Me: “I have an amazing idea! How about we do a total TV detox for a month? Like, give it up completely?” The Husband: (*conspicuous silence*)
The first offer in a negotiation is rarely accepted.
So we agreed on a Monday-to-Thursday no-TV-for-one-month life together, which was a Big Household Decision. We are TV (and movie) people. We were raised on TV, we love TV, we eat dinner on the couch while watching TV, and we fall asleep to TV. “TV is life!” 👈 meant to be said like that Dani Rojas character in Ted Lasso.
Here’s the thing with living a “TV is life” kind of life: it doesn’t leave a lot of room for better, or even just different, things in life. TV is brilliantly designed to keep you coming back for more—because if you are watching an episode of Hijack you are absolutely coming back the next night to see what Idris Elba is going to do on that skyjacked plane.
I started feeling funny about TV when The Husband and I found ourselves inside in the balmy evenings—the same balmy evenings we had fantasized about moving to Palm Springs to enjoy outside. “We’ll use the hot tub tomorrow night,” we’d reassure ourselves as we settled in to watch our show-de-jour . . . but deep down we knew we’d just be right back in our bum-shaped dents on the couch the very next night. The same went for the outdoor fire pit in the winter; our intentions to enjoy cozy cocktails by starlight were, well, up in flames. The TV beckoned and like any good addict, we answered its call. (When Idris summons, YOU ANSWER.)
I’m not the only one (and oh how misery loves company): some pretty fastidious research concludes that “watching TV is America’s favorite pastime”—a statement that you must also find profoundly troubling, no? We’re spending more than half of our leisure time each day (an astounding average of 2 hours 46 minutes) watching TV. When we’re not working, bathing, or eating, we’re watching other people live lives through screens attached to our walls. We’re not really living, but we’ve gotten good at observing what life might look like (at least if we were on a plane with terrorists and Idris on board to hopefully save our souls).
So I starting reading all the blogs I’ve ever written about living like we mean it, and in an effort to practice what I preach and all that bullshit, I nervously embarked upon a month of 57% less TV.
Here are the TV-detox observations:
I was startled to admit my addiction. After Day 2 I Googled the signs and symptoms of addiction withdrawal and felt so seen: I felt an inexplicable emptiness in the days when I’d remember there would be no TV til Friday. I felt unsettled and twitchy—that’s it! twitchy!—like every user I’ve watched in the movies who’s looking for her next hit. Isn’t the first step admitting you have a problem? Fuck me. I’m addicted to streaming services. Is there a group for that? I hate folding chairs and Styrofoam-cupped-coffee though, so I’m going to have to sweat this one out solo (okay, with The Husband, my co-addict). Are there any seemingly innocuous addictions you might feel twitchy to cut back on? Might that signal a desire to edit that a bit?
Giving up TV for four nights was way easier than the cold turkey approach. Addicts everywhere are nodding with me: they too know it’s possible to live on the straight and narrow during the work week and then go on total benders from Friday at 5:01pm through bedtime on Sunday. Oh how I loved the benders! Fridays got 740x better knowing TV was on the evening agenda! In some ways a “you can’t have it” mentality made it more special. Is this why conjugal visits are all the rage for relationships? How can you gently cut back on a time-sucking/ vitality-sucking activity, rather than thinking of it as an all-or-nothing approach?
Be willing to look deeper. One of the harshest epiphanies in the partial detox was of the “what will I do with myself?” sort. I wrote about the existential vacuum here—about how free time can make us painfully aware of the fact there’s nothing we want or have to do. I was afraid of being bored, of what that might say about me (to myself—to the bitchy twitchy inner critic who was judging me for not having more meaningful hobbies and interests and relationships in lieu of Hulu and Peacock and Apple+). I was embarrassed with myself . . . until I scratched the surface and realized TV was a soothing mechanism to unplug from go-go-go days. I wanted and needed less go. TV was serving a healthy role, just in a jacked-up, overdosed way. I could manage that! I just needed to find soothing substitutes. Are you afraid of giving up a zone-out/ unplug activity, because you too might face the fact that you have jack shit to do? You might have more options than you think.
What did we do on the TV-free nights? Allow me to tell you first what I didn’t want to do: spending an evening reading a book or listening to a podcast related to work sounded like even more work, so that wasn’t going to pacify me. Giving up a vice is easier when you don’t dread the replacement activities. So I made a list of options, and when work was over for the day, we’d pick what felt right: walking in a new neighborhood, reading on the chairs we don’t normally sit in while listening to music, eating at the dining room table and (*gasp!*) talking, swimming after an evening walk, going out for tacos, working out, planning upcoming vacations at the dining room table after the plates were cleared, drinking cocktails, making mildly-time-consuming dinners, and having friends over without secretly hoping they’d leave early so we could get back to Jack Ryan. What would make your list of Things to Do Other than the Thing You Might Be Addicted To?
Time slowed down. Staring down the barrel of a TV-free evening tends to change the pace . . . in a breathe-easy kind of way. Knowing you have the stretch of the night in front of you reshapes your perception of time and how you might fill it more leisurely. I’m the type who wants to leave the gym 14 minutes after getting there, and while I still wanted to leave pronto during the TV detox nights, it felt nice to not want to scurry home to make dinner so we could plant ourselves on the couch. I felt more relaxed. I was a woman with time on her hands. It’s possible I did a few more crunches during this experimental time. (Unlikely, but possible.) Does the idea of an extra few hours a day or week entice you to put your vices on hold for a hot minute?
We’ve landed on a reasonable way forward. The plan now is to simply skip TV three nights a week in favor of doing anything life-enhancing. This detox was an effort of curtailment, not banishment, because I do appreciate the creativity and craft of the entertainment industry. I want TV in my life—in the right dose. I want to watch shows and movies that let me learn about new perspectives . . . that make me feel feelings I wouldn’t normally feel in my average day . . . that lighten my mood with silly laughter . . . that educate me . . . that help me fall asleep. I like the “Wolfie Wednesday” ritual The Husband and I have where we watch the original Law & Order reruns (produced by Dick Wolf—so that explains the Wolfie thing). Rituals can be remarkable for our well-being, until we dupe ourselves into thinking seven nights of televised programming is somehow soul filling. TV will be a mere part of an otherwise well-lived life I’m hellbent on living.
What’s the right “dose” of your coping mechanism? What things might you enjoy/ learn/ accomplish if you weren’t doing your zombie-inducing thing as often as you’re doing it now? Take it from me: there’s a world of living out there, just waiting for us to enjoy it, if we’re willing to get past the addiction shakes for the first few days.