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Every Couple You Know Is Arguing Over Which Shows to Fall Asleep To

‘30 Rock,’ ‘Gourmet Makes,’ the World Series of Poker: How do you settle a feud this elemental?

Poker videos are my magic bullet. When I’m crushed by deadlines and uncertainty, when all the chaos of tomorrow’s duties disrupt the serenity of the evening before it, when the simple act of falling asleep feels impossible, I turn to old clips of NBC’s Poker After Dark. They sink into my skin, soften the edges of existence and put me down easy. 

Some of the best rests I’ve ever had follow the same exact blueprint: laptop on the edge of the bed, screen tilted down to a 30-degree angle, volume locked at a peaceful 3 or 4, while poker pros like Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey gently ruffle their chip stacks and caress the felt, until I too am seated at the Great Card Table in the Clouds. I have no explanation for why it works, other than that I’ve clearly watched enough poker videos to build up a Pavlovian sedative in my head. The Las Vegas twilight, the plush leather chairs, the flippant treatment of extraordinary wealth — it’s like taking a tranquilizer dart to the soul. Often, I’m zonked out by the time they play their fourth hand.

My girlfriend, of course, relies on a very different sleep therapy. Her preferred bedtime appetite are Netflix reruns of either 30 Rock, Friends or The Office — sitcoms she’s seen so many times, in so many different layers of consciousness, that she knows every line by heart. This is a constant tension whenever one of us stays over in the other’s apartment. Who gets to decide what we will be falling asleep to tonight? Whose Happy Place are we visiting? 

I am not an unreasonable person, which means that I completely understand why she might find the idea of falling asleep to decade-old poker videos as a high-concept form of torture — the sort of stuff that would get you put on trial at the Hague. Unfortunately, I feel the exact same way about falling asleep to Dwight Schrute. 

This is a very millennial problem. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the average bunny-eared TV set was equipped with three and a half channels and wasn’t even in your bedroom, couples didn’t have many options for what they were watching at bedtime. (That bondage through limited choices was what made The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson an institution.) But now, with an exponentially multiplying streaming industry, a mind-boggling wealth of niche podcasts and an infinitely replicating library of YouTube creators covering every subculture in the universe, achieving a relationship consensus on nighttime media is essentially impossible. 

This has been heavy on my mind lately, as my girlfriend and I prepare to cohabitate for the first time in our lives. We even went as far as to rent a two-bedroom apartment, so that each of us can retreat to different quarters and drift off to our own preferred choice of benign babble. But there must be better ways, right? That is, how do you settle a feud as elemental as Liz Lemon vs. The World Series of Poker without completely separating from each other, if just till the next morning?

Taylor Prewitt, a 26-year-old in Texas, knows exactly what I’m talking about. She’s had the same bedtime routine for most of her life: Twenty minutes of reading before turning off all the lights completely, as a threat to anyone who’d dare disturb her. Her boyfriend of two and a half years has a different tradition. He finds his nocturnal peace through hunting and fishing shows, which is the sort of content that falls in the extreme reaches of his side of their shared Venn Diagram. 

“Even when the content is more to my tastes, I dislike it because both the light and the narrative arc of the show keeps me up,” explains Prewitt. “I’ve ended up going to sleep much later, and having a harder time going to sleep than when I was single. Even on nights when I’m not with him, it’s harder for me to fall asleep because my brain is used to night-time stimulation now.”

Prewitt was smart. She didn’t let lingering resentment over his content boil over into a huge argument, nor did she numb herself into thinking TV taste could be an irreconcilable difference. Instead, she just bought a sleep mask and her boyfriend has become especially conscientious to turn down the volume and brightness of his outdoorsmen catalogue so Prewitt can enjoy her own neutral blackness whenever she’d like. “Once I’m drifting off, he’ll pull out the YouTube videos that I’m not as much a fan of,” she says. “It works out, and I’m generally happy with the compromises, though I do miss my sleep hygiene from my single days.”

Over the years, Prewitt says, she’s even developed an appreciation for some of the distinctly boy content that has invaded her subliminal mind night after night. Specifically, she appreciates the gearhead odyssey of Grand Tour, and Doomsday Preppers, where roughneck libertarians detail the full inventory of canned food and semi-automatic rounds in their basements. “It’s his version of crappy reality TV,” she says. 

Sophie Weiner, a 30-year-old in Australia, feels the same way. She and her partner enjoy a diverse suite of bedtime options: everything from YouTube channels dedicated to high-powered lasers to The Great British Bake Off. Occasionally though, her partner veers off into extremely esoteric videos on math or chemistry, which Weiner says she simply doesn’t have the capacity for right before bed. “There has definitely been some disagreement and mild irritation about that,” she says. “He also watches some things I have basically no interest in, like 3D modeling videos and chess videos.”

In those moments of consternation, Weiner and her partner find a truce with the old classics. Animal videos, in particular, might be the single common denominator throughout all relationships. “We will pretty much always enjoy a video of a capybara in a yuzu bath,” she says. “If I’m too tired to understand quantum theory, which is always, this is our go-to.” 

Adam Secord, a 27-year-old in California, operates under a first-come, first-serve arrangement with his girlfriend of seven years. His nighttime medication? Twitch streamers, especially those who play the sedate digital card game Hearthstone. His girlfriend opts for Judge Judy reruns, but she often falls asleep on the couch, which offers him impunity over the evening’s entertainment decision. 

“If we’re both going to sleep at the same time, I typically let her choose whatever it is that she would like to watch to fall asleep. However, if she falls asleep on the couch, when I wake her up to go to bed, I typically will default to putting on something that I’d rather fall asleep to,” says Secord. “Also, it’s understood that while she can have Judge Judy going on the iPad full volume, it’s not a huge deal if I watch a stream on my phone for a little bit. I can only think of a few times that I’ve actually gotten up and changed what we were watching, but it’s always after she’s fully asleep, and for whatever reason I’m still awake. That said, it almost never happens.”

Maybe things were simpler back in caveman days before entertainment was invented, when the only thing worth watching at night was the firepit and the rival clan across the valley. It must’ve been more harmonious before we were given millions of channels, only to find a million different sedatives that each have a distinct narcotizing effect on someone’s genetic code. One man’s white noise is another man’s discord. 

Partnership, faithfulness and open communication are all important, but right now, one of my most important concerns is to ensure that her Real Housewives and my schlubby poker pros are able to live in peace every twilight.