March 10, 2014

Do groups of guys and girls meet to watch movies anymore?

The first half of this post will be general observations, and the second half personal stories to flesh things out.

Because females are more risk-averse, their cocooning behavior has been more pronounced as society has withdrawn from itself over the past 20 or so years. In all kinds of situations, you used to find mixed groups of guys and girls -- rock bands and disco groups, groups heading off to a bar or club or concert, parties at a restaurant, and of course social circles at school.

Nowadays those places are likely to feature guy-only groups, girl-only groups, and lone individuals. I don't mean a collection of minglers at a night club who only just met each other, but a group that knows each other and experiences their lives together.

Some of them may be dating each other, but I also do not mean a circle of couples whose activities are double or triple dates. Too many couples creates a second layer of relationships within the group, where couples interact with couples, rather than individuals with individuals. Being boyfriend and girlfriend opens up a possible dual loyalty, and people tend to stay loyal to the lowest level of organization -- in this case, to their romance and significant other, at the expense of group life.

One big part of cultural life that you wouldn't think could be so affected by female social withdrawal is watching movies together in a group of friends. After all, none of the members are interacting with each other -- they're all watching the movie. Wouldn't that make it less awkward for girls who want to keep boys at a safe distance?

No, because you're not just watching a movie but responding to it on a visceral level, and the single movie that you're all tuned into coordinates your responses in unison. You all bust a gut laughing at the same event, or get shaken by a jolt, or feel your blood boiling in anger, or whatever else the movie is making you feel. It bonds the group members together by giving them a palpable sense of having shared the same out-of-the-ordinary experience.

In fact, about the only place that I reliably see young people meeting in mixed groups is at the campus library to "study," i.e. hang out around their peers without feeling expected to socialize. Staring at your homework in the library is about as far as you can get from sharing bodily and emotional responses to a big-screen spectacle.

Anything more than that -- say, hanging out at the ubiquitous coffee shops -- would make the girls feel too awkward, so they close themselves off and at most hang out and interact with other girls. And Starbucks is hardly a seedy dance club. But there is a marginally higher expectation of socializing than in a group study session at the library.

I don't go to the movies too often, but that observation is striking enough that I don't need to see it week after week. Group of guys. Group of girls. Nuclear families. Couples, sometimes on double or triple dates. But almost never a mixed-sex group of friends.

Millennials are mind-numbingly boring to hang out with, but when I have, I've never once seem them do it, or even propose it. I haven't seen it in the pictures that my Millennial friends on Facebook upload (and lord knows they upload every micro-event of their day, or used to before that all migrated to Instagram). The dudes getting together, sure. "GIRLS NIGHT OUT / GIRLS NIGHT IN!!!!", sure. A girlfriend subjecting her boyfriend to a chick flick, just the two of them, sure. I think I've seen movie double dates, but do not recall seeing double dates at one of their dorm rooms, apartments, or houses. But no guy-girl friends hanging out around the house or heading off to the theater.

I don't count phenomena like the "MIDNIGHT PREMIERE OF THE NEW HARRY POTTER, WHO'S GOING??!?!?!?!" that I discussed in a recent post. Those convention-type gatherings are more to bond the fan base of Harry Potter together, almost none of whom you knew before, and will not ever meet again after. These must be looked at case by case, asking why is the group going -- to share a cool experience with the group members, or to unite with the anonymous mass of the fan base, and hence where the group members are merely accompanying you on the pilgrimage.

This sex segregation at the movies (or watching at home) has nothing to do with human nature, with girls and guys not sharing the same tastes, etc., and evolutionary psychology won't tell us how we got here. (Although it may tell us why it's females who show a more pronounced cocooning response.) These are all recent changes, and the world used to be the other way around not so long ago. Before that, in the Mid-century, it was like now, with few mixed-sex groups of friends hanging out. And before that, with the Flaming Youth of the Jazz Age, guys and girls hanging out was more like it was during the '70s and '80s.

I normally don't have many personal stories to relate about how great teenage life used to be, since for me that was the mid-to-late '90s, when the trend toward atomization was already well under way. For some reason, though, having a group of friends that included both guys and girls took longer to vanish. And I don't think I'm just biased from having been in one of those groups, and projecting it onto others. There were several preppy groups that were like that too, and I remember hearing them talk about what movie they all saw (or sometimes TV show -- Buffy and Dawson's Creek being the two main ones).

Perhaps because a mixed-sex group of friends is less scary than going to a place full of strangers of both sexes, the second form of activity was cut from the list first, and only later on did they start finding guy friends an awkward-and-creepy proposition. I don't have much intuition about why it took longer to fade out.

The first time my friends and I watched movies with a group of girls was in 9th grade, spring of 1996, at my best friend's house. Us three guys were close friends, and the three girls were close friends, and we all knew each other from school but had not socialized outside of school yet. We'd all hung out in mixed-sex groups in middle school, but only to share a meal at a burgers-and-fries spot or something like that, nothing as intimate as watching a movie together.

The episode that sticks out most in memory is the time we watched The Usual Suspects, one that's sure to appear on those Top 100 Guy Movies Ever Made (No Girls Allowed).It's a crime thriller with almost no female roles for the girls to identify with, not even a femme fatale despite it being neo-noir. And it's violent without being horror, a genre that girls dig for its jump scares.

Choosing that movie went so hard against today's wisdom about compromising and finding a lame tentpole movie that will avoid offending anyone, thereby boring everyone. And it was not even a conscious choice we made, like "Sorry chicks, us dudes are putting our foot down on this one." The guys just decided amongst ourselves, having heard a lot of buzz about how cool it was, and the girls were happy to go along with it, as long as they got to hang out in a group while watching it.

Lesson to Millennial dudes: girls are not as obsessed with movies as you are, so don't bother trying to please their tastes. If there are good social vibes among the group gathered to watch it, they'll consider it a worthwhile event. Little girls are fine playing with little boys' toys, but boys would rather die than play with girls' toys. So it is with movies.

It's probably better if it's a more guy-friendly movie, so that the girls will feel like they're being offered a rare invitation to join da guyz in their guy-world activities (the more civilized ones, anyway). Much more conducive to them feeling playful, too, as opposed to them giggling and/or tearing up during a chick flick. If they're not on board with it, they're not cool enough to want hanging around on movie night anyway.

Of course, this relies on the girls being curious about guys and guy-world, as though they are anthropologists studying a strange tribe, with the comfort of having native informants who they trust. Sadly, most girls are not like that these days. So I don't claim that this type of gathering will be as easy as it was nearly 20 years ago, but you should be able to find at least one or two girls in your area who aren't so addicted to the internet and texting gizmos.

Of the movies that I saw in the theater with a (different) mixed-sex group, the one that stands out the most was The Big Lebowski. That's an even more guy-geared movie because of the sexual themes that were not part of The Usual Suspects, as well as there being more puzzles to solve in the plot. Girls really do not like it when there's something to "get" beyond the straightforward narrative. "It's, like, so annoying -- are they trying to prove they're smart or what?" And yet the two girls felt like it was a fun experience.

During freshman year of college, a mixed group from our dorm used to sneak into a nearby school building a couple times a week in order to hook up a laptop to a classroom projector, and watch movies on a way bigger screen than we could have back in the dorm. Technically speaking we were breaking and entering in the dead of night, and after getting off with a warning the first several times, we had to meet with a Dean or someone like that. The infraction would vanish once we graduated, provided we didn't trespass again (which we did not).

I don't remember many of the ones we watched, but I think one was the way over-rated Requiem For a Dream (or maybe that was when we were reduced to huddling around a laptop in a dorm room). Another one that has no obvious chick appeal, aside from Jordan Catalano as the lead actor.

I recall some of the girls getting a kick out of some of the "edgy" scenes, as though they would not have allowed themselves to watch such things on their own or in a group of girls. Somehow it was OK if they were watching it with guys -- it was the guys who made the decision, so the girls could not be held responsible for enjoying "edgy" material. Another lesson to Millennial dudes: girls are always looking for ways to rationalize the behavior that their internal monologue is nagging them away from.

The last episode that has stuck in memory was at the end of the summer before senior year, when a girl from a group of dorm-mates back in freshman year wanted us to reunite once more... just cuz. We had all stayed for the summer and were living off-campus, and some or all of us were working. It seemed like just yesterday, yadda yadda yadda, why don't we all get back together for dinner at her house and watch a movie?

This time it was a girl who was planning the whole thing, so we didn't see Mulholland Drive or anything like that. But we were still in for a treat -- St. Elmo's Fire. This was before the '80s revival of the mid-2000s. She picked it because she thought it would resonate with us, the gang soon to be going their separate ways after college.

I really appreciated that she brought us together before senior year had begun rather than as a last-ditch effort before graduation to remind us of having been through a lot over the years. It gave us a sense of urgency during the whole of senior year that made us hang out more than we otherwise would have, having settled into somewhat different circles after freshman year.

In short, I think the guys had the same reaction to watching St. Elmo's Fire as a group that the girls would've had to watching Lost Highway as a group. It's decent movie, though not the one we would've picked on strictly movie terms. What made it worthwhile was the social vibes filling up the room during the viewing. Girls tend to be socially callous, and usually don't get sentimental and express appreciation for their guy friends (and girl friends in this case). At least not in a sincere way -- it's usually effusive but empty thank you's. Not this time, though. Being the object of a girl friend's thoughtfulness mattered more than what particular movie was playing.

All sorts of social and emotional connections can be laid down and strengthened by watching movies together, and the fact that guys and girls rarely do so these days is a testament to how deeply females have burrowed into their cocoons, shielded by their gadgets. Usually I talk about how things have changed over the past 20 years, but in this case it's more like the past 10, and seems to be due more to generational turnover (with Millennials rising) than to something in the zeitgeist that affects everyone equally.


  1. The emphasis on home entertainment, eariler DVD releases,and increased access to instant communications plays a role in this.

  2. What do you think of these movies:

    Jurassic Park
    Ocean's Eleven
    Harold and Kumar go to White Castle
    Up in the Air
    Amityville Horror
    Child's Play
    O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    Get Shorty
    Y Tu Mama Tambien

  3. Most of the movies I saw in a mixed group were at home. Browsing VHS rentals from Blockbuster (which is an outing in itself for teenagers), then either DVDs or illegally downloaded movie files in college.

    The shift to watching movies at home should have made the phenomenon more common. Helicopter parents may not like their kid having a social life, but they're way more paranoid about that taking place out in public like a movie theater, less worried if it's in someone's home.

    I'd pick Se7en among those listed. It's recent enough that it wouldn't be a self-consciously retro choice. And it's the best of the bunch.

    A quick test is to look up one of those lists of Top 100 Guy Movies, and see which ones get high ratings from female viewers at the IMDb entry for it. Or at least, where the sex difference isn't stark. Se7en got an 8.6 from males and 8.4 from females, so I'm sure they wouldn't mind watching it, despite the lack of prominent female characters.

  4. On a somewhat tangential note, have you noticed that Millennial girls NEVER address you by name?

    Here are some opening text exchanges with girls I've "gamed" from online over the past few months (all under 25):

    "Hey Katherine it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hi I'm good, you?"

    "Hey Yamri it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Heya! Sorry for the super late response. Been using my work phone today. How are ya?"

    "Hey Kim it's Sean. How are you?"
    "I'm good. How are you"

    "Hey Briana it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Doing well thanks and you?"

    "Hey Lily it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hey :) I'm great thanks you?"

    "hey Angie it's Sean. how are you?"
    "hey it's angie. I am good I just got home and seen you text me."

    "Hey Jordan it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hey! Good to hear from you. I'm doing really well, how about you?"

    "Hey Britany it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hi! I'm great and yourself?"

    "Hey Jess it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hey I'm good you?"

    "Hey Kenya it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hey! I' m good, just finished work. How about you?"

    "Hey Steph it's Sean. How are you?"
    "Hey, I'm okay. I've been sick and it sucks timing wise since I have my surgery Tuesday. How are you doing?"

    "hey Dianna it's Sean. how are you?"
    "Hey. Good, just leaving class. How are you?"

    "hey Sarah it's Sean. how are you?"
    "Hey ... Nice to hear from you ... I'm doing great u"

    "hey Katya it's Sean. how are you?"
    "I'm well thanks:) watching greys anatomy you"

    "hey Sabrina it's Sean. how are you?"
    "Hey, I'm good. Yourself? :)"

    "hey Hailey it's Sean. how are you?"
    "im good how are you? :)"

    "hey Ariana it's Sean. how are you?"
    "Hey! Just on my way home now. How are you ??"

    "hey Kavita it's Sean. how are you?"
    "hey :) I'm good, how are you?"

    Notice how not one of these girls texted back with a more courteous "Hey Sean" ? Morever, they all have the exact same robotic response.

    In my experience with girls < 25, they never address you by name unless you do something they disapprove of. This is unfortunate as there's no sweeter sound to any person's ear than the sound of their own name.

    Perhaps this is in line with the cocooning trend of Millennial girls that agnostic writes about. Millennial girls are afraid of opening up and showing "intimacy" even through something as mundane as addressing you by your name.

    Was it like this with girls of past generations? Would also be interested in hearing from the older guys on this.

  5. agnostic, you missed my easter egg! oh well. but you prolly wanna scrub your blog of posts with personal details like location, field of study, travel experiences, etc. unless your real life friends are cool with your blog. you can delete this comment and the other, and ill take it as a "thanks bro for lookin out"

  6. going to the movies in the 80s was more of an event, it would after take years for the film to be available on VHS, so you had to make sure and see it when it was still being shown in theaters or you might have to wait 2 years to watch it. When I started college in 1987, my dorm floor had about 100 students and less than 4 had a TV, maybe 2 people had a VCR. So renting movies to watch was rare in 87 but had become common by 1991.

    So it was not unusual to go to the movies with a group of guys and girls, I probably did it 2 or 3 times freshman year. But I can see why it is rare today, with Netflix and DVDs being released 6 months after films are shown in the theatre.

  7. I'm not Joshua Crowgey, don't know how you decided on him. His bio says he taught English in Barcelona, so I guess I share that with him... and the other 30 students per month that my certification school cranks out.

  8. Yeah, Millennials are awkward about anything personal, including calling someone by their name. It's like they think you're going to respond with, "How do you know my name -- have you been Facebook stalking me?"

    The two freshman chicks who I became close friends with when I started grad school were like that. They gave me an affectionate nickname, though, and felt comfortable calling me by that. But my given name was too personal.

    I think guys are that way too, although I've known far fewer Millennial guys. And they don't seem to be carrying on the tradition of nicknames that are riffs on the given name -- Ag-meister, Ag-erino, etc.

  9. About names, here's a post showing how common it used to be for a hit song to have a person's name in the title (like "Amanda" by Boston). They don't do that anymore. The post is 3 years old, but I just checked the 2011 - 2013 data, and it hasn't changed.

  10. "But I can see why it is rare today, with Netflix and DVDs being released 6 months after films are shown in the theatre."

    If it were technology, then mixed groups would be meeting in someone's room, apartment, or home, rather than at the theater. But they don't meet to watch movies in a private environment either.

  11. I think you meant Jared Leto in "Requiem for a Dream".


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