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Sharing the TV Can Help Spouses Really Click--or Grow Remote

September 24, 2002|JEANNE MARIE LASKAS | WASHINGTON POST

Fortunately, I have the clicker. If I didn't have the clicker, I would right now probably be trying to figure out a way to say, um, no, I would prefer to not spend the next 90 minutes of my life watching Jackie Chan grunt and kick with rapid-fire speed into the eye sockets of bad guys.

"But, sweetie," the husband would inevitably say, "it's like watching a ballet. And it's funny."

"Uh-huh." And it's a good thing I have the clicker. If I didn't have the clicker, the other thing I might be doing right now is trying to figure out what is up with husbands who have not outgrown their Monty Python stage. I would be sitting here watching the Spam routine, wondering why I know no wives still at that stage, nor, for that matter, any unmarried males still at that stage; there seems to be a direct connection between males, marriage and Monty Python, a link that right now I don't have the brain energy to figure out. I'm tired. I just want a little TV.

So it's a good thing I have the clicker. TV-watching time between a wife and a husband should be a shared time. It should not be a time when the wife says, "OK, I'm gonna go upstairs now," so as to escape the gravitational pull the husband feels toward "Junkyard Wars" and/or "BattleBots." ("But sweetie, this is art!") No. It can and should be a precious time of active participation and mutual enjoyment of the TV-watching experience.

So, not even hesitating as I pass some very good old friends revisiting my screen on Nick at Night, I click to the one show the husband and I can agree on.

"Oh, good, 'Law & Order,' " he says, which is what I knew he would say.

"Not just any 'Law & Order,' " I say. (The show now comes in several varieties, perhaps because it offers the one TV formula that the husbands and wives of America can agree on.) "Tonight, it's 'Law & Order: Cutie Pie.' "

Otherwise known as "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," this show features a ruggedly intelligent detective who captured my heart the first time I saw him.

"My boyfriend!" I say, seeing him. "Oh, how I love him. Honey, if you die, I'm going to marry him. But not until you are all the way dead....OK? Hello?"

"Shhh," the husband says.

Oh, for heaven's sake. You try and get a conversation going around here...."Well, what, anyway, is going on?" I say. "Who's that lady with the teeth? Is she the murderer?"

"How am I supposed to know who the murderer is?" he says.

"She's the sister of the dead person? Or, she's the mother of the girl who was just on talking about the broken glass?"

The husband is now peering at me over the rim of his glasses. It is a look that says, "Your talking is causing me actual pain in my brain."

"Sorry." See, he thinks I talk through TV. Or, he thinks I don't talk at the right TV intervals. Or something. But I am committed to my goal to make this a shared TV experience.

I just wish the detective would do his chin thing. Instead, look at that! Oh, isn't that cute? "Holy perspiration!" I say to the husband. "Look at that!"

"What?"

"He's sweating!"

The husband, at this point he's rubbing his eyebrows. "You know what?" he says. "We are getting less and less TV-compatible."

"You want the clicker?"

"No, I want to find out what happens in this show."

Well, no need to get testy. I wonder how other couples negotiate their TV-watching time. I think of my parents surviving well over 50 years of marriage--surviving, in fact, the very invention of TV. My dad likes football, my mom likes opera. So this is what they do: He puts the football game on with the sound off, and she puts an opera on the stereo, blares it. See? A shared TV experience.

"Maybe we need to learn better TV negotiations," I say to the husband. But he's not listening to me. No, he's ... watching TV. Sheesh.

Finally, the show is winding up. "So, what happened?" I ask. "Who did it?"

He throws his head back. See, he thinks I always do this. Or something. He thinks I don't pay close enough TV attention. In reality, I just depend on him for plot summaries. Why wouldn't I? There are few TV shows that require the attention of two full-time brains.

"The detective did it," he says. "Your man with the chin."

Now he's just being cruel. And it's a good thing I have the clicker. Because "Biography" is coming on next. And I'll watch a biography of just about anybody. And he'll watch a biography of about 50% of anybody. So there is a chance this night may be saved.

Here it comes. Featured tonight on "Biography" is the life story of ... Jackie Chan.

"I can't believe this," I say.

"I can't believe this!" he says.

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