How Binge-Watching Outlander Helped My Marriage

It all started at a dinner party at my friends Ann and George’s house on Long Island. They were hosting a couple, Sarah and John, who were visiting from down south for the weekend, and they’d invited us over for the evening. The wives were hanging out in the kitchen, while the husbands were outside by the grill, when inside the conversation over a cheese plate quickly turned to what we’d been watching on TV lately . . . because, when you’ve got kids, what sounds better than “Netflix and chill?” Spoiler: Not a lot.Anyway, we’d just met, but Sarah was bubbly, personable, and fun—and she started talking extensively about how she’d been binge-watching a show called Outlander. I’d never heard of it, so I went on drinking my white wine and listening along. She explained that it was about time travel and life in 18th-century Scotland. It all sounded a little lame, and I was more than a bit skeptical. (For some background, I don’t watch Game of ThronesHouse of Cards, and Stranger Things. I don’t do scary.)Probably realizing that she was losing me, Sarah grabbed my phone after a few minutes and told me I had to start following one of the lead characters—Sam Heughan—on Instagram. She said that he was the Tim Riggins of the 18th century (I had, of course, seen all of Friday Night Lights) and that I wouldn’t be sorry. The night ended with amicable goodbyes and Sarah asking for my number so we could keep in touch.

A few days later, she texted me to see if I’d started watching. “That’s strange,” I thought, and dashed off a response saying that I hadn’t had time, but promised to give it a try soon. Weeks later, a snowy night in, and a disappointing scroll through the channels gave Sarah her window.

In need of something my husband and I could actually watch together—an attempt at a “date night in,” if you will, instead of him retreating upstairs to our bedroom and his iPad, Bose headphones, and Breaking Bad—I remembered Sarah’s diatribe at the dinner party and clicked over to the Starz network and selected season 1, episode 1 of Outlander, entitled “Sassenach.” “Huh?” I thought. The hubs reticently arched an eyebrow. Truth be told, things had been a little tense ever since the election, and it would be conservative to say that more than a few nights each week ended with heated discussions about gender relations, Russia’s interference in the democratic process, or North Korea, which after a little shouting back and forth, usually resulted in both of us rolling over in a huff. He leans more right, and I lean more left, and our love life was caught in the crosshairs.

“Let’s give it a try,” I pushed. “Be open minded!” Finally, he acquiesced. We pressed play and pressed on.

Based on the historical time travel novels by Diana Gabaldon, the show stars the beautiful and talented Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall (a role that’s garnered her a recent Golden Globe nomination). She’s a British combat nurse, and the series commences with her visiting Inverness, Scotland, with her husband, Frank, just after World War II has ended in 1946. The two are on a second honeymoon and getting to know each other again after having been separated during the war.

At a quaint B&B nestled in the Highlands, they drink whisky and rekindle their romance by night, and Frank researches his family history in the area by day. Mid-trip, the two go out exploring in the evening, and end up witnessing local women performing a Druid ritual at the standing stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun (think the Scottish version of Stonehenge). Not long after, Claire revisits the mystical site and finds herself suddenly transported back to the Highlands in 1743, where she eventually meets James “Jamie” Fraser, played by Sam Heughan, and becomes caught up in the Jacobite risings, which, for those who haven’t brushed up on their British history recently, was the attempt by the Catholic Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie) to regain the throne for the House of Stuart. (I later learn that “Sassenach” refers to an English person in Scotland, or an “outlander” like Claire.)

The whole premise may sound a wee farfetched, and, at first, I was just as skeptical as my husband (I didn’t tell him, though). But three episodes in, and we were hooked. The series is basically Braveheart meets A Wrinkle in Time meets The Crown, but with some serious sex mixed in. Questions about what constitutes true love, can it happen more than once, and is adultery actually adultery if the circumstances are unprecedented and involve things like “time travel” were suddenly fun conversation topics. And the chemistry between Claire and Jamie is beyond palpable. They’re both very easy on the eyes. She’s a striking Renaissance beauty, and he, well, I could listen to him read the phone book with that accent. He’s so convincing as Jamie, he’s inspired a legion of his lady fans to call themselves #Heughligans. The heat these actors generate on screen is so intense that there’s loads of speculation as to whether or not they’re actually engaging in a relationship IRL. (If so, they’ve been very good about keeping things clandestine. Let’s just say I’ve done my research and been down that Instagram rabbit hole!)


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