When Kim and I first moved in together, in 2006, we decided to give up television and begin an experimental year of culture and activities, a year that would theoretically be filled with painting, harpsichord, and hiking in linen tunics.
Kim had experimented with giving up her television before, and she had stories she just loved to tell and tell, of nights spent painting cyclopes and early mornings spent watching the sunrise from the roof. Kim spoke about her negative-TV experiement with nostalgic affection and a sort of superiority that I couldn’t understand no matter how much I squinted.
Frankly, her anecdotes about feeling alive and productive had annoyed me from the get-go, but I made the mistake in the beginning of our relationship of pretending that I, too, was insufferable in that TV-hating way, and it was too late to back out of my better dating persona. Statistically, one of us had to be the more stoic one, and I was determined it would be me.
When Kim had first started spending the night at my place, though, we’d watch a little TV together, maybe Charlie Rose or the Food Network (a mere amuse bouche of my complete Comcast package), and we always acted like it was an accident that the TV was on. Every time we turned it on, we’d be astonished at how bright and life-like it was. “It’s so … three-dimensional,” Kim would say. “I always forget how colorful it is,” I would add cheerfully, trying to one-up her.
Back then, in the beginning of our relationship, Kim always talked about how she hoped to not have a TV one day, and that, when we moved in together, our merged life would be so much more interesting than our individual lives that we wouldn’t need to do things like watch TV. I always agreed quickly, but only in the patronizing way that one agrees with a baby who accidentally says a real word. It didn’t matter what Kim wanted, because I adored TV and would never go without it, no matter how much smarter I could be and how many paintings I could paint in my free time.
So on our moving day, we were standing around in our new living room, trying to find the perfect non-TV spot (you know, the one off to the side that you see in some people’s houses when they don’t want you to know that in reality they think of it as an uncle and talk to it aloud when no one’s around) for our TV.
“Well,” said Kim, “how about we put it on that plant stand and let the plant droop over it.”
“We should put it behind the couch,” I said, one-upping her once again.
“Yeah.” Kim studied me with a curious expression on her face, as if she believed I wouldn’t last much longer.
“I guess we should see if it even works, huh,” I said, trying not to squeal, grab a bag of pretzels, and jump on the couch, ready for what I knew would be the first bead in my delicious rosary of shows.
So after being in the new apartment for about seven minutes, we switched on the TV. Turns out we got one free basic channel, and it was shaky, black-and-white, and snowy. It was upsetting, especially since over the next two weeks we continued to watch it every night. Each time, it took at least 25 minutes to find the channel with the bunny ears, then 45 for our eyes to adjust to the poor reception. Without discussing our year of no-television too much, every night we sat on the edge of the couch with our dinner plates on our knees, chewing silently on cheese crackers and squinting to make out the latest rerun of Cheaters.
Despite the nightly habit, we decided we still absolutely did not want cable, but that having one free channel to relax to would be nice.
“We could just turn it on a couple of times a week,” Kim gave in.
“Totally,” I said in a high pitch, “like when we’re really tired from all the exercising and museum-going.”
That’s when we bought a more expensive antenna. This one had two dials and was very heavy. Despite buttons and weight being two of the most evident indicators of quality, this antenna didn’t actually get us any more channels, but it did get us our one channel in semi-color. It still took a long time to find the picture, although if Kim stood by the window and held the bunny ears up high above her head, I could almost enjoy a full half hour of The Bachelor. Eventually, we lengthened the bunny ears with aluminum foil and duct-taped them to the thickest cable we could find running outside our window. This brought us television of crystal-level clarity. The only problem now was that the image went out every six minutes or so. And that’s when, in the pre-digital era, we discovered the human antenna effect: when your TV goes out, you raise your arms and legs as high as you can to bring it back. (Remember that?)
And so we did. For the next week, Kim and I sat on the couch and every few minutes the screen would go bright blue and we would instantly put our arms and legs as high above our heads as possible. After a while, we didn’t even notice we were doing it (or that we were watching TV). We’d be talking about, say, how lame our upstairs neighbors were, and then in a split second, we’d both be doing leg lifts. After a few days, I discovered you didn’t even have to be too meticulous about it, and I downgraded my leg lift to a bent-knee doggie leg raise, and my arm raise to a static ear-level high five.
In the end, defeating Kim’s plan to give up television was easy. I’m not even proud. There was no year of self-improvement, and now that Kim and I are seven years into our relationship, I know that there never will be one. Today, we subscribe to all the TV, Netflix, HBOGo, and most of Hulu. Sometimes I wonder how much better we would be if we had practiced the harpsichord and hiked those mountains that first year of our life together. I don’t know what kind of people we’d be today, but the kind of people that we ended up being is the kind that at the end of the day, after the work, and the baby, and the house, and the stuff, sit together in the same room, share the same beer, and laugh at the same people on TV.
L.A. Pintea is a jewelry designer at below 14th studio in New Haven, Connecticut.
Photo by R. Gino Santa Maria via Shutterstock