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FeaturesJanuary 8, 2015

Summer Reading: All My Exes Live in Boxsets

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Elle Hunt discusses the undeniable significance of binge-watching television in today’s dating culture, while pondering her own romantic entanglements with both humans and TV shows. //

I have seen the first half of the first season of Lost*. I doubt I’ll ever watch the rest. Not because of any considered opposition to poorly thought-out or increasingly pointless subplots. But I started watching it with my boyfriend, and he skipped ahead by more than the one episode that is permissible in such an arrangement. I couldn’t or wouldn’t be bothered catching up to him, and then we broke up.

Not as a direct result, but maybe the writing was on the wall. Today I think of that relationship as some do the series, in that it started off promisingly but went on for longer than was in anyone’s best interests.

Most relationships begin in the workplace, or at the pub, or (I assume, today) on Tinder. But past the point of initial introductions, many of mine have bloomed or bombed in front of a television screen or computer monitor. The five-for-$10 deal at Video Ezy was my and many other high school romances’ best shot at alone time without provoking an awkward conversation with your parents.

At university, a loaded external hard drive was a desirable commodity, and an invitation to “come over and watch something” quite often a euphemism. Even today, when you can stream more content than you could ever hope to consume in a lifetime, for cheap or free, and from the comfort of your own home (sign up for a 30-day free trial on Lightbox!), a trip to the movies is still the original tried-and-true date.

But really, television comes into its own when you’re starting out on an exclusive relationship. Beginning a series together is as recognised a milestone as the conversation about your exes, or meeting each others’ parents: first comes love, then come boxsets. If your new boo is prepared to watch their favourite show in its entirety, for the nth time, just for the joy of sharing it with you, they might be worth hanging onto. (If their favourite show is Entourage, maybe not.)

It’s a sign of investment, a declaration that ‘I take this union to have so much potential, to hold such promise, that I vow to invest hundreds of hours in it (allowing for bathroom breaks, mealtimes, etc.)’. In the age of the hook-up app, when there are few incentives to marriage and one in three end in divorce anyway, is there any greater expression of commitment?

Of course there is. I just made that up. But it’s a nice gesture (not to mention a good clickbait-y hook!!), to commit ‘til death do we part or we get through all of The Wire, whichever comes first. (And who knows. Maybe the ports season will be the toughest time you ever go through as a couple?) Starting on a series together often marks the transition from wining, dining and dating to a more comfortable and carbohydrate-fuelled period of TV and takeaways – the end of the honeymoon period, in other words. By this point, you’re more relaxed around each other, not so out to impress; you’re trying out what a life together might look like; you’re gradually revealing some warts, if not at all. Nights in on Netflix are when lasting ties are formed.

Except, of course, most don’t last.

As much as it’s a new stage of your relationship, it can also spell the end of it, too. Not always, because we’re individuals, and every pairing is a beautiful and unique snowflake, etc – but often, there’s an inverse relationship between the hours of television you watch as a couple and the amount of effort you put in. It’s more comfortable and convenient to order to take away from Burger Fuel or Soul Thai** and watch an episode of a series you’re both on the same page with. But comfort can quickly give way to complacency.

Without thinking, I once put the weight of my relationship on Game of Thrones, to the point where we only hung out to see who survived to see another episode and who got beheaded. As it turned out, this is not an especially solid foundation for a relationship, and we didn’t make it to season two.

Because I didn’t carry on with Game of Thrones after we broke up, it joined the disparate and unlikely ranks of The Wire, Back of the Y, The In-Betweeeners, David Attenborough’s Life on Earth, Twin Peaks and the other series I’ve experienced as one half of a couple, and as such associate with my now-exes. Only some I now consider part of my own identity as a consumer of television. The UK Office was his, now it’s mine; GIRLS was mine, but if you ask him, he might say otherwise. Others were thrown out with the relationships – hours of investment, wasted.

Well, maybe not wasted. Many series have ended up defining the relationship I watched them as part of. All the characters of Friday Night Lights feel more real to me now than the boyfriend I watched it with – even Julie, and lord knows she got pretty annoying in the middle there. Conversely, I don’t remember watching anything, TV or movies, with another ex at all – and yet I’m sure we must have, because we went out for over a year, and how else would we have passed the time?

But the shows I remember the most fondly are the ones I discovered by myself. Even Gossip Girl, which I worked my way through all six seasons of earlier this year, at a rate of at least three episodes a night, with no other response or emotion than grim-faced resolve. All for very questionable payoff.

When I found myself in Civic Video on Valentine’s Day, newly single and alone but for a dude wearing a baseball cap pulled over his eyes who was renting out porn on VHS, I got out the Sex and The City boxset. In a matter of weeks, I reached the end of the second movie (in hindsight, a mistake) – and then went straight back to season one, episode one, for round two.

As sad, not to mention clichéd, as that period of going out and getting drunk, coming home and watching Sex and The City until I passed out mid-episode was, I look back on it with fondness now. All my exes live in boxsets, but my past does, too.

In the same way hearing Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ takes you straight back to 2006, and that it seems impossible that your Facebook statuses today and in 2007 were written by the same person, television is one measure of a life. Some day, I might want to rewind mine and revisit those memories. But as it is, I think I’ve figured it out: my new boyfriend and I don’t watch TV together at all. It’s early days, but I think we have a long and happy future ahead of us.

* All television series have been changed to obscure my dating history

** As fluid an example of native advertising this might seem, neither Burger Fuel nor Soul Thai sponsored this post, or my past relationships, though they might as well have

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