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My Year Of Breakups: First My Boyfriend, Then TV

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Perhaps Jennifer Lawrence said it best: “All I need in a relationship is somebody to watch TV with me.” As usual, J Lawr's telling it like it is. Before “Netflix and chill” became a euphemism for casually hooking up under the guise of streaming instant video, it was an apt, wink-wink-free description of what 95% of young couples in long-term relationships do together on the regular. There's never been so much quality television, or so many ways to watch it — and who better to enjoy it with than your significant other?

Until March of this year, I was a proud card-carrying member of the long-term S.O. club, millennial chapter. For five years, I was in a loving relationship with a really good guy. And while that partnership gave me a lot of things — emotional connection with another human being, soul-soothing security, a 24/7 best friend and an ever-willing make-out buddy — I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having someone to veg out with whenever I damn well wanted to was a big plus. Especially for a homebody with strong hermiting instincts. It’s not antisocial behavior to lie in bed all Saturday and watch an entire season of Silicon Valley in one go, if you’re doing it in the company of the one you love.

So that’s what we did. My boyfriend and I started dating in the spring of our freshman year of college, and we spent the vast majority of our relationship living on the same­ college campus or in the same city. From the get-go, we spent pretty much all of our downtime with each other, which meant that we watched a lot of TV. Like, embarrassing, ridiculous amounts. Parks and Recreation. Homeland. The Office. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Veep. The Wire. Broad City. House of Cards. Silicon Valley. Rock of Love. (Um yeah, that was a weird time.) Louie. Mad Men. Workaholics.
Photo: Courtesy of AMC.

Besides being budget-friendly, it was just an awesome thing to share. I’m not going to say that the peak of our quality time transpired while we were 90 minutes deep into Frank Underwood’s latest scheme, but it was nice — a comfortable, casual closeness and low-effort way to connect, quietly. “The opportunity to experience television in such an intimate and all-consuming way is deeply bonding between couples,” as Time put it. TV is funny that way, and very different from, say, music or books. (“Let’s stay in and listen to every track on the new Kanye album in a row instead of hitting the bar,” said no one, ever, who wasn’t at least mildly stoned.) With TV, you get to know the characters and explore their universe together. You root for the same things or maybe even different things and have impassioned discussions. Plus, committing to a show as a team requires a certain amount of patience and self-control. You know, the same kind of loyalty a 30-year marriage garners, or the dedication cultivated after spending 18 months separated by half a planet while one of you finishes your Greenpeace mission in Botswana. Just like that.

So when I broke up with my boyfriend this past March, our TV partnership was yet another strand to untwist from our tightly woven bond. Yes, it's just TV. Still, I was startled by just how sad it made me.

When I tried to watch “our” shows on my own, I couldn't enjoy them the same way. I was distracted by the memories of watching them with him — a bitter twinge of nostalgia. It felt wrong to reenter those fictional universes without my partner in crime, and it was harder to immerse myself in them. The first time that happened was with The Wire; we had binge-watched the first four seasons of it last fall and winter, with just the fifth and final season to go. When I started the season 5 premiere by myself, I got an unsettling sensation. I couldn’t focus on the show. I was transported back to the hours upon hours my boyfriend and I spent sprawled out on the couch, getting to know McNulty and Kima. What was going on with Avon Barksdale's crew didn’t matter now. I still haven’t finished it.
Even comedies that were once “ours” were transformed. Louie, for example, was a totally different experience. As half of a happy couple, I laughed at Louie’s lonely life unfolding from a safe, slightly superior place. Post-breakup, though, I felt Louie's loneliness acutely. Everything once totally laughable seemed a little too real, a little too grim. So I gave up on that one, too.

The final season of Parks and Rec was also tough. Saying goodbye to Pawnee after six seasons coincided too closely with saying goodbye to my boyfriend after almost as long. Too much closure, all at once.

In May, I watched a Game of Thrones episode with a guy I had gone on a couple of dates with. The viewing session was completely platonic, I felt…bizarrely uncomfortable with it. Guilty. “Dirty” wouldn’t be an overstatement. It just didn’t feel right, facing demonic Joffrey without my ex.

Even now, when I start a show that would’ve been right up our alley, I can’t help but wish we were sharing it. We would've laughed our asses off together binging Master of None, and I wonder if I would’ve contemplated Dev and Rachel's sweet-sad relationship differently if I were still with him.

For all my wistfulness, engaging with my DVR by myself hasn't been all bad. I discovered that being a single lady has its perks when it comes to TV. I can watch what I want, when I want, with whomever I want. (That would be my cats, for the most part.) I can be shamelessly promiscuous: watch three things at once, quit a show halfway through a lousy season, or binge four different pilots in one night. How’s THAT for independent womanhood?

I'm also branching out. I don't know that I ever would've started Jessica Jones or Playing House were we still together, and now they're two of my favorites. Looking ahead, I'm planning on returning to some treasures in 2016, like Veep, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones. Now that nearly a year has passed, I'll be able to regard them as my shows, not ours.

Hell, if Selina Meyer, Claire Underwood, and the Mother of Dragons can go it alone, why can't I?
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