‘Sync-Watching’ Stinks: One Woman’s Tale of Long-Distance Love

Photo: Photos: Michael Haegele/Corbis

Today the New York Times introduced readers to sync-watching, a new term to describe the not-so-new phenomenon of people in long-distance relationships simultaneously streaming a movie or television show from their individual computers. This virtual approximation of a cozy night in on the couch, Times sources say, “is the 21st-century version of distant lovers writing letters to each other, saying that they’ll look at the stars and know the other is looking, too.” But tandem streaming is not so romantic for every couple: Sometimes it leads to Netflix adultery, or even a breakup. The Cut spoke with one bitter anonymous former sync-watcher.

The Cut: Who in the relationship proposed sync-watching, and how’d they pop the question?

Bitter Anonymous Former Sync-Watcher: Oh, that was me, because I’d always ask him to save movies for us to watch together, which he would then watch anyway because he had “nothing else to do that night.” So I said, the next time you’re home bored and want to watch it, let’s FaceTime and watch it together. It actually took a lot of convincing. (He was a dick.)

This bring me to my next question: What was your technological arrangement?

For me, it was always Netflix on my TV with Roku, FaceTiming on my iPad or MacBook. For him, it was Netflix on MacBook with FaceTime on iPad. Thank you, Apple. He had roommates, so he couldn’t enjoy the couch/TV lest his friends think he was actually trying to create healthy intimacy in a relationship.

You watch each other reacting to the movie? That seems hard. More intense than watching IRL, maybe.

Mm, I didn’t think about that, but actually, yeah. I’m a drama kid anyway, so I do think I was performing a bit when we watched stuff. He even once commented, “That was a drama-kid moment,” or some BS like that. And also, you kind of can’t do it for very long — like when we tried to binge-watch The Sopranos together — because you are SO aware of someone watching you while you watch something.

You didn’t feel virtually cuddled, like Theodore Twombly?

I did not feel cuddled. I felt monitored, I guess, and self-aware. GChat might have been easier.

It sounds like you’re telling me sync-watching reveals and/or exacerbates the pre-existing challenges of long-distance relationships.

Maybe that’s why we broke up, LOL. It just highlighted how unnatural the whole thing was, to be honest.

Are there no good sync-watching memories you’ll cherish from this relationship?

He’d sync-watch stuff with me when I was home sick, so a) he never had to see how disgusting I looked unbathed; and b) I didn’t have to hear the “I can’t sit next to you because you’ll get me sick.” Also, it is REALLY fun to take screenshots of someone while they are reacting to things. A photo of his disgusted face while watching Children Underground was on my fridge for a while. You can’t really capture those moments IRL.

‘Sync-Watching’ Stinks: One Woman’s Tale