Where were you the moment when Jim professed his love for Pam? The moment when, in the parking lot of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, he took her small hands in his and declared, tearfully, “I’m in love with you,” refusing to listen to her protest that they were just friends. That moment when we all sighed together, thankful that he’d finally worked up the courage to be honest, that this anticipated trajectory of perfect romance was finally beginning. That’s love, we thought collectively, thrilled, and maybe a little saddened.
For the first several seasons of The Office, we waited for Pam to love Jim back. It took awhile, but the anticipation was a sweet kind of agony. Jim and Pam shared brief, small moments of great significance: Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder; Pam getting a little tipsy at Chili’s and kissing Jim, right on the mouth—much to his combined surprise and delight and mild worry; Pam’s shoring up fake enthusiasm about Jim interviewing for the corporate job, only to be interrupted by Jim asking her to dinner. These tiny moments kept hope kindled bright, kept us focused on the goal of Jim and Pam finally, finally, finally falling in love.The resurrection is not in the feelings or the romance; it’s in the ordinary faithfulness of everyday life.
Romance feels like resurrection: It feels like an opportunity, a chance to reinvent ourselves, to become. It’s the establishment of a new identity, and for that, it should be celebrated. Remember the gas station proposal, the Niagara Falls wedding, the soundless moment when we found out that Pam was pregnant with Cece? Jim and Pam were so joyful, almost ecstatic, just to be together and building a family. Like so many couples, they sailed through this part of their relationship with ease—cultivating their romance, protecting it from outside influence, investing in it with their time and energy. The hallmarks of a relationship—gratefulness, love, kindness—were easily won. The wait had been so long that everything felt like a privilege. Most viewers quietly left them there, riding off into the rose-tinted sunset.
And then, in the last season, things got real.
The conflicts Jim and Pam faced in later seasons totally transformed the dynamic of their relationship substantially. At first, the tension Jim fought against was always exterior—convincing Pam to break up with Roy, facilitating Pam’s happy wedding day, supporting Pam in her role as a new mother. Jim’s efforts were concentrated on imagining, obtaining, and preserving a vision of idyllic relational happiness. But in the last season, conflict wormed its way inside their relationship: Jim realized that he needed to pursue a real career and capitalize on his potential. But doing so would mean not working across the room from Pam anymore. It would also mean agreeing to be unavailable to his family. Instead of an external conflict, he would face an internal conflict—by choice. In a classic big Jim gesture, he picked up the phone, closed his eyes, and took a job in Philadelphia without telling Pam.
Pam took it well when she found out, of course. To scream and demand that he reverse his decision would’ve been shrewish, and Pam is not a shrew. But the real consequence, the damage to their relationship, was outside of Pam and Jim’s control. Neither of them could stop that rational apprehension she had, the suspicion that comes from omission, the worry about future deceit.
Later, Pam would admit that “people on the street told me that I had this fairy-tale romance. But…it did not feel like a fairy tale.” It’s not hard to imagine what it did feel like: drudgery, decay, and the death of this magical attraction. Pam’s response, however, is perhaps the most outstanding and underpraised example of love in the entire show. In the wake of what probably felt like betrayal, Pam did not demand justice or even compromise. Instead, she gave up her own interests and embraced her husband’s. It wasn’t so much submission as it was sacrifice. That decision did not uncomplicate her life, but it did save their family from careening into destruction.
Jim, in turn, reciprocated with sacrifices of his own. He eventually gave up the dream job in Philly to work alongside his wife—a decision he consistently, and joyfully, defended. He explained his reasoning to Dwight: “You’ve got to forget about logic and fear and doubt. You’ve just got to do everything you can to get to the one woman who’s going to make all of this worth it.” These individual offerings allowed Jim and Pam to continue as a couple and face their future with a united front.
What saved Jim and Pam wasn’t a picnic on the roof, a prank on Dwight, or even marriage counseling. What saved them was a quiet fidelity to ordinary responsibilities, the good old basics of relationship building: Eye contact. Clear communication. Thoughtfulness. The resurrection of romance is not in the feelings or the grand gestures; it’s in the ordinary faithfulness of everyday life. It’s in loving your person, taking care of your shared progeny, and making small, tedious decisions every day to turn your house into a home. It’s taking stock of yourself and deciding that your own individual kingdom must be destroyed, that there is a new order that must thrive. It doesn’t mean being half a person; it means dismantling your person and rebuilding a kingdom together.
The Office didn’t set out to promote biblical principles; however, the background noise for one of our last moments with Jim and Pam is nothing less than the famous words of the Apostle Paul: “Love suffers long and is kind,” he reminds us. “It is not proud. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” In many ways, Jim and Pam really do set this standard for”relationship goals.” Ultimately, it is love—humble, forbearing, enduring, and unfailing—that saves them.