I have a new obsession. It snuck up on me a few weeks ago and I can’t feed it fast enough. I’m addicted to reality TV shows that are about dating and relationships.
It started last year with First Dates, a show about, wait for it, people on first dates. Obviously I was drawn to it due to my own experiences of meeting total strangers in the hope of finding a connection. At last count I’ve been on 36 first dates. Most were fun, a few hideous, but I was lucky and met some great guys. Some got a second date, some didn’t. Sometimes it was my idea to end it, sometimes theirs. That’s okay. I guess.
Watching First Dates reminds me of the nervousness and initial excitement you get, not knowing whether the person you’re about to meet will be nice, an idiot or a total waste of your time. You wonder if you will click. Will you even like each other? What if he tries to kiss me? Will this go anywhere or will I leave, with the sad realization that I’m still single … and more first dates await. First Dates (the show) brings all that awkward horror to life and I can’t look away because I have lived and breathed that pain (and occasional pleasure) over and over.
My favourite relationship show right now is Married at First Sight – classically manipulated by producers to suck us all in. MyGod, they’re doing a great job. Not only did the panel of experts “marry” total strangers, but they’ve managed to create stories of a runaway bride, a text message cheating scandal and plied contestants full of alcohol at dinner parties to ensure they go feral and make each other cry or storm off. I am both horrified and in love it. Thankfully there are couples who have actually found love and overcome hurdles (along with their emotions and dirty laundry being aired on television). They give me hope and show the rest of us how to do it.
I don’t usually like reality TV but these shows provide an insight into what people see in each other – or are looking for in a partner. Over and over again, contestants turn down people who are all the things they’re looking for, but their patterns and exes cloud their judgement, making them walk away from potentially perfect partners. This is usually where I start yelling “You stupid idiot, he’s perfect for you” at the television. If only someone had been able to do that for me in my dating life.
The other horrible thing to watch is when couples (or one of them) cling to the ‘relationship’ when it’s obvious they’re not a good match and have nothing in common. With Married at First Sight, I’ve watched men be rude and almost verbally abusive to their partners (one used the word frigid), but still the women stay in an effort to ‘work things through’. What’s wrong with us that we can’t see when someone is treating us badly and we put ourselves last to stick it out. If only someone had been around to yell “He’s an asshole Tan, start running” in some of my relationships. If only.
Bride & Prejudice is another ‘shock’ reality show that makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with people. It's based on couples wanting to get married and their selfish family members boycotting them for everything from religious beliefs (anyone gay on the show), being too young (sure, the girl is a bit of an overemotional psycho but he loves her) and the poor woman who is being ostracized by her sister because she’s much older than her fiancé. Grow up people, marriage is a gift and you should be thankful your kids have actually met someone who wants to be with them.
SBS have a full on dating show called Undressed. You guessed it, couples meet for the first time and then …. Undress each other. Talk about awkward. For me as much as them. They sit on a king sized bed in a bright, soulless white TV studio while a huge screen tells them what to do next in giant screaming text. “TALK ABOUT YOUR MOST PAINFUL CHILDHOOD MOMENT.” “KISS EACH OTHER.” “SHOW YOUR TATTOOS AND PIERCINGS”. “TAKE EACH OTHERS’ CLOTHES OFF”.
This is when I wriggle around in my seat. It’s not sexy. It’s just uncomfortable and I want to turn the lights down so they don’t have to see each other and neither do I. It’s like the world’s worst First Dates meets Dating Nude (a show I can’t bear to watch). Even worse, at the end of their few minutes together (it’s speed dating too) they have to punch YES or NO into an ipad by the bed in response to whether or not they want to see the other person again. Dating is hard enough without rejection on a giant screen with the person sitting next to you. Maybe it is better to lie to someone’s face and say “Let’s catch up again” as you walk off, knowing full well that’s never going to happen.
For light relief and an insight into dating in other cultures check out China’s If You Are the One. It’s the ultimate dating game show where men pitch themselves at 24 single women who have all the power – they can turn him down by switching off the light on their console after just one look. Harsh. The male contestants create a cheesy video about their lives while the women decide if he meets their criteria or not. If successfully matched, the couple gets to enjoy an overseas holiday (giving the airline a cheery endorsement at the end of the show). If not they leave alone. Broken. The show has 50 million viewers. That’s a public humiliation I would never put myself through. Being single is pretty good from where I’m sitting (and watching).