Before watching tonight's season finale of The Office, I watched an episode of The Wonder Years entitled "The Accident." A few years after the death of her older brother in Vietnam and the separation (and subsequent shaky reconciliation) of her parents, Winnie's family has moved to another town. She had been dating Kevin but was no longer. Breaking down emotionally within but unable to express herself outwardly, she sees Kevin simultaneously as the only person who can truly understand her but also an integral part of a past she truly wants to bury.
There have been times over the past three seasons of The Office when I have looked at Jim and Pam and wondered, or at least wished for their sake (as I know many others have), that they would cut through all the crap that doesn't matter and just wrap themselves in each other's arms and not let go. But Jim and Pam, as long as we've known them, have never been fully formed. Pam never made the leap for Jim because she was simply not a leaper. She has waited for love and happiness to find her like we wait for the mail to come, understanding that there are days that the deliveries will be light or won't come at all, but willing to tolerate the ebb and flow because it would be simply be too risky to go out and try to get what you need on one's own.
Jim, for the first and second seasons, was the same way. And I think he understood intuitively that to make a play for Pam was to beg rejection, and it was only when he reached the limit of lovesickness that he made his biggest leap at the end of Casino Night last season.
Except for the great looks and personality, I identify with Jim. In my 20s, I took a beating when it came to romance. And when I found the person who I thought at the time was the love of my life, while living in Washington D.C., I had been hard-knock schooled in the notion that you should not sacrifice your own dreams for love, because you'd just end up with neither. The actual plot points are not parallel, but the bottom line was that I left the girl I loved for Los Angeles and Jim left the girl he loved for Stamford. Tonight, Jim told Pam with clarity why he left Scranton, and on one level it made complete sense, and yet it was heartbreaking to think back upon.
Last week, Pam finally made a little leap. It wasn't as bold as saying that she was going to steal Jim from Karen, but it was enough to indicate that, after it had been building all season, that Jim was more than just a friend to her. He was the reason she called off her wedding. Jim being Jim, it took some time to process that. One of the great truths The Office presents is how long it takes some people to process what might seem obvious to anyone else.
Jim went to New York this week not really sure what his future held. He was in a place where he was still being carried along by fate. And Pam was in a holding pattern as well. Even after the big moment at the beach, neither one of them was yet ready to run into each other's arms and not let go.
I think one of the things I love about this show is it takes the idea that there are hard and fast truths in life and throws them out the window. After all this time, Jim and Pam finally came together not because they had truly evolved, which seemed to be the life-lesson direction the show was guiding us, but because their true Jimness and Pamness finally, inexorably, at last fused with fate. Pam left a little sweet note with Jim, a gesture not unlike hundreds she must have made toward him over the years. Jim returned and didn't swoop her up, but with his usual deadly casual charm, asked her to dinner. "It's a date."
There are no rules to love. Yes, basically you have to love yourself before you can love someone else, but you can have doubts about yourself too and rely on your partner to fill them, and try to sneak by on that for five months or 50 years. There's no "too similar" or "too different." Love is much more of a gamble than we grow up believing - there's truth to the notion of chemical attraction, but don't forget that the chemistry of each individual can change over time, remaking the combination for better or worse. And the chemistry can always be beyond your comprehension from the inside. Karen was a lovely girl who fell in love with the right guy and the wrong guy in the same guy.
I like to think that Jim and Pam will be sitting in easy chairs half a century from now and cherishing their love while still wondering what took them so long - but knowing that there is no second-guessing the path that they took. The real love of my life, the woman I married, turned me down the first time I asked her out. I think in some cases, the way you live your life when you're not with someone has as much to do with whether you'll end up together as how you live your life while you are together. But mostly, I think, we just never know until we know.
I don't think this is going to be Kevin and Winnie, or Sam and Diane. I really do think Jim and Pam are together forever. And trust me, that doesn't kill the show. There is plenty of Office joy to be had from a working relationship. There is plenty going on at Dunder-Mifflin to carry this show. My biggest worry for this show is whether it can keep the writing staff together, or whether the show's success will send the writers off in different directions, leaving a project they love out of fear that they can't turn down a bigger opportunity for themselves.
Most of all, right now I am sad for Karen, worried for Michael and Jan, but absolutely, positively thrilled for Jim and Pam. May they be together forever.