There are hundreds of books, seminars, and articles out there for couples who are looking to rekindle the flames of passion. There are lingerie shops, satin sheets, and a whole realm of specialty stores that I'm not going to go into (literally or literarily). So who would've thought that the greatest romantic invention for long-term couples, especially ones with kids, would be a gray box that sits on top of your television and smiles at you. You can keep your fur-lined handcuffs, French maid's outfits, and scented candles. Just don't take my TiVo away.
A full moon comes once a month. Halley's comet shows up every 76 years. And for couples with young children, midweek romantic interludes occur at a frequency somewhere in between those two celestial events. Gone are the times when Sara and I considered weeknights, weekend afternoons, and even first-thing-in-the-morning times for "making whoopee," as they used to say on The Newlywed Game.
Now, we have about a two-hour window between the kids' bedtimes and our own, from about 8 to 10 p.m., to be a couple. Does that time frame sound familiar? It's "prime time," and that's just one more challenge in the effort to remain romantically relevant during the week. It's not that Survivor is better than sex, but it only takes one partner uttering "maybe after Tribal Council" for the mood to get voted right off the island. And on a purely physical level, it's not as if most of us can compete with the McDreamys, McSteamys, or Desperate Housewives that are waiting for us on-screen.
It shouldn't be that way. Clearly a couple's sex life is more important than their screen time, but watching a show only requires a 30- or 60-minute commitment, while the marriage vows are a lifetime deal, so it's far too easy to go for the instant gratification that gets in the way of the . . . um . . . slightly-less-instant gratification. But when Sara and I got our first digital video recorder, one of the early generations of TiVo, we effectively eliminated one of the most seductive distractions that faced our work-night wedded bliss.
During the zenith of NBC's "Must-See TV," a time when Friends, Frasier, and E.R. held America hostage every Thursday night, we'd gotten the device just to free us up to watch our favorite shows on our own schedule. We never thought it would suddenly become a marital aid in the truest sense of the word. Sara and I were big fans of The X-Files when TiVo came out, but the show was on Fridays, a bona fide date night. With our TiVo set to record new episodes, we could focus on our own undercover ops rather than worry about missing the night Fox Mulder would finally infiltrate the government's alien secrets.
We also quickly discovered that an hourlong TV show has nearly 20 minutes of commercials and filler. That meant two hours of TV could be watched in about an hour and a half once we got good at fast-forwarding through the breaks, creating a half-hour of free time. That might not be enough time for a candlelit dinner or moonlit walk on the beach, but it's plenty of time for Mommy and Daddy to become Sara and Shawn again.
When our gray box finally gave out five years later, we decided to reinvest by renting a DVR from Comcast that can record two channels at the same time. It has eliminated any arguments over which shows should be recorded. A device that encourages intimacy and reduces disagreements? Seriously, Dr. Phil should be worried.
Now, I don't want to suggest that my and Sara's weeknight dates have been as frequent as Law & Order reruns since our first DVR purchase. The fact is, there are still plenty of weeknights where one or both of us are too tired or busy to be intimate. Let's face it: Sometimes, you'd simply rather push the remote's buttons than each other's. But it's nice to know that on any given night, even in prime time, if we're turned on, the TV can be turned off.
Shawn Peters lives in Metro West. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.