How re­al­ity dat­ing shows are hurt­ing our chances of find­ing true love

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UP FRONT - WORDS TIF­FANY DUNK

Cyn­ics have long said that very lit­tle is real when it comes to re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. Fame­hun­gry con­tes­tants, con­trived sit­u­a­tions and smoke-and-mir­rors edit­ing are the sta­ples in a genre that has cap­ti­vated au­di­ences around the world. But when re­al­ity tele­vi­sion was con­ceived, the aim was to hold up a mir­ror to so­ci­ety and re­flect our hid­den un­der­belly. It was a way of see­ing what peo­ple “just like us” would do in a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions, whether it be try­ing to win a cook­ing com­pe­ti­tion or to ex­ist in a house with a ran­dom col­lec­tion of strangers.

And then came dat­ing shows. Sud­denly, rather than the shows be­ing in­flu­enced by the way ro­mance was be­ing achieved in the real world, al­beit in height­ened cir­cum­stances, these se­ries started dic­tat­ing the way view­ers went about look­ing for love.

Danni Crews is a Mel­bourne-based re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist who works with both sin­gles look­ing to form long-last­ing re­la­tion­ships as well as cou­ples look­ing to im­prove their bond. And she firmly be­lieves shows such as Chan­nel 10 hit The Bach­e­lor are hav­ing an ad­verse ef­fect on mod­ern-day re­la­tion­ships.

“Re­al­ity shows are im­pact­ing on us as a so­ci­ety,” Crews says. “It’s all about sur­face stuff – in shows such as The Bach­e­lor, the big­ger the date, the more some­one loves you. It pro­motes ‘win­ning’ love. Plus, ul­ti­mately the Bach­e­lor or Bach­e­lorette, un­less they’re very psy­cho­log­i­cally aware, ends up with the per­son they find the hottest. It’s all about im­age.”

We watch avidly as the con­tes­tants on The Bach­e­lor are whisked off on lav­ish dates, wined and dined in ex­otic lo­ca­tions and given ex­trav­a­gant gifts to show ro­man­tic in­tent.

And slowly but surely, it has changed ex­pec­ta­tions for us at home as to how we should woo and be wooed in the early stages of a re­la­tion­ship.

So­cial de­mog­ra­pher Mark McCrindle has noted a marked in­crease in peo­ple get­ting into fi­nan­cial strife in an at­tempt to win the heart of their loved one. “We’re see­ing the rise of cer­e­mony to mark dif­fer­ent points of a re­la­tion­ship, and par­tic­u­larly in the early stages of a re­la­tion­ship,” McCrindle says.

“Peo­ple do go be­yond their bud­get to at­tempt to recre­ate what they’ve seen from a bud­get of a re­al­ity TV show and that cre­ates chal­lenges. These pro­grams show you op­tions you hadn’t even thought about. And with that comes a cost.”

It’s a trend author and so­cial re­searcher Mag­gie Hamil­ton has also ob­served. Hav­ing com­pleted a two-year study into the at­ti­tudes of boys and men for her lat­est book, What Men Don’t

Talk About, she says many of the peo­ple in­ter­viewed for the project were con­cerned about the cost of mod­ern-day ro­mance.

“We’re liv­ing in a per­for­mance cul­ture, and re­al­ity shows pro­mote per­for­mance,” she ex­plains. “When you in­vest a lot in your ap­pear­ance, you ex­pect high re­turns. But trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ships al­low lit­tle room for warmth, kind­ness and gen­uine love as ev­ery­one’s so caught up in play­ing the part.”

The idea of dat­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple may now be more ac­cept­able thanks to pop­u­lar apps such as Tin­der, but re­al­ity shows had al­ready blazed the way. How aware were you of swip­ing left and right be­fore our first Aussie Bach­e­lor, Tim Ro­bards, started hand­ing out roses to ball­gown-clad women?

“Even 10 years ago, you would never have dated more than one per­son at a time, but that’s the re­al­ity now,” Crews says.

Rowena Mur­ray ed­u­cates teens and young women about sex and dat­ing and says younger view­ers of re­al­ity shows are pick­ing up on the dis­pos­able na­ture of these on-screen re­la­tion­ships. “Peo­ple are very quick to judge and very quick to say, ‘Nup, you’re not for me,’ or ‘I want this right away’,” she says. “What we’re see­ing in re­al­ity shows speaks to how peo­ple nowa­days are be­ing treated as more dis­pos­able.”

That ease in dis­miss­ing po­ten­tial part­ners has a big im­pact on our long-term hap­pi­ness, adds Hamil­ton. “When peo­ple be­come dis­pos­able, so does our abil­ity to gen­uinely con­nect with oth­ers, to find de­light in shared con­ver­sa­tions, shared goals, shared pas­sions and in our dif­fer­ences, too,” she says. “There’s a high cor­re­la­tion be­tween af­flu­ent so­ci­eties and de­pres­sion.’’

Ex­perts say it’s not just The Bach­e­lor that is hav­ing an un­healthy side ef­fect on how mod­ern-day ro­mance plays out. Chan­nel 9’s suc­cess­ful se­ries Mar­ried at First Sight has also come un­der fire from ex­perts for adding to an up­swing in the thought that mar­riage is as eas­ily en­tered into as it is thrown away. “It re­ally makes mar­riage look dis­pos­able and it makes a mock­ery of it,” says Mur­ray says.

Iron­i­cally, while many com­plain that the only thing we’re see­ing in re­al­ity shows is con­flict among con­tes­tants, Crews says it’s a lack of con­flict that is the most un­help­ful mes­sage be­ing taken home by view­ers.

Con­flict in re­la­tion­ships is es­sen­tial, es­pe­cially in the early days, she says. Know­ing how you can nav­i­gate through tough times to­gether is what leads to a last­ing, suc­cess­ful ro­mance.

Re­la­tion­ship res­cue shows are also a new screen sta­ple, with Seven’s Seven Year Switch and Nine’s The Last Re­sort re­cently show­cas­ing cou­ples in cri­sis look­ing for a fix to their woes.

And while there can be some good take­aways given by the res­i­dent ex­perts that can po­ten­tially help us solve prob­lems in our own re­la­tion­ships, at the same time these shows also foster an un­help­ful at­ti­tude that there’s a “quick fix” on of­fer. And, more wor­ry­ingly, they can also lead view­ers to think that bad be­hav­iour doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be ad­dressed or owned.

In both of these se­ries, many of the par­tic­i­pants are shown to have some se­ri­ous prob­lems – in­clud­ing in­fi­delity, dis­hon­esty and anger man­age­ment. But Crews says she’s yet to see any real own­er­ship from the par­ties in­volved and that sends a ter­ri­ble mes­sage to view­ers at home who may be fac­ing sim­i­lar re­la­tion­ship hur­dles.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to your favourite TV guilty plea­sures. While there def­i­nitely can be some neg­a­tive fall­out as­so­ci­ated with the drama we see on screens, there are also some good les­sons. “It starts con­ver­sa­tions and that’s re­ally im­por­tant,” says Mur­ray. “It can also make peo­ple think out­side the box when it comes to dat­ing.” The Bach­e­lor Aus­tralia screens at 10pm Mon­day on Chan­nel 10

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