I honestly can’t think of a clever way to explain that I’m about to talk about the finale of The Office. (That’s it, that’s the title of this piece.)

The Office is not a difficult show to enjoy. Well, once you get past the first season, anyway.

Actually, even in the first season, Jim’s crush on Pam is captivating enough that it keeps you going, in spite of the fact that First Season Michael Scott was written to be so awful that it is almost impossible to get past it. Thank God the writers didn’t stick with that.

Interestingly, Parks and Rec has a similar situation, with Leslie Knope being almost insufferably pushy. The shows are in similar styles– workplace mockumentary with an ensemble cast– so I’m curious about why both of them had such rough starting character profiles. Maybe the writers were going for a “So cringeworthy you can’t look away” sort of thing? idk. Anyway.

Husband and I just finished watching The Office for the third time. I watch it every fall. And it’s just… the best. I have to limit myself to once per year too, because otherwise I know I’d watch it constantly throughout the year and then get sick of it. I did that to Bob’s Burgers a little bit (though you can never truly get sick of Bob’s Burgers), and now it’s not on Netflix, so I can’t watch it really anymore. And I will never forgive Fox (or Netflix, or whoever is behind that decision) for that.

But we watched the final episode last night, and then it was just… quiet. The familiar piano notes didn’t start up again, and the fake office sounds weren’t playing anymore, and we didn’t have the strange, weird companionship of these characters to enjoy for the rest of the evening.

And I mean, to make matters even more emotional, the finale is also quite intentionally a tear-jerker, with the characters saying goodbye to the show as the show says goodbye to them. The Office itself, and the documentary within it, builds over time on the lives of these characters and so, when in the end, the characters are looking back on the earlier years, they feel nostalgia and a sense of longing for something that is gone. And the actors skillfully deliver lines of dialogue that have been carefully crafted to resonate with the audience while also applying to the characters they portray.

Cut in some of the earlier footage of happy scenes and relationship building and clips of the characters giving each other meaningful ‘goodbye’ looks, and it’s something that would make most people cry. (I don’t cry at stuff often. Not sorry.)

I used to be extremely surprised, whenever a TV show ended, that I would feel this deep sense of loss. I mean, I expected to feel emotional, but I expected it to end when the show turned off, and all would be resolved. But now I’m not surprised.

To explain why, I have to go into my past a bit.

As a kid and a teenager, my mom was really tough on me regarding my grades. She knew that I was capable of being a really good student and that I was smart enough to do well in pretty much any class I took, so she pushed me. (And I mean, sure, my relationship with my mom was strained for like 6 years, but what teenage girl doesn’t have a strained relationship with her mom while she’s going through puberty? I got through college mostly without debt because of her and now I call her at least once every two weeks, so I’d say things are pretty peachy.)

But my mom’s task of “push her hard enough that someone will give her a scholarship” was sabotaged by something neither of us understood–I was lonely as shit and didn’t care about grades or doing well in school, I just wanted friends (and especially a boyfriend.)

See when I was a kid, I didn’t really do well with making friends. It wasn’t for lack of trying, I just… I was weird. I kept being weird throughout high school. It got easier in college, when I at least had a new pool of people who hadn’t known me as “that girl who sang songs from Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper on the bus in 5th grade”. And maybe they never really knew me that way, but in college I was at least free of the fear of it.

And I’m still weird now, I’ve just learned to stop sabotaging myself.

((Well, mostly. I was at Target getting some workout pants, you know, to take the pressure off the pants that have holes in them now, and there were all sorts of weird little discounts and sales that kept popping up in the process. And the well-adjusted lady ringing me up at the register managed to say “it’s nice to save money like that, huh?” and I waited just a tad too long before adding a “well it’s only saving money if you intended to buy the thing in the first place.” But by that point, we were already leaving, and instead of being an educational and informative contributor to her life like I’d intended to be, I was just another know-it-all asshole telling people whats good for them. Husband made fun of me for this. He said I was dropping spaghetti. Here’s a link for those who might not understand what he meant by that.))

Anyway.

Most of the times that my grades were the worst were also times that I had my worst/hardest crushes. My grades generally got better when I had a boyfriend. I’m not sure if my mom knows that. But my work was also not up to par because of my love of TV and, later, the internet.

And before you have a heart attack about how I was raised, I’d like to add this disclaimer: growing up, it’s not like I spent an unhealthy amount of time parked in front of a TV. I enjoyed our backyard, which was partially a forest, and my siblings and I would build stick forts and climb trees and explore nature. A creek in the neighborhood served a similar purpose. Before she moved, my neighborhood friend Robin and I would play on Neopets a lot, (and actually learned a little of basic HTML in the process) but we would also bounce on her trampoline and play with the toy microscope and “chemistry” set.

But as middle school waned, my closer friends left for one reason or another. Robin moved away, Gretchen decided I was a bad friend because I thought her crush was an ass, Emily chose Gretchen in the split, etc. And I don’t know why I struggled so much to build stronger relationships with my other friends. Maybe it’s because I was used to friendships being effortless, where those relationships would need work and support to grow to the point of being effortless. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter now.

So going in to high school, I longed for a close group of friends, or even to just be firmly rooted in the sidelines of a group, so that I would have a place to feel like I belonged. But since I didn’t have that at school really, and since I didn’t have much to take up my time outside of school besides marching band, I watched a lot of TV.

Now, episodic TV shows (think Community, 30 Rock, Bob’s Burgers, Friends, The Office, etc.) are normally built around a main group of friends or a close family who love each other pretty much unconditionally. Each episode is loosely an example of proof of that. (Actually, this also applies for serialized shows, such as Lost or Orphan Black) With me, if I watched a show, I think I almost inserted myself into the social dynamics of those groups, even though I wasn’t actually interacting, because it was a way to still feel social, to feel loved. It was artificial, but it took the edge off of the loneliness, like being on life support. I was pretty much addicted.

My parents did not understand this, and not because “they’re parents and they never understand teenagers”. I would not expect them to get it. It’s taken me years to understand it of myself. To expect them to be able to pay attention to my habits and to put that connection together when they both had jobs and had my 3 younger siblings to also deal with would be unrealistic. (And even if they had, knowing my ornery teenage self, I would have told them they were nuts and ignored everything they said.)

((It took a while, but eventually I went to college, figured out how friend groups work, learned how to behave like a competent human adult (mostly), and then met Husband. He is a well adjusted and socially apt human, and he continues to help me pick up the fragments of social intelligence that have been scattered far from my understanding of the world. Last December, my anxiety oddly and suddenly went away for the most part, further reducing the gap between me and a regular human who totally understands how to talk at parties. (My dominant strategy is still to stand next to someone, look kind of in the direction they’re looking, and say something like “I never know what to do with my hands at these things”. Husband still has his work cut out for him in that area.)))

My point is, I think TV shows like the Office, How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Rec, Friends, etc…. I think they’re all selling something that the human race is buying: Community.

I used to think TV shows served the function of entertainment (and they still do entertain, don’t get me wrong). TV, in my mind, was for storytelling and for plot. My mom and I would watch Grey’s Anatomy to find out what the surgeons dealt with that week. I’d watch Lost to learn about the mysterious Others and see what happened to Jin and Sun. We’d watch Modern Family as a family because it made us all laugh. I expected my experience with TV to be like the less intellectual version of experiencing a book.

But I ignored the fact that humans are creatures of community. I underestimated just how captivating it can be to hear a human voice speaking words, and just how easily we form relationships even with things that cannot relate back.

So now, when I decide to watch The Office in September like I always do, I’m not just deciding to enjoy watching a story about characters’ lives unfold, I’m deciding to bring that social group into my experience of the world, at least for a little while. I’m deciding to take Jim and Pam and Michael Scott as part of my social circle, to be a part of their lives (as much as a viewer can be part of a fictional recorded person’s life) and to let them be a part of mine. I think that has a huge impact on part of me, even though I may not even be aware of all the unintended consequences.

And when The Office has its finale on netflix and I finally get through all 9 seasons in two months, I am not just losing this story that I’ve loved to watch transpire. I’m losing a piece of my social circle, pathetic as that may sound.

So really, I’m not surprised that I feel this weird sense of loss and grief at the fact that The Office is over for the year, and I won’t have these personalities as part of my headspace, and I won’t have the characters in my life anymore. It’s not just a bittersweet “oh that’s how the story ended” situation. It’s a grief over the loss of an artificial source of social belonging.

But hey, at least now I have actual friends, so the loss dissipates quickly.

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