Van Ogtrop is the author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom.
What do Stanford University, marshmallows, Scandal and your BMI have in common? So much more than you can imagine.
One of my biggest regrets about 2014 is that I did not try harder to prove to my fellow man that people who fail to binge-watch Scandal are actually interesting human beings who do in fact participate in the culture, albeit in their own stunted, old-school way.
Am I feeling defensive? Maybe a bit. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to explain that I don’t binge-watch television: not Homeland, not Girls, not House of Cards. I did enjoy one short phase of binge-watching Arrested Development some years ago, until my son told his fifth-grade teacher that it was his favorite show. She was aghast, and thus ended that little era of wholesome family fun in my household.
Now that it’s January, a new TV season is upon us and bingeing is on everybody’s mind. Either you binge-ate over the holidays or you are about to binge-watch a favorite series now that you’ve finished eating. And I am growing more and more convinced that I just don’t belong in this country–nay, in the modern world.
There are four reasons not to binge-watch. The first is my mother, a retired registered dietitian who raised me to believe in the golden mean. Ergo, no bingeing. The second is my friends who, postbinge, look scarily like they’ve come off a long bender. Except when they go on a real (i.e. alcohol-fueled) bender, they meet interesting characters in bars or fall off curbs and get ankle casts that their more abstemious friends can sign. A TV bender is just extremely boring for everybody else. I mean, if I’ve never watched Luther, giving me 56 hours of plot summary is not going to make me start. And the third reason is the people I gave birth to. Bingeing on a show, you see, requires a gigantic time commitment, which is impossible for me since whenever I sit down to watch TV, a telepathic signal alerts the rest of the household that Mom is relaxing and before I can even pick up the remote, some child is demanding to be fed, paid his allowance or driven to GameStop.
The last reason is James Taylor. Every year at this time, I remember these lyrics from his song “Secret O’ Life”: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” But when you are binge-watching Orange Is the New Black, you don’t notice the passage of time until the credits roll on the final episode and you’ve lost all feeling in your legs. Then you have two choices: you can resume your (sadder, not nearly as exciting) real life, or you can start over, which is why my 16-year-old son is now on his third viewing of every episode ever made (208, for the record) of How I Met Your Mother. And no, this doesn’t get in the way of schoolwork one single bit.
What ever happened to anticipation? (James, Carly: Weigh in here.) If the millions of people who listened to the Serial podcast last year taught us anything, it is that there are some appointment programs that are actually worth waiting for. Such as–middle-class cliché alert!–Downton Abbey. Besides a cup of coffee to start the morning and a glass of wine to end the day, the fact that I can look forward to Downton Abbey every Sunday is about the only thing that gets me out of bed in the winter. Apologies to my husband and kids, and all my friends who wrongly assume I love them more than I love the Dowager Countess.
Still, there is this nagging sense of inadequacy when I don’t binge-watch seven episodes in a row like the rest of the world. Maybe I just don’t fit in. And so I ask myself–as one must whenever one is feeling like a misfit–is there some way in which my inadequacy actually makes me … superior?
And in this case, there is! Think for a minute about the slightly sadistic but totally scientific Stanford marshmallow experiment of the 1960s and ’70s. In the experiment, young children were told they could have one marshmallow immediately or two if they waited 15 minutes. Researchers later tracked the lives of the children in the study, and those who were able to wait for the second marshmallow–and were therefore capable of delayed gratification–grew up to have higher SAT scores and lower BMIs! And a greater sense of self-worth, which naturally follows, because higher SAT scores + lower BMI = superior human being.
So my reluctance to binge-watch actually has nothing to do with my mother, or James Taylor, or the fact that Season 5 of Downton Abbey comes only in weekly installments. No, no, no. The reason for my lifestyle choice is much more nuanced than that. After all, I know it would only take me about seven clicks of a mouse to find out what happens on Downton Abbey this season. But that immediate gratification would raise my BMI and maybe even retroactively lower my SAT scores. And as much as I love the Dowager Countess, I’m just not sure she’s worth it.
This appears in the January 26, 2015 issue of TIME.