There’s a Different Kind of Unfaithfulness Plaguing Modern Love. It’s Called TV Infidelity

Love and Sex

There’s a Different Kind of Unfaithfulness Plaguing Modern Love. It’s Called TV Infidelity

Illustration: Arati Gujar

We live in an age where watching TV together is such a hallowed ritual, Netflix & Chill should be a relationship status unto itself. Be it a broadcast or on-demand streaming, TV unifies us all – it gives us a topic for small talk with strangers, it gets us into heated, fan theory-fuelled debates with our friends, and perhaps most importantly, it gives couples something to binge-watch together. There’s a reason so many Tinder and Hinge profiles mention a person’s favourite movies and TV shows – those dating apps might make you give up on the idea of a soulmate, but at least you can snag yourself a popcorn bowl mate. And if you’re really, really lucky, the bowl mate and soulmate are one and the same.

Being able to spend the whole day, side-by-side on a comfy couch, bingeing season after season of your show of choice is the bedrock on which modern love blooms. I’ve been with my girlfriend for six years now, but it’s not just any ordinary six years. It’s actually five seasons of Breaking Bad, five seasons of The Wire, nine seasons of The Office, seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy, and nine seasons of Seinfeld – and those are just the shows we’ve re-watched together. But as six years start to turn into seven, I’m starting to realise the truth of the seven-year itch. I don’t mean cheating on my girlfriend with someone else, but a different kind of unfaithfulness – TV infidelity.

It’s exactly what you think it is – if you think it means sneaking in episodes of shows that you’re supposed to be watching together before the other person can join you. TV infidelity wasn’t a big deal when we were fresh out of college, when we had all the time in the world to finish watching an entire season of Parks & Recreation over a weekend. But now, as other, more mundane, adult responsibilities start to take priority, it becomes harder to find time to binge-watch like we used to, and TV infidelity is tempting. 

When I turned to Google, the poor man’s JARVIS, for answers, most articles I found painted an optimistic picture, claiming that watching TV together was great for couples on the back of some pop psychology. Thanks, but I already had that covered. It took some scouring (by which I mean loading the second and third pages of the search results) to find something that more matched the tune I was singing.

When an act of TV infidelity takes place, that shared experience is ruined.

In “The TV Divorce”, the author writes to his wife about not sharing the same tastes as her – a problem I don’t have – and how they need to start watching their TV shows separately. Though our quandaries were different, we did share some things in common, like how important the ritual of watching TV together was for us. He says, “In my own experience, counterintuitive as it might sound, there is an intimacy to watching TV as a couple. It’s not just the simple act of sitting together, perhaps in each other’s arms, but also talking before, during, and after about the shared experience that is the show.”

When an act of TV infidelity takes place, that shared experience is ruined. My most egregious transgression was when I watched four episodes of Game of Thrones that we were “saving” (binge-watchers will understand), on the night before a vacation while she was asleep. For her, it was a shocking betrayal as bad as any on the show. The joke however, was ultimately on me. After we got back from our holiday, she decided to watch all four in a row and I was left to do all the post-vacation chores – the laundry, stocking up the empty fridge, and paying up the bills. 

Not all instances of TV infidelity end on such a light note. There have been shows abandoned because one of us skipped ahead and realised the show wasn’t worth watching, or because the one left behind was so offended they refused to watch the rest of the show. On the other end of the scale is casual TV infidelity, usually reserved for sitcoms or reality shows, where you tell the other person you skipped ahead to their face, and only have to offer a recap of the juiciest parts to get away without any consequence. And there are the shows that you never begin watching, because one of you “isn’t in the mood”, but will still hold the show hostage and forbid the other from watching it, which is why we still haven’t watched 12 Years a Slave on Netflix.

I’m prepared to assign some of the blame for this state of affairs in new-age relationships to the Peak TV syndrome. With such a mind-boggling array of shows studios expect us to keep up with, choosing what to watch together becomes harder than breathing underwater. Should we sit down for a sobering true crime documentary, or catch up on the latest season of a breezy comedy? It is in these tangled woods of content that couples get pricked by the thorns of TV infidelity. And if there is a way out, I haven’t found it yet. So can someone just tell me how to delete my Netflix viewing history instead?