This year, we spent a lovely Thanksgiving weekend in Rhode Island with my in-laws. On Saturday, we escaped to the movies, a 3:00 p.m. matinee of Catching Fire.  There were nine of us in total (4 teenagers, 5 adults), as my mother-in-law isn’t into ‘that kind of stuff’.  But still it felt like a larger group so we purchased our tickets in advance and got there at 2:30 in hopes of avoiding the need to split up to find seats.  You can imagine our surprise and delight when we entered the theater and it was completely empty!  I can only liken the feeling to that of opening a new jar of peanut butter.  The joy of conquering untouched territory was matched only by the overwhelming responsibility of squandering the gift that had been given to us:  The choice of any seat in the house.

Once you make your mark, there is no going back.

We stopped and appreciated the rare opportunity for just a moment.  And then, with goofy smiles on our faces, we then took off in completely different directions.

The kids high-tailed it to the back of the theater taking the steps two at a time, with Dave and I initially in tow.  (Given the option, our family is the back-of-the-theater type.  We don’t like anyone behind us and prefer to view our fiefdom of movie goers from the highest point in the land.)  But, since the kiddos were staking out this area, Dave and I balked, stopping halfway up the aisle. (The kids have long thought that we don’t sit with them at the movies anymore because we want to give them space.  They are half right – about the “want” and the “space”).

So there we were with the other adults and over 100 other seats from which to choose.  My sister and brother in-law selected a row and moved in.  All the way in.  Like 8 or 9 seats in.  To the middle.  Dave and I were perplexed.

Uh, where are you going?
The middle.  It’s the perfect spot!   Your view is spot on.
No, it’s not.  The aisle is the perfect spot.  If you have to get up and go to the bathroom, you don’t have to climb over anyone.
That’s really not part of our criteria.

So they sat.  In the middle.  Along with my father-in-law who also preferred a middle seat.  And Dave and I sat.  On the aisle.  With three empty seats between us, and our children a few rows back.  In a completely empty movie theater.  But the theater wasn’t empty for long.  In the next 10 minutes, others began to arrive and quickly fill in, throwing me into a mild panic. I whispered to Dave:

Is it weird that we are not sitting together?  Should we move in?  
No. Be strong. Remember the bathroom. This is where we belong.

So we stayed in our spot.  And so did my in-laws.  And except for the people between us (who arrived later and couldn’t quite figure out why I was  telling the poor people next to them that I wasn’t going to let them out if they had to pee), everyone enjoyed the movie from their distinct and preferred vantage points.

Did it feel unnatural not to sit with our family at the movies?  Yes.  Do I think there is a larger lesson in this experience?  Of course I do.

There is always a great deal of attention around the holidays on the stress and dysfunction that comes with forced togetherness.  And for control freaks Type As like myself, these situations are only exacerbated when we have to compromise our wishes for the greater good of the group.

Sure, one group could have moved to keep the family together in the theater, but that group would have been unhappy.  And the fact remains that it really didn’t matter whether we sat together or not.  Everyone was happier when we did our own thing.  We were more “together” when we were apart.  Who knew?

As the holiday season marches on, I am going to be paying special attention to any temptation to compromise simple happiness in the name of complex societal, familial or institutional constructs.  We are drawn to the latter, when often the former makes much more sense.

The move theater was a lesson in flexibility for me – and an overall happy ending.  Especially for the people I did NOT have to crawl over when I raced to the bathroom just as Katniss was about to….

Well, I won’t spoil it, but I will tell you to see the movie.

And be sure to get a good seat.

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