When cyber dating and relationship expert Julie Spira first started seeing her athlete boyfriend, he was confined to bed following a knee replacement.
But instead of hitting the brakes on their budding relationship and potentially losing interest while he recovered, they were saved by “Breaking Bad.”
Spira had never seen the AMC hit series, but her boyfriend was hooked. Given there wasn’t much the pair could do together while he spent weeks convalescing, they did what many modern couples do: They binge watched.
“Some days we’d watch five episodes. It became part of his recovery,” Spira said. “We created a new memory together. We still talk about the time we spent watching that show while he was recovering.”
Spira isn’t alone. A new survey from media company Xfinity found that 66 percent of couples said that they felt watching TV together strengthened their relationship. That number climbed to nearly 75 percent among millennial couples. Fifty-five percent of parents admitted to putting their kids to bed early so they could watch their favorite shows with their spouse and 30 percent said they had canceled social engagements to watch TV or movies.
With the advent of streaming, people now have access to more movies and TV shows than ever before and some experts say that access could be creating new rituals of watching that impact relationships.
“When two individuals watch television, they are joining in a shared perception and are essentially validating one another's experiences by joining in the storyline,” cinema therapist Lisa Bahar said. “Television is a medium that can connect people without even realizing it.”
Taste and values
The kinds of TV shows a person likes may seem like a petty measurement of compatibility, but not for the growing number of young people who increasingly stream and binge watch TV shows, often in lieu of a cable subscription. The Xfinity survey found that 30 percent of single millennials reported choosing to not date someone based on their TV show preferences.
“I’m a big believer of listing your favorite TV shows on your online dating profile. You often see that asked on sites like OKCupid as well,” Spira said. “It’s a real bonding experience to share those shows and if you both like a show, you’re going to want to watch it together.”
A person’s taste is a signifier of who they are and what’s important to them, psychologist and author Jim Taylor said.
“If you say, I love ‘The Apprentice’ vs. I love ‘The Americans,’ that says something about you,” Taylor said. “In dating, that is valuable information.”
And hating something a person is passionate about, to some degree, is to dislike something (however small) about that person.
As Nick Hornby wrote in his 1995 novel of love and pop culture, “High Fidelity,” “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.”
The sentiment in Hornby’s book may be an exaggeration, but science supports the theory behind it.
Studies dating back to the 1970s have found that despite the old adage “opposites attract,” similarity is actually a better predictor of a relationship’s success.
Especially taste in music.
Studies from 2003, 2006 and 2011 found that musical taste is what’s called a “social badge,” or a cue to others about what a person’s values are. The research found consistently that people who shared similar musical tastes tended to also share the same values — like conservatism, openness to change and ambition or a desire for self-improvement.
In other words, social badges are the first psychological signals of attraction between people.
When social badges match up, it makes it much easier to bond over mutual love of a song or a band that has emotional ties for both parties.
The same is likely true of taste in TV shows, Bahar said.
“Television serves as an opportunity to explore opinions, perceptions and ways of thinking,” Bahar said. “In relationships, one of the most connective experiences is to feel understood.”
The new dating?
As streaming entertainment and binge watching has become more popular, it’s also become a more socially acceptable form of relationship bonding. Just as past generations attended dances or stuck to the old standby of “dinner and a movie,” younger couples like to connect over an endless supply of popular shows on services like Netflix.
A 2015 Business Insider survey found that an overwhelming majority of millennials stream their entertainment — 79 percent use Netflix, 37 percent use Hulu, 34 percent use Amazon Prime and 21 percent used newest platform HBO Go/HBO Now.
Another survey from earlier this year found that 46 percent of Americans subscribe to streaming services and 70 percent of all U.S. consumers reported binge watching (defined there as averaging 5 episodes or more in a row) — 31 percent of those reported bingeing “on a weekly basis.”
It’s easy to see why many couples may prefer Netflix and takeout to dinner and a movie, Spira said.
“You can go to a movie together and not talk to each other,” Spira said. “But there’s something sort of romantic and about tossing shoes off on the floor and cuddling up over a mutually loved show.” Spira said.
While there’s nothing wrong with spending time together watching TV, Taylor says it’s no replacement for other forms of bonding as well. Couples need variety to establish compatibility.
“The upside is you’re doing something together. The downside is you’re not interacting with outside world,” Taylor said. “TV is wonderful, but get out of the house and have an interaction that’s not mediated by a screen.”
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