Few (highly manageable) frustrations are more vexing than having an episode of your favorite TV show spoiled before you can watch it. You learn a pivotal plot point before you're ready and suddenly you're experiencing all the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. It's an ugly situation. Unfortunately, it's also an inevitable one.
Because we live in a big world full of people who love to talk and watch television, stumbling across the occasional spoiler has become a reality of being alive. That doesn't mean it isn't annoying (it is!), but it does mean that it's bound to happen eventually, so when it does, do yourself and everyone else a favor: Chill the fuck out. It's not the end of the world.
I get it. You're busy. You don't have time to watch the finale of Breaking Bad right now. You don't get the opportunity to sit down and watch Game of Thrones every Sunday. Besides, everyone watches TV online these days, so who are we to expect you to adhere to a certain schedule? Those are all fine excuses, but you know what else? Not being caught up on TV is your problem, not anyone else's.
While it's nice to assume that everyone will be respectful and observe a certain "spoiler alert" policy for the days/weeks/months that follow a TV show or release of a movie or book, that's just not the case. It's not that people are trying to be malicious (they just want to talk about that crazy thing that happened!), though occasionally they are (some folks are jerks!), but regardless of the spoiler's motivation, one fact remains — you can't control what other people say and do, even if it totally ruins an episode of Downton for you.
There is one thing you can control and that's the way you protect yourself from learning plot points that you'd rather not know about quite yet. If you're into The Good Wife, stay off Twitter when The Good Wife is on. If you're able to, avoid the internet entirely for a few days. Don't want to learn about who dies in The Hunger Games? Don't read think pieces about about The Hunger Games. If you decide to throw caution to the wind and read them anyway, then, really, you have no one to blame but yourself when something gets spoiled for you.
Of course, there's a certain etiquette regarding spoilers that I hope we all ascribe to. If I write an article about a new Mockingjay trailer, I am not going to assume that everyone who clicks on it has read the book that it's based on, so — out of respect — I'm not going to go out of my way to describe key Mockingjay moments. But those are just my standards and everyone has their own. After doing a quick polling of my colleagues, I found that some writers thought we should do away with spoiler alerts entirely and others said viewers should get a one day to one week buffer before being forced to fly spoiler alert free. I've always felt like spoiler alerts should be extended up to six months past a release or air date, which a lot of my peers thought was pretty extreme. Maybe it is, but there are some people who need a spoiler alert on every fucking TV show, book or movie that ever gets discussed no matter when it came out, so I actually think I'm being pretty relaxed about it.
Everything has its limits. I am never going to warn "SPOILER ALERT" when talking about the movie Titanic. I'm never going to write "SPOILER ALERT" on a recap (you should really know better on that one). I'm not going to forewarn you before I make a joke about Gwyneth's head being in a box at the end of Seven, because that shit's been out for years and if you haven't seen it yet, you're probably never going to.
That doesn't mean I don't feel for you. I do and I totally understand. A couple years ago, I was at a party and the guy I was talking to asked me if I wanted to hear a song on the guitar. Before I could answer "no," he started playing a song he wrote about getting revenge on ex girlfriend by spoiling a bunch of movies for her. As he played, my heart sank — both because my secondhand embarrassment was overwhelming me and because , like his ex, I too hadn't seen any of the movies he was spoiling. It sucked, but flash forward to two years later and that fella and I are married! (Not really, but I do now know the ending of The Usual Suspects.)
Anyway, it was a real bummer to learn about some of the best twists in cinematic history via a dude and his guitar, but I had to let it go. Most of the movies he mentioned had been out for at least 10 years and even if they hadn't, there was nothing I could do about it except move on. I survived his spoilers and still managed to go on to live my life as a moderately happy person.
A good thing to keep in mind is that spoilers don't have to ruin a TV show for you (and if they do, you probably weren't really appreciating that TV show to begin with). It makes sense to avoid them if you can (like this Daily Dot writer who went to incredibly lengths to avoid spoilers of her own favorite series), but sometimes that's not how things work out. Rather than lose your mind or waste your time commenting "SPOILER ALERT" in response to the articles, tweets or Facebook posts that you accidentally stumbled upon, suck it up instead. All of the caps lock in the world won't help you unlearn what you just read and it's no one else's job to protect you from the scary, spoiler-ridden world of the internet.