When I first started dating my boyfriend, everyone in our group of friends hung out at his house almost every night, getting drunk and watching weird bullshit. Do not look – speak. All it needed was a 40-year-old Japanese horror movie or John Travolta’s 80s lull forgotten movie and it was on. They – we – unearthed a 2014 Ryan Reynolds / Rosario Dawson thriller on A24 called The Captive. (I promise you would have heard of it if it was good.) We watched a Christian Mingle romantic comedy starring Gretchen Weiners (I searched for it; it’s literally titled Christian Mingle). And they all talked the whole time.
It was not a totally foreign concept to me speaking on television. I was only a year before this point living in a house with seven guys where The Departed and Training Day were sort of still going on? Everyday? The difference was then that I wasn’t sitting watching with these guys. So my boyfriend’s apartment and his group of friends was my first real entry into the world of talking people on TV. During family movie nights, my father insisted on absolute silence. The rules for how and when to speak during a movie or TV show were perfectly clear. Or that’s what I thought.
I enjoyed the comments from the peanut gallery at the right time and place. But when the time came for me to use his TV to watch The Bachelorette the first year of our dating (he had cable), I was shocked and insulted to find out that he was also speaking on TV of great importance. Yeah, I usually don’t care about the contestants and ask Chris Harrison to hook up with someone and rate everyone’s bad costumes. But I do it in the moments between important dialogues. He didn’t even seem to know that these lulls existed, let alone when they did!
Now, five years later, it’s still a fight we are engaged in. Mostly, I lose. And I’ve come to realize that this is a pretty common dynamic for couples all over the world. It’s not about knowing what to watch, but how to watch it. Now is the time to talk for us, but couples have all kinds of grievances about each other’s viewing habits. Watching TV with someone else is oddly difficult, and this year couples have done a lot more. (Ok, obviously it’s less difficult than almost anything going on in the world, but let my hyperbole go.)
Take the persistent low-stakes debate over captions. They are useful for new language learners. And obviously a must see if you are watching a Scandinavian crime drama or any other movie filmed in a language you don’t speak. But if no one in a relationship strictly demands it, it can lead to friction. My friend Ryan * complained, “I don’t think I could date a caption person who is always active. Sometimes the TV is confusing and that’s OK! I understand – we often take them away from my house if something is a comedy where timing is very important, so you don’t read the joke until you hear it. But personally I like the subtitles for UK shows because nobody knows what everyone is saying there.
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Another friend of mine has had lots and lots of dates that fail when guys try to meet her during a movie; she has a graduate degree in cinema. This seems to be a common problem.
Then there are partners who spoil every moment. The people who watch you watch the movie they chose – the worst, right? On the flip side, there’s also women asking too many questions during movies.
Other people have complained that during movies their partner always falls asleep – especially irritating if they choose the movie.
Then there’s the label on when to take a break when getting up to do something – are you taking a break? Are you upset if they don’t? (I strongly agree that you have to indicate whether you want the TV to be paused or not, but recognize that it could be annoying on its own.)
One of the biggest problems with these little annoyances is that they can escalate into mutual irritation. For example, changing TV settings can be seen as incredibly passive and aggressive. If I rewind If I rewind to go back and hear something my boyfriend is talking about, he often says (playfully!) Something like “I guess I’ll just shut up!” Which would solve the problem, but also, listen, buddy, I’m adjusting to your behavior now so that I can still watch TV. This is a compromise, not a passive aggression.
But maybe the biggest problem is that it seems silly enough to fight over how you particularly prefer to consume streaming media, especially since it would mean taking a break to have a chat. It fits neatly into a minor conflict category: big enough to genuinely care about, but ridiculous enough to feel stupid to fight about it. So, if communication is not really an option, sometimes not at all passive aggression is in order: you just need to turn up the volume on an over-talker, accept that he is going to be a little upset and enjoy the rest of the Bachelor in peace and quiet.