The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

My fiance and I can’t agree on what to watch. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
6 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My fiance and I squabble about our differing media tastes more often than I’d like to admit. He thinks reality TV is trash, and won’t even be in the room while it’s on. He thinks movies from the Criterion Collection are relaxing to watch, and that art house films have more value than rom-coms (which he also loathes to watch).

I do not particularly enjoy these sorts of films or “classic” shows that he likes to watch — we are both attorneys, and so our days are packed with dense material. I like to decompress by reading romance novels or watching “trash” TV.

We do have shows and movies that we watch together, but the topic of entertainment can devolve into a fight quickly on a Friday night when we’re looking for a movie or show to watch, and many times we quit a movie in the middle because the other person hates it so much. How do we bridge this divide?

— Media Squabble

Media Squabble: First, it is important for you both to understand and accept that you are allowed to have your own unique tastes, likes and dislikes. Both approaches to relaxing are valid, even if they don’t work for both of you. This is true of more than just movie tastes, and relationships are filled with choices you won’t agree on. What is important is that neither of you is judging the other’s harmless personal tastes and being openly critical of the other. If that is happening here, I’d urge you both to confront that issue before you say “I do.”

As for the specific question of how to decide what to watch, I would say you both need to stop asking the other to watch something you know the other person won’t enjoy. If there are a few shows or genres you do both enjoy, then stick to those for Friday night hang outs, saving your other personal preferences to watch separately. If there is no common ground, then maybe find a different form of entertainment you both enjoy, like playing games, cooking together, taking an evening stroll, etc.

Alternatively, who says you have to be watching the same thing? You could hang out on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn but watching separate movies on your laptops, wearing headphones (or one of you is watching something while the other reads a book, whatever). My husband and I do this all the time and we’ve been happily married for nearly a decade. (He’s never seen “Dirty Dancing” and I didn’t get past the third episode of “Game of Thrones,” and that is perfectly fine.)

In short, focus your together time on your shared interests, but allow each other the space/alone time to pursue your separate interests as well. Both are equally important to any lasting relationship.

— SM

Media Squabble: Are there any places where your media tastes overlap? Are you both okay with action adventure movies, or sci-fi, or more modern dramas that aren’t art house films? Spend your media time together on things that you can agree on even if it’s neither of your favorites.

And plan to have time during the week or weekend where you each go your separate ways and watch the media the other person can’t stand.

But you should also consider that just like with other hobbies that are an important part of someone’s life that you personally don’t give a darn about, it’s important to periodically make an effort to participate in or at least support your partners’ interests, and see how that interest makes them the person you love. Right now it sounds like you’re both forcing your tastes on your partner — and in his instance, belittling your tastes. In order for the two of you to make this work, you need to switch up the dynamic to occasionally choosing to watch your partners’ favorite genre with them, no griping, belittling or quit-in-the-middle allowed, as a gift to your partner.

If either of you can’t do this, and if your opinions of each other’s media choices continue to spiral into contempt on either part, then you should reconsider your engagement. Going into a marriage with the level of contempt and disgust you’re describing is a recipe for misery.

— Anonymous

Media Squabble: My girlfriend and I have wildly different preferences for TV/movies as well. We chatted about it and came up with an idea that works for us. We created a jar with names of movies or shows that we both agreed on (or would be willing to sit through since the other loves it) and will pull a name out of the jar if we can’t decide on what to watch. We also allow each other to have “control of the remote” specified nights where we’ll still be spending time together, but she gets to watch what she prefers while I read or scroll on my phone, and vice versa. We’re vastly different people, but we’ve found a way to make it work so that our varied preference for TV is a nonissue.

Do other issues cause fights like the TV issue? Is there something else under the surface that needs to be recognized and addressed?

— Timber

Media Squabble: He’s got contempt for your choices (and I detect a dismissive tone from you as well, when referring to his) and that’s the problem. It’s fine not to like some of the things the other person likes, but not fine at all to be contemptuous of someone you plan to spend the rest of your life with. I’d try dropping your end of the rope (not defending your choices, not commenting on his, “This is what I’m in the mood for tonight, if you don’t want to watch I’ll watch on my laptop and you can have the TV. I’m having some wine, want some?”) and see how he responds. If that doesn’t work, seriously reconsider marrying — this kind of thing is poison to a long-term relationship.

— Also Anonymous

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and they are edited for length and clarity.