My ex-boyfriend and I broke up almost exactly two years ago, and we’ve spoken only a handful of times since. But I can tell you exactly what he’s watching on Netflix. (“Friday Night Lights,” if you’re curious.)
We now live 500 miles apart but remain tethered to one another by technology, specifically a shared Netflix account.
The obvious question, of course, is: Why? Why not cut all ties and move on, disconnecting from one another figuratively and literally?
At first, the answer was simple: Our breakup was amicable, so why not continue to share? When I moved out of our shared apartment in 2013, I was paying for our joint Netflix account; he paid for HBO and thus our joint HBO Go account. We were on good terms, so we decided we may as well keep sharing; he’d retain access to Netflix, if I could keep watching HBO Go.
We had our own definition of Netflix and chill. Good deal, right? But not everyone agrees.
“Dude,” a friend recently scolded me, “it’s only $8 a month.”
But it’s about more than money.
In fact, my ex eventually canceled his HBO service – and yet we kept sharing Netflix, in part because neither of us wanted to give up our individual user profiles within the shared account. My profile, carefully cultivated since I joined Netflix in 2007, includes a watch history a mile long and personalized recommendations that are, well, impressively personalized. Maybe it’s silly, but I was loathe to give that up and start from scratch.
He was, too. And so, although we eventually stopped speaking, the Netflix half of our video-streaming deal has lived on.
I asked Eddy Wu, director of product innovation at Netflix, whether it’s possible to extract my individual user profile and start a new account, free of my ex but with all the same algorithms. He told me, “While we’re always testing new product features to improve the Netflix experience for our members, at this time you can’t extract specific profile information.”
So there goes that idea.
Fortunately, Netflix’s separate user profile feature means that my ex’s viewing choices aren’t visible to me unless I go looking for them. We use the same login, but everything we watch is separate. (So I’m not necessarily reminded of him whenever I binge-watch “Pretty Little Liars.”)
I don’t usually check to see what he’s watching. But other former couples do keep tabs on one another’s watch histories.
Whitney Turner, 31, of Portland, Ore., says she couldn’t stop checking her ex-boyfriend’s viewing history within their shared account, despite the fact that she had moved thousands of miles away from him. A heartbroken Turner even went so far as to watch the same movies and shows her ex was viewing, in an attempt to feel connected to him.
“It was like somehow we still had shared interests,” she says. “Mind you, we hadn’t talked in nearly a year!”
Eventually, Turner changed the password, locking him out for good. “I had been having a Netflix relationship for a year with an ex,” she says. “That’s just weird and totally unhealthy.”
Weird though it may be, I keep doing it. While it doesn’t feel particularly unhealthy yet, I was concerned I might be breaking Netflix’s terms of service by sharing an account in this way.
Wu assures me I’m in the clear, although he has a word of caution for me, Turner and others like us. “Everyone who has access to your account can modify your payment information and take over control of the account, so we recommend that you only share with those that you currently trust,” he emphasizes, “and change your password promptly if you decide you may have been a little too trusting in the past.”
My ex and I may not be dating anymore, but I do still trust him, which is why I recently texted him for the first time in months: “Think someone hacked Netflix. Here’s the new password.” He thanked me, and we went about our merry, separate ways.
Although I know it’s probably not feasible to continue sharing a Netflix account indefinitely, I don’t mind it for now. It seems to convey: We’re good. I don’t hate you, and you probably wouldn’t keep using this account if you hated me.
If nothing else, it’s reminded me that I really want to re-watch “Friday Night Lights.”