Modern Showmance

It’s not that you can’t enjoy both The Big Bang Theory and Arrested Development, but it’s hard to believe that you could love them both equally, and choosing either one as your favourite show tells us all something about you. It’s less about what it means and more about that fact that it does mean something. The general population may not care, but there is a specific person who does: your potential partner.

At least, that’s according to both an official survey done by Netflix and a less professional one done by myself in my own dating experience and social life. When those in their 20s and 30s date, interests in television – everyone’s new favorite part of pop culture that is growing in both quality and quantity – are of the utmost importance. Online dating profiles abound with lists of favourite shows, and more so than film, music, or literature, TV can and has become easily ingrained into the foundation of a relationship.

We judge each other by what shows we watch; we want to share said favourite series with others, and what’s more, we seek a shared experience with our partner by watching a series together.

Whether we do it consciously or not, attaching a relationship to a television show is a way of stabilizing that relationship, ensuring an element of safety. Television offers something to talk about and something to engage in, and it’s an entity that will exist before a relationship begins and long after it ends.

It’s a curious process we’ve all entered into, knowingly or not. Let’s go through it piece by piece.

The Assessment

This happens quickly and easily. A prospective partner tells you what shows they love or you read what they have listed on their profile and you make a judgment. What that judgment is matters less than the fact that we are actually calculating something in our brain, working it into some extensive dating algorithm that we can’t really explain but know exists. The reason we know we are doing this? Because we’re mighty careful with what we tell people we like to watch as well. And it means something to them, too. According to the aforementioned Netflix survey, 53% of responders have added TV shows or specific movie genres to their dating profile to attract a potential suitor. And when they attract one and head out? Well, 77% of members discussed movies and TV shows to break the ice on a first date.

The First TV Date

At some point during the dating process, you wind up at home with the opportunity to watch something on a screen and be entertained. This is usually after you’ve talked enough to start to get to know each other and likely after you’ve knocked ‘Netflix and chill’ off your list for the first time. So now you may actually get together to literally Netflix and chill. Maybe the two things occur right after one another.

Regardless, you will watch something, finish it, and discuss – and maybe repeat. Movies are easy: they’re a one-off, an isolated two hour (or so) occurance. But starting a TV show is something far more important. It means you have the potential to watch much more together. You are engaging in a story that isn’t finished, which means the two of you are now tangentially part of the story. And so you continue.

The Second TV Date

You may not be exactly bonded to each other yet, but you’re now bonded to a show. You’re reaching familiarity with your date and making your way through a show together offers an element of security. It doesn’t offer complete safety, but there is something satisfying about the misguided yet earnest notion that part of your relationship involves these ongoing stories of other people. It’s a shared experience for the two of you.

Back to the survey: 58% of respondents in a relationship say they prefer to stay in and watch Netflix for date night (I imagine this number increases based on how low the temperature is). Most (77%) say they watch Netflix together because they like spending time together without leaving the house, while seven in ten (68%)  say shows are more fun when watched together, and 58% enjoy having someone to talk with about the show. These numbers skyrocket to 100% when you poll my roommate and me.

The TV Commitment

You probably at some point have a conversation about being in an exclusive relationship, but it might only be tacitly acknowledged that it extends to a particular show. Though most of us grew to find her insufferable, Piper Chapman had a curious 21st century problem when she was sent off to prison in Orange is the New Black. It had to do with her fiancé, but it wasn’t just about him wondering what to share with her about his life or how he should feel towards other women; it was what to do with Mad Men, the show the two of them were watching together. If she isn’t around to watch, what is he to do? Is it still cheating? It’s a small but fascinating problem.

The Ending

Should you break up with this person while watching the show but not finishing it, concluding that story may prove difficult. You  forever have one saga that is associated with someone no longer in your life. Maybe you do get to finish the series, but even so, if that was the first time going through—and you can’t experience something for the first time twice—you have a lasting connection.

In all, television is just that – a tie that binds. Maybe in the past it was meeting friends or family, traveling together, or putting a definitive label on things. In 2016, watching a show together is an unspoken, sought-after connection, offering normalcy, stability, and excitement in a safe environment. We seek to control that which cannot be controlled (read: relationships), and television helps.