling] What?

Jim: I’m really sorry if that’s weird for you to hear, but I needed you to hear it. Probably not good timing, I know that. I just…

Pam: [Stunned] What are you doing? What do you expect me to say to that?

Jim: I just needed you to know. Once.

Pam: Well, I… I… I can’t.

Jim: Yeah.

Pam: You have no idea…

Jim : Don’t do that.

Pam: …what your friendship means to me.

Jim : Come on. I don’t want to do that. I wanna be more than that.

Pam: I can’t.

[a small tear runs down Jim’s face]

Pam: I’m really sorry if you misinterpreted things. It’s probably my fault.

Jim: Not your fault. I’m sorry I misinterpreted our friendship.

Perhaps you know where this is going. Perhaps you wish you could go back in time and stop me. I certainly wished that I could have for a long while after.

The episode broke the dam for me. Within the week, I went to her and gave her practically the same speech verbatim.

“I just needed you to know. Once.”

And she gave me Pam’s response. Though she likely hadn’t watched the episode.

At the end of Casino Night, Jim rejects the rejection and kisses Pam inside the dimly lit office as the screen cuts to black. I wasn’t nearly that brave.

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It was the day I learned simultaneously that life can and can’t be like TV. My own story mirrored what happened in Casino Night (to the letter, almost), but afterward is when Jim and I parted ways.

On the show, Jim spends all of season three dating someone else (Rashida Jones), but eventually chooses Pam in the end, and the two start to actually date. They eventually become a public couple, then get engaged, then get married, then have two kids over the course of the next six years. With their tension gone, one of the most important aspects of the show was missing, yet I still have liked watching their relationship evolve over time, even if it my own life didn’t follow suit.

My own personal Casino Night didn’t end our friendship. We remained friends for another year or so, but it was always just a little different. How could it not be? I wrestled with self-doubt (what’s wrong with me?) and anger (why can’t she see it?), but ultimately, these weren’t the issues I should have been dealing with. I was asking the wrong questions.

After graduation I moved away. We kept in touch online, but eventually she took longer and longer to respond to my emails and IMs. Then she stopped responding altogether. More anger, more self-doubt.

But eventually, more freedom.

The lesson I learned was that infatuation is a one way street, while being “in love” requires another person to feel the same way. Once she was gone from my life, truly gone, I was able to understand that. And what had seemed like a perfect match in my head was a lot less ideal once I really started to look at the pair of us in retrospect.

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I said before that I used to wish I could go back in time and stop myself from thinking that life was like The Office. That we were simply characters destined to be together, and if I only told her how I felt that the stars would align.

But I don’t regret it, nor the eight years I spent dating other people while secretly pining after her. It was an experience that taught me many, many things about relationships, what actual love is and the kind of girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And it wasn’t her.

It was Michelle.

I met Michelle maybe two years after my Office-themed saga ended. It was the first time I was able to allow myself to be completely free in a relationship, with no other girl in the back of my mind. I’m incredibly thankful for that, because I would have eternally regretted not being able to fully dive into a relationship, fully committing my heart without someone else tugging on it from afar. She became my new best friend, but one I actually dated.

I loved her after three months. We were talking marriage after six. We were engaged at a year and a half. We’ll be married in three months.

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What’s funny is that despite the past history I had with my former friend, it was Michelle who became my true Pam. We shared the sorts of smiles and glances that only existed as hallucinations in my mind with the other girl. What we had was authentic, and it wasn’t a one way infatuation. It was love. Actual love. Once I knew what that felt like, I knew for sure that what I experienced before hadn’t been love at all.

No, we don’t have an epic saga. I didn’t steal her away from her fiance or secretly kiss her in some dark corner when I wasn’t supposed to. But even if we’re now the “boring” version of Jim and Pam from seasons four and onward, that’s perfectly fine with me. What more could you want than a wife you love and future kids with her?

Without The Office, perhaps I wouldn’t have had the courage to make my bold declaration to my friend back then. Perhaps we would have forever remained friends, and my mind and heart would still somehow be tied to her, stretching the agony out past a decade. But that didn’t happen, and I thank Jim for being as brave and as stupid as he was, allowing me to follow suit.

Sometimes disaster happens for a reason. Sometimes the girl you think you love is simply a stepping stone to let you find who you really should be with. I could have done a whole other post with 500 Days of Summer references instead.

I owe The Office more than just a simple thank you for making me laugh all these years. I might actually owe it for leading me to find the best thing in my life, even if my plot line deviated from their script.

Goodbye Jim, goodbye Pam. I hope you’re always as happy as I am.

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  1. the_dude_abides May 16, 2013
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