Lots of people really love Jim and Pam, The Office’s proto couple. They're many people's OTP.
A quick search of Tumblr, Instagram, or this very website will give you posts and posts about their relationship, all badged with thousands of views and likes. I'm not here to judge anyone. I'm just here to say that some people do not like Jim and Pam. In fact, many of us fucking hate Jim and Pam (*raises hand*). And I finally feel brave enough to step out of the shadows.
Smarmy is a word you rarely hear anymore, but it's the perfect term to sum up why Pam and Jim bother me so much: the forced sentimentality, saccharine for its own sake, self-congratulating without any shred of self-awareness, so sweet it makes you cringe.
Unrealistic, smarmy relationships in sitcoms are not unique. TV is a fantasy where we go to escape the crippling reality of our own existence. It's not that Jim and Pam are the first annoying couple on TV, it's that they're the worst. They are just so fucking smug.
This couple thinks they are better than everyone else. They are the ones smirking at the camera, making fun of co-workers, winking at the audience, in on the joke. They are the "normal" ones in an office full of weirdos and idiots. They look like "regular" people in an office of people with more distinct physical attributes. You aren't supposed to identify with Michael, or with Kevin, or Phyllis. You're supposed to identify with Jim and Pam, and that sucks, because they are two boring, shitty, unremarkable people.
What gives them their air of superiority is their relationship — cast as a "normal" and "functional" against a sea of dysfunctional characters.
On the surface, Jim is the white bread your mother bought for you, bleached and bland and devoid of any nutrition. Less an actual man, Jim is a caricature designed to fill the inadequacies of Pam (also a caricature of "cute," acceptable, "quirky," and "nerdy" insecurities — the right kind of insecurities). Jim exists only to pour filler into Pam's empty holes.
As a couple they progress along the boringly traditional timeline your grandmother expects of you: to meet innocently, court through a series of overly sentimental, clichéd moments, including Jim breaking up Pam's existing relationship. They get married after conveniently skipping most of the painful work that goes into making an actual adult relationship work. They have a kid, then immediately have another. They are the friends from high school you somehow still follow on Facebook.
Not that there’s anything wrong with having a loving, classically structured relationship. But if Jim and Pam were truly happy, they wouldn’t so desperately need everyone to know about it. They are the couple that tags each other in every Instagram.
But under the facade of normalcy is a blatant and unsettling meanness. There is incessant and extreme pranking. This is a couple who bonded mainly over terrorizing a fellow co-worker.
To be fair, though, Jim and Pam are not equally complicit in their terribleness. Pam represents about 40% of the problem, and Jim, 60%.
Once a woman told me, "We want a man who is nice to us and an asshole to everyone else." I'm not saying that's true — I'm saying that's Jim. He's nice to you because he wants to keep having sex with you. Look at Jim's interactions with literally everyone else in the office: condescending, dismissive, flippant, arrogant, and rude.
But Jim gets away with it. He smirks and shrugs and smiles and endears himself like a cute but petulant child, giving his parents an "I didn't know what I did was bad" pouty face to get out of getting in trouble. Jim blinds us to his evil by overreacting in the opposite direction. When there's an opportunity to spout the rhetoric of devotion, or to insinuate that his existence revolves around Pam* — in a way that no human is actually devoted to another — Jim is there, ladling on the sentiment with the same false sincerity that allows him to so viciously insult Dwight or Michael. Really, he's a borderline sociopath.
* Pam, check out Whoopi Goldberg's latest book: If Someone Says "You Complete Me," RUN!
So, how do we reconcile with a show that ended three years ago, but lives on in our timelines and newsfeeds, and on Netflix and Hulu and basic cable reruns? As long as this show is in syndication — which will be many, many years — people will fall in love with the false dreams of Jim and Pam. They will post pictures hashtagged #relationshipgoals.
But I don't have to like it, and you don’t, either. Literally. When you see one of these posts, you don't have to like it. When someone wants to talk about The Office and they bring up Jim and Pam, you don't have to look away and change the subject. Be proud and loud. "Fuck Jim and Pam," you can say. "What about Kelly, Creed, Stanley, and Meredith?" you can ask. If somebody wants to recut the entire series with Jim and Pam edited out, that would actually be super tight.
Most importantly, you can feel free to not put Jim and Pam's relationship — or any relationship — on a pedestal. You can work for a relationship where you support each other equally and challenge each other to be better people, and work to not be in a partnership that's insulated against others in a shield of meanness and self-importance. You can feel OK if your life doesn't look like that of fictional characters. You and your boo may never be Jim and Pam. And that's fine.