My boyfriend and I have been together for around 2 years. We’re incredibly compatible and this relationship has done a lot for me. I was in a pretty shitty situation before we met, and he’s done so much to encourage me to accomplish the things I want, I feel very lucky.
Basically, there are several shows that I love dearly and want to share with him. He’s done the same for me – He’s a huge fan of Joss Whedon so we are working our way through the Whedonverse. We’ve completed Buffy and Angel and are now on the second season of Dollhouse. The original deal was that I would watch Buffy if he would watch The Wire. 7 seasons later… he’s watched the first episode and wouldn’t continue.
When we first started hanging out I tried to get him to watch Battlestar Galactica, but the explosions in space were too annoying for him to continue. I tried to get him to give Game of Thrones a try, but he was turned off by the fantasy setting. Several months later, he must have encountered something that made it finally sound interesting, because he’s now a huge fan of the show and we gush over new episodes together. The same thing happened with Deadwood, I wanted to watch it together but he wasn’t into it, and then he ended up watching all of it by himself sometime later and loved it.
I only really care about The Wire. The other shows I can enjoy on my own without wanting him to share them with me. I have pretty strong feelings about it, I think it’s an amazing example of storytelling and I think there are a lot of things he would really enjoy about it. It feels like he’s blowing it off without giving it a chance. We’ve talked about it and he knows that watching it would mean a lot to me. He says that the subject matter is too depressing and since he is already depressed it isn’t a good show to watch right now, but has promised that he is interested and will watch it in the future. I don’t really believe that, though.
Really I’m just writing in to find out if I’m being reasonable, and if it’s worth bringing up to him again. Forcing someone to watch something they aren’t interested in won’t make them suddenly like it. I don’t want to turn him off it forever, but I am feeling sad about this. I just don’t know if it’s justified. I do have a lot more tolerance for things in shows that I don’t like than he does. Do I just need to chalk this up to personal differences and get over it?
Thanks for reading,
Long Live Omar
A heartfelt media recommendation is like any gift, in that you can pick something out that you love and think the other person will also love, but once you actually give it to them everything that happens with it is totally, 100% up to them. They can put that gift in a drawer and never look at it again. They can return it to the store. They can sell it on Craigslist. They can regift it to someone they think would like it better. They shouldn’t rub it in your face if they do this stuff, and you could certainly feel some kind of way about it (and decide privately that they don’t deserve nice things in the future), but it’s bad manners to harp on whether they are using or enjoying a gift as much as you would like them to.
Your boyfriend probably would really enjoy The Wire if he gave it a chance, given what else you’ve told me about his taste, but now that he’s told you he’s not into it, every time you bring it up again you probably buy yourself another three years of him not watching it. Let him come to it on his own. Or, if you want to re-watch it now, watch it yourself. “Love me, love my obsession” (and its corollary: “You love my obsession, clearly you will love me!”) are among the Geek Relationship Fallacies that Commander Logic so handily identified. Your boyfriend is the sole boss of whether he wants to ever watch The Wire.
But, you had a deal, you say! You’d watch Buffy if he’d watch The Wire. Thing is, if you’d started watching Buffy and decided instantly that you hated it, you could have broken your part of that deal any time. And he did watch The Wire. He watched some of it and wasn’t in the mood for it, so he sensibly put it off for another time when he felt more like diving in.
I think we underestimate how much a piece of art or a viewing (or listening) experience is context-dependent. The first time I tried to watch Fargo (the TV series) I turned it off after 10 minutes. It just didn’t connect for me. Then I picked it up again last week and devoured it, not sleeping all Friday night because I couldn’t not know what happened. Plenty of people said I would love it, and they were all completely correct, but the combination of being in the right mood/having access/having time took a little while to blossom. Same with Orphan Black. The pilot didn’t grab me at first, but a year later Sweet Machine said something and I went back in and then I stayed in. I fucking hate Alan Moore’s Watchmen with the fiery intensity of 1,000 suns. It has little to do with the comic itself, which I have read and I get why it’s smart and why people love it. It has to do with every dude I met in a 15 year period trying to wheedle me into reading it, and when I said I had read it, try to wheedle me into loving it or argue with me about how I probably just didn’t get it. I GET IT (It’s about superheroes as uneasy manifestations of American power and exceptionalism, if you didn’t know) I JUST DON’T LOVE IT LIKE YOU DO, BRO. Pressure is the enemy of enjoyment.
This is a problem with your boyfriend if he has a habit of always breaking promises, or if you always end up watching his stuff but he never watches your stuff. But the problem is how you negotiate what you watch, not someone’s obligation to engage with a certain piece of media past the point where it’s pleasurable for them. Maybe it’s a good time to find some new shows that neither of you have watched before to dig into?
Since we are talking, there are a few things that Geeky Fans (like myself! I am including myself in this!) have to stop doing to each other when we talk about media at parties, online, or other social situations.
1. “What do you mean you haven’t seen Star Wars?”
We will never be able to experience all the good art and entertainment that has ever been made. Our lives aren’t long enough. If someone hasn’t seen (big cultural touchstone creation) they’ve just had a different life from you, with different priorities, different stuff they love, and possibly different access to media. This is true especially as we age. The stuff that was a Big Deal to me as I came of age isn’t a big deal to people who came after me, and the stuff that was a Big Deal to them passed under my radar. When students come into my classes I love to hear about their favorite movies and give them permission to talk about their favorite movies, and we have a rule: No making fun of anyone else’s favorite movies, for any reason, and no making fun of someone for not having seen a specific movie. You’ll never get someone to feel good about the stuff you love by treating them like they are deficient for not loving it already. The miracle of living when we do is that so many works are so widely and easily available and it’s possible to catch up on old works in a way that it never has been before. Embrace it!
2. “That thing you like SUCKS!”
I am personally very tired of the dominance display around “proving” to someone that a thing they’ve just said they enjoy “objectively” “sucks.” What is the point of this exactly? Not “there are some problematic elements there” or “it’s not my jam because” reasons” but “Are you serious? You really like that? But it SUCKS.” It’s one of the things that makes certain geek spaces and especially the comments sections of internet geek spaces really boring and uncomfortable for me, because so often the subtext is “YOU suck” or “I am angry at that work and going to take it out on YOU, at length.” We all have our bugaboos, and a good rant among close friends can be hilarious and cleansing (ask me about the movie adaptation of RENT sometime), but know your crowd and the occasion. Make sure the person even wants to be talking to you at all before you dive in with your hate-guns a-blazing.
3. “You don’t like x? But X is GREAT! You simply MUST read or watch it!”
Here’s what MUST happen. We MUST let “I don’t watch it” or “It didn’t really grab me” be the last word on that topic and not try to browbeat people into changing their minds. If someone says “I get why it’s popular, but I couldn’t get past the RaceFail,” before you say anything else, acknowledge their right to feel how they feel. Maybe ask them, “Do you want to talk more about that, or should we find a new topic?” to gauge their energy level for a discussion. If the person says, “It’s not my thing, but what do you love about it?” they are giving you a gift at that point, so make your case in a few sentences and then STOP. There is a place for passionate discussions, but those need to be entered into with mutual consent.
In my classes, one of the things we try to do is to push past “I liked it”/”I didn’t like it” as reactions to work. What is it? What is it trying to be? Is it good at being that thing? Was that a good thing to try to be in the first place? Did the artist have a specific agenda? How did it play with audiences at the time? Does it play the same way now? What stereotypes does it reinforce/undermine? That can be a very rich place to have a discussion if everyone is on board, but you don’t get there with “How dare you not have seen or not like what I like?” And keep in mind, I’m not talking about writing criticism. Write & critique all you want! There is a lot of work to be done there! I’m not talking about activism. #HashtagAway! I am talking about conversations about media with our peers in our leisure time, where liking the same creative work CAN connect us but shouldn’t HAVE TO.
So, Letter Writer, thanks for the opportunity to discuss this, but leave your boyfriend alone about The Wire. He’ll come to it or not in his own sweet time.