Couples TV: The Shows We Watch Together, The Shows We Watch Alone

When I met my wife, Kate, we both lived in Baltimore. She was born and raised there, and I’d moved down the coast from Vermont a few months before. I was running toward a job and away from a breakup. We met, we drank whiskey, she spilled some into her shoe, a couple months later she moved in, and about three years after that we got married in the desert of New Mexico.

In the meantime, television hadn’t really played a role in our courtship. When I moved to Baltimore, I got cable for the first time in years, but she mainly watched documentaries on Netflix. I tried to introduce her to the Wire, it being Baltimore and all, but she was bored with the crime and the inaccuracies about her home town. “What’s a lake trout?” she asked me. “Why is everyone drinking Bud Light?”

Then we realized we could gravitate around a shared love for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Data was her first love. I remembered being 8 and so excited about TNG that I would literally run circles around the couch, and my mom would warn me that, if I couldn’t sit down, I wouldn’t be able to watch it at all. So I sat down in a chair with a pillow across my lap, tapping invisible buttons, just like Data at the helm.

While I finished the Wire alone and tried to explain that Deadwood was more than swearing and cowboy hats, my wife was watching Say Yes to the Dress (the Atlanta one, which she said was the funny one, not the New York one, which she said was the boring one), but it couldn’t hold my attention. I’m definitely not too stuffy for that kind of show, but there’s a film of unreality to a lot of reality programming, to the point where I have a hard time investing.

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But then? She introduced me to Stacy and Clinton.

I’d heard of What Not to Wear before, but the title had always turned me off. I thought it would be mean, that it would make fun of the people who appeared on it, that they would be taking folks who dressed quirkily or out of step with fashion, and cram them into one-look-fits-all outfits.

But that is not the point of view of What Not to Wear. I’ve written about my admiration for Stacy & Clinton & Ted & Carmindy before, but to put it succinctly, it’s a show where fashion/life gurus help people find their truest selves. They encourage their contributors (they call them contributors!) to look at why they wear clothes that don’t fit, why they try to avoid being seen, and why they duck away from opportunities for happiness.

But it wasn’t really that I’d found What Not to Wear. It’s that my wife had found something about me — that I was attracted to positivity, that I valued kindness over snark. I didn’t know much about fashion or style, or at least I didn’t philosophize about it, before watching What Not to Wear, but watching and talking about Stacy & Clinton led us to what is probably the television love of our lives.

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Kate didn’t introduce me to Mad Men, but watching it with her and talking about it with her led me to appreciate it as more than a sophisticated soap. I think I can be a little clothes-blind when I watch television, and I’m prone to miss out on subtleties or symbols in fashion design. Even when she said something simple like, “If two characters are aligned philosophically, they’ll show them in similar colors or patterns. They’re part of the same color scheme because they’re aligned.”

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In Mad Men’s season six premiere, Don and Pete were on the same page — looking outward — while Roger stood apart by looking inward. This sort of thing is worthy of its own article, but writing about it here feels like I’m trying to complete a high school Spanish assignment, or like I’m writing with my left hand. I get it, and I can do it, but it doesn’t come entirely naturally. Watching Mad Men with Kate, and talking about it after, is like having an external hard drive where I store my thoughts and revelations about the show; I agree with almost everything she discovers about the show, and I’m not a dumb guy, but boy I’d never figure that stuff out on my own.

Mad Men is our true love, but there’s another place where we feel the most comfortable. Where we go to be together in silence, often over dinner, after hard days or long days or (sometimes) just for fun.

Math? Her.

Science? Her.

Rock music? Me.

Opera? Her.

Poetry? Her.

Vice-Presidents? Me.

Novels? Both.

Alex Trebek’s dad-style bad jokes? EVERYONE, don't front.

We still try out new shows (Jane the Virgin is on deck), and it’s a kind of game in and of itself figuring out which shows we’ll enjoy together and which we’ll enjoy separately. I’m watching Twin Peaks — I’ve seen the first season twice, but never the second — and Kate watches some episodes over my shoulder for the outfits and gender dynamics, but even when she's not there, I look at the show differently knowing how she might react to it.

That's a common but complicated thing — trying to understand someone else's inner life. It's what we'll do our entire lives with the people we love most and the people we see every day. I think my wife's spirit animal is Dana Scully, and I can't watch The X-Files without wondering if this is an episode Kate would love, or be indifferent to, and why or why not either way.

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More than the television we watch — together or alone — that unending desire to know someone, to see them or hear them even when they're not around — that's the journey of the heart, right? In marriage or in friendship or in whatever other form intimacy takes.

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