All my marriage needs is a good series. Stranger Things, Making a Murderer, Narcos, The Fall, Broadchurch, Bloodline — they are the Netflix glue that binds us as a couple.
When we have a series, we don’t have to think about what to do after dinner and putdown. There is no obligatory run-through of all the available pursuits both of us aspire to but are generally too tired for — chess, reading, exercise, Scrabble, sex… When we have a series, there is a schedule to be adhered to: Put kids down, throw down a quick dinner while catching up on each others’ days, slip on old slogan t-shirts and sweatpants masquerading as “pajamas,” slide under the covers and disappear into the characters and storylines we’ve invested so deeply in.
I anticipate the episode-to-come all day long, as does my husband Ben. When he returns from work, he just shoots me a look and a one-word code: “Game?” he asks me from across the living room, with a sly smile. To which I answer excitedly “Yes!” The kids have no idea what we are talking about (Game of Thrones). Hopefully my eldest doesn’t think it’s a sex thing. Nevertheless, the whole evening climaxes with Ben pressing “play” on our remote.
Together, we lay in bed, focused on the same activity. It’s togetherness, a shared, unspoken experience. Sure, other couples do this with sex but I say why, when you can reach virtually the same level of intimacy with a 10-part series, minus the effort or mess?
And when a series we love ends … sadness. Despair. A look passes between us at the start of the closing credits, a look of what-will-happen-to-us? I frantically google to see if the series was picked up for another season. But even if it was, that’s a year away. Life is short and so is my attention span. So we spend the next few days independently researching what’s new and hot on-demand. I’ll refer to old Facebook posts of friends who sent out an all-alert to their friends for series suggestions, and copy and paste the ones that look promising into my Google Notes. Ben will send me actual published reviews of shows he’s heard about.
Until we have settled on a mutually-agreed upon series, we just trudge along. We revert back to old, bad habits: Ben catches up on the zombie apocalypse in the living room and I restlessly watch episodes of The Bachelor(-ette) du jour in the bedroom while checking social media, without any morsel of true satisfaction.
We’ll join forces by 10:30pm for a little CNN and grouse about Don Lemon (though my opinion of him has improved dramatically since Drumpf’s election because now he bucks journalistic ethics entirely and just says what everyone is thinking). Sometimes we try to read together. It’s fine, but we are leading separate lives. Where’s the excitement? The drama???
This process of finding the just-right show can take days — even weeks. We’ll scroll through rows and rows of the “Recommended for you” section. One of us will halfheartedly suggest we just watch a contained episode like “Black Mirror” or, gasp, a major network series, and then the other will urge, “C’mon. We can do better.” Sometimes we’ll try a new series on for size, but it just doesn’t feel right and/or I fall asleep. Occasionally, Ben will like what we attempted to watch and ask sheepishly if he can continue without me, thus prolonging our separation. At least he’s not “cheating” on me (watching episodes of shows we’re supposed to watch together without me).
I remember when we were single and kidless binge-watching Sleeper Cell on Showtime until 3am. We felt like naughty kids, bucking bedtime. Back then, we’d have sex because we wanted to — not because we should, or because it had been a week — and our nightcap would be an episode or two…or four. At 11pm, we were giddy about starting so late, by midnight, the inevitable question came: “Another one?” By 1am it was dangerous and by 2am it was positively irresponsible! Yes…Yes…Yesssss!!!!!
But back then we could sleep until noon, so it wasn’t that crazy to go all night. Nowadays binge-watching late into the night is sheer masochism, given the early wake-ups and breakfast requests. Before kids and Netflix, Ben and I could easily spend an hour at Blockbuster video scanning the shelves in vain for a title that would satisfy both our sensibilities: mainly, his love of oddball humor and dick jokes and my love of drama and anything British. Given we had one DVD player, we had to learn the art of compromise. It was good for us.
Now the ease and access of video is incredible. But it can drive us apart just as easily as it can bring us together. The Crown, for example, was a non-starter for Ben. I would like to say I regret the seven nights we split apart after dinner and putdown so I could watch Queen Elizabeth II decadently come into her royal own in delicious peace in the bedroom by myself, but I don’t. Not. A. Bit.
But I do feel better about our union when we are watching together. I quietly wonder, however, if it’s affecting the physicality in our marriage. Can I blame our rendezvous with the Seven Kingdoms or the failing Wisconsin judicial system for our diminished traditional intimacy? Or can I just blame having kids like everyone else? Is Netflix the greatest cock-block of all time? Any suggestions? (For series, I mean)