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.


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. Yeah I have to agree in that Jim and Pam were the most realistic relationship on TV. Other movies and Tv shows have covered the friendzone thing , and the guys quest to move out of it. I did identify with Jim’s struggle with Pam in the early seasons. I think it was the most honest and pure showing of love on TV. THe office really did a great job of the little moments , looks and glances etc.. that sell it as a real deal thing. That was a big draw for a lot of people. It should also be said that the other characters and their parts were very good too. I will miss the office , haven’t watched it since Michael Scott left but I will miss it none the less. Lets not forget the office biggest contribution to the world : Thats What She Said!!!

    P.S. The wedding had better be Michaels and the last line better be thats what she said!

  2. This is a great post. I understand a lot of what you’re talking about, I think a lot of guys do. I agree that the term “friendzoned” is terrible and overused but it does often best describe the relationship that men and women have if there is no mutual attraction. I think part of what causes it is television itself because these ‘will they, won’t they’ scenarios are a staple and they almost always result in romance. We’ve been raised on those stories so when those stories don’t happen to use it’s frustrating and confusing.

    I was in a very similar place as you, though the friendship wasn’t as long as yours, and I essentially did my own ‘Casino Night’ though not directly inspired by the show. Except that I had decided if she wasn’t interested in a relationship then I couldn’t be friends with her because I was never going to stop feeling the way that I did. It was harsh, and she didn’t understand it but I feel like it was the right call.

    I’m now in a stable healthy relationship and a big part of that is because I removed her influence from my life. I was free to just be in the relationship without wondering if she would decide that she wanted to become more than just friends.

    It’s a tough lesson to learn but I think a lot of guys need to learn it, if being ‘friends’ is making you miserable and interfering with other relationships in your life then maybe you just need to decide not to be friends.

  3. Paul,
    I always like your articles. The Office lost my interest when Andy became an asshole again. They just didn’t know whether to make him a Michael Scott-lite or keep his original persona. Anyway, this article hit home with me and I really identify with your story and lesson learned. I’m actually dealing with a complicated situation right now haha.

    I know the best feeling a writer can get is one from a response from a reader (whether it’s a regular one or a first timer) who truly identifies with the words on the page and actually learns a lesson from it. It changes their life, even if they choose the same mistakes a week later. Because we take other people’s advice to heart for a good ten minutes then fall back into our routines. In life, it takes tons of baby-steps and a few big leaps. It seems to me you get that. So, feel good, man because I really loved your work here.


  4. This has been one of the best posts I’ve read on unreality. I found myself in a similar situation to Jim and Pam also. It took 9 years but I’m proud to say I did get the girl in the end lol. The wedding is in two weeks. Paul, Congradulations!

  5. I consider myself more of a Phyllis looking for her own Bob Vance….Vance refrigeration. I loved the Valentine’s Day episode where Pam got nothing and Phyllis got all those flowers, chocolates and that huge bear 🙂

  6. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. I fell in love with Jim and Pam for much the same reasons as you and The Office was my favorite show because of it. Once they were married and The Office began its downward spiral I stopped watching. But then my situation imploded in a mess of fireworks and broken hearts (mine mostly 🙂 ), though we remain good friends (to her credit). But now I find myself in another similar situation with a friend of 15 years (again?! Jesus, Matt). Reading your post has reminded me that while life may not work out like it would on television, it can still surprise you. I’m glad you found your Pam.

    I’ve been reading your website for years now, and I’m always sure to check it every day. Your ability to relate pop culture to what really matters in life is inspired.

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