On the first chilly night of the season, my husband and I snuggled up under my favorite blanket to rent a movie. We were sipping tea and scanning the new releases on Apple TV.
“Captain America!” he exclaimed. I scrunched my nose. “Okaayy,” he said while clicking through the other picks.
“Oh. Didn’t you want to see Crazy, Stupid, Love?” I asked. I’d already seen it, but I was nudging him just so I could ogle Ryan Gosling’s six-pack abs one more time.
“Let’s just watch the preview for Captain America,” he said.
On the screen flashed a skinny imp of a guy begging to be in the Army, cutting to actor Tommy Lee Jones saluting a row of World War II soldiers, and then suddenly scenes of explosions so loud that they vibrated a couch cushion. I knew where this was going.
So did my husband – the preview played right into his desire to see lots of men hurling fireballs at one another. “Let’s rent it,” he said.
Today, instead of reading the back of a DVD box or watching trailers at the movies, you can watch previews from your own couch, and most seem to have a single target audience in mind. Instead of going after both of you, they hone in on one of you. A boat/plane explosion or a male actor making gross-out jokes reassures guys they can sit through a film, while a preview that starts with a perky actress beaming or a family yelling or hugging indicates to women that “this is your kind of movie!” It’s hard to find a movie that appeals to two people. And the decision often leaves somebody pouting.
A few years ago, my husband and I came up with what we thought was the perfect solution to our movie-night troubles: Rather than always trying to find a compromise pick that neither of us was excited about, we’d alternate choosing the movies. He’d get the first pick, I’d get the next.
The trick is that you have to be committed to accepting the other person’s selection: I sat through The Incredible Hulk and the X-Men movies. He dutifully watched 13 Going on 30 and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. We surprise each other at times by how much we like the other’s choices: I rooted for Iron Man. He was sucked into the period drama The Other Boleyn Girl. Often, we’re simply tolerating each other’s selections. But other times we really enjoy watching a movie we wouldn’t normally see on our own.
As my husband and I have gotten on, though – we’re at the ripe old age of 36 – I’ve noticed we’ve become more rigid in our movie tastes. Maybe it’s partly a result of having a child, but it’s challenging for me to waste two hours of my free time watching a movie I really don’t want to see. The preview is the beginning of the dread: From the moment the first angry Roman runs up a hill, I’m ready to play Scrabble instead. Distraction is my latest tactic. If John picks a movie I don’t want to see, I’ll watch it out of respect for his choice, but I tend to occupy myself with something else, too, like online shopping or catching up on my New Yorker.
When John and I got married six years ago, aunts and uncles were quick to point out that the secret to a long-lasting marriage is compromise. I agree, somewhat –but I also think that constantly meeting each other halfway can make you both feel as if you no longer have an opinion at all. You’re never living life the way you want to, but half the way you want, half the way your partner wants. Sometimes you just want to watch what you want to watch. No discussion. No eye rolls.
In a way, our movie nights feel more like a true date, because I’m inviting my husband to watch something with me or vice versa, rather than having two tired people zoning out in front of a movie neither one cares much about.
The night that we rented Captain America, I fell asleep on the couch next to John. I woke up at the end and pretended I’d seen the whole thing: “Not half bad.” John didn’t snicker. He put his arm around me and said, “Thanks for watching it with me.”
Then he got up and began jousting with an invisible opponent. Just like he does after every one of his picks.