Sometimes modern technology exhausts me. (No, I don't want to upgrade my cellphone. No, I don't need to see every movie in 3-D. No, I don't want to find my soulmate with the swipe of my finger.) But when it means I can watch a cheesy movie with my best friend even though we live thousands of miles apart, I'm pretty OK with it.
I met this friend in college. Every year for three years, we lived right next door to each other. A holler or a knock on the wall would have been enough to get the other's attention. Neither of us ever had much interest in the stereotypical college experience (i.e., spending Friday night getting drunk and/or not wearing sweatpants), so we just vegged out a lot. We'd watch movies and marathon television shows, either just the two of us or with like-minded squares who lived nearby. It was the original Netflix and chill, before that phrase was accompanied by a wink and a nudge.
I got so used to this comfortable little routine that going home for holiday breaks felt like my life was being uprooted. Couldn't we watch just one more episode? Just one more cheesy DVR'ed Lifetime movie? Being a few dozen miles away from my fellow futon potato felt like light-years.
So you can probably imagine how it felt when she moved to the other side of the country shortly after graduation. Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly proud of her for taking the leap and going after her dreams, and other mushy sentiments I usually save for the insides of Christmas cards. But selfishly, I wanted her to remain no more than 10 steps away from me at all times — or at most, an hour's drive. Couldn't I file the opposite of a restraining order and mandate this?
It's been like this going on four years now, and I'm happy to say that we haven't lost touch. And although I cherish our yearly in-person visits and would always be happy to see her at my door, I've gotten comfortable with our new methods of communication. Those include but are not limited to: sending each other cat GIFs, liking each other's Facebook posts, and watching movies together.
Yes, that's right — I said watching movies.
We both watch the same movie at the same time while instant messaging our observations, criticisms, and questions. And we're far from the first ones to think of this. The practice has become so popular that New York Times writer Anand Giridharadas even coined a term for it: sync-watching.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this was actually an option. While we were moaning about the downsides of distance, we could have been enjoying Troll 2. (We've since done so, and it was superb.)
It usually begins the same way. I'll see a message from her towards the end of the week: "Movie this weekend?"
My response is almost always some variation of "YAAAASSS."
There are, of course, schedules to be worked around and time differences to be considered, but it just so happens that we've both retained our homebody ways, so it's not hard to coordinate a mutually convenient time. In fact, the hardest part is actually choosing what to watch. To be honest, I couldn't care less. I'm sure we could put just about anything on and turn it into an entertaining experience.
Our previously viewed titles include High School Musical and Christian Mingle The Movie. As you can imagine, we crack a lot of jokes. There is also a lot of "Hey, I've seen that guy before" and "Did she just say what I think she just said?" Sometimes we send exactly the same comment milliseconds apart, and proceed to type out our laughter phonetically.
The technique we've found works best for us is to use a free site called Rabbit that allows for shared viewing and live chat in the same tab. (There's also the option to video chat, if that's more your style.) Rabbit lets multiple people watch anything on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and around the internet at the same time. Only one person needs to have an account, and that person controls the screen.
If all else fails, there's always use the old-fashioned "put the same movie on at the same time" trick, or you can go the When Harry Met Sally route and talk on the phone while tuned in to the same TV station. (Time zones can, unfortunately, make this tricky.)
What's great about sync-watching (to borrow the term) is that we can comfortably fall into our old habits, albeit in a slightly altered environment. There's no pressure to catch up on everything new in our lives or make the most of our time together, like there might be when we finally see each other in person. It's the closest we can get to being back in the dorms just hanging out.
If you want to get corny about it, you could say it's like a virtual hug. And since neither of us is much of a hugger in real life, that works just fine.
Cover image via YouTube