Romance is born
Could dating shows be helping us at home find our happily ever after?
AUSTRALIANS are in the midst of a passionate love affair with watching love unfold – or implode – on TV.
Whether it’s an extravagant date on The Bachelor, following couples in crisis on Seven Year Switch, feeling the awkwardness of people on First Dates or witnessing strangers getting Married at First Sight, our appetite for dating shows has never been stronger.
But while cynics scoff that love on camera is as unromantic as it comes, experts involved argue that not only are the formats successful in creating couples who last the distance, they also help viewers form stronger and more meaningful relationships of their own.
Clinical psychologist Jo Lamble works with the four unhappily married couples on Seven Year
Switch. And she credits the show’s ratings success to the take-home messages it delivers each week for us watching at home.
“The people on our show are normal people with pretty normal problems,” she explains. “Couple counselling is really hard to access and expensive. So the opportunity to talk about these common issues, and present some skills and strategies to an audience, is a big incentive for me (to do the show).”
Relationship psychologist John Aiken agrees, saying that his show
Married at First Sight is filled with advice for both singles and existing couples watching at home.
“For singles it really gets you to challenge, ‘What are your dealbreakers? What patterns from your past are keeping you single?’,” he says.
“For couples there’s a lot of real gold about how to communicate in a way that doesn’t create defensiveness and contempt. What to do in terms of talking about sex and navigating your way through that awkwardness early on. Also goals and a shared vision: Are we moving in the same direction? Do we have the same core hopes and dreams?”
Incoming Bachelor Richie Strahan is no stranger to TV romance, having lost the race for Sam Frost’s final rose on The Bachelorette last year.
Despite it not working out, he believes he’s a better potential life partner because of the show – a lesson he hopes male viewers will also embrace.
“I’m an Australian man, it’s very difficult to talk about your feelings and express how you feel,” Strahan says. “On The Bachelorette I learnt, it’s OK to open up. It’s OK to show more of yourself to a girl you’re interested in and can potentially see an amazing future with. ”
Strahan isn’t alone in finding himself improved by what at times can be an emotional journey.
Jason and his partner Michelle – who admitted to not having been physically intimate for more than 17 months before filming – were at breaking point when they signed up to do Seven Year Switch.
“Being so far out of my comfort zone on the show… I didn’t like it at the time and it’s still a bit yuck to think back to,” Jason says of the tests he and Michelle went through.
“But it was really important to feel those feelings as it’s made me a more empathetic and understanding partner.”
As the dating format gains traction on commercial networks, SBS is even getting in on the action.
Untold Australia: Indian Wedding Race follows two singles attempting to find a suitable partner before turning 30 and, in the words of 29-year old participant Tarun, being considered “damaged goods”. The show investigates the unique challenges many young Indians in Australia face on the road to a loving marriage. It also offers some uniquely modern techniques we can all utilise in our search for love.
Lamble says reality TV formats – not just those around dating – offer a unique and candid perspective on how to make love work.
“Sitcoms and movies do the opposite because they make it seem like all you need to do is meet the one and it’s wonderful,” she explains.
“Whereas reality shows, even if it’s a show like My Kitchen Rules or
The Block, you watch real people in stressful couple situations… You either relate to them or you have a theory for why they act like they do.”
SEVEN YEAR SWITCH
SEVEN, TUESDAY, APRIL 19, 9PM
UNTOLD AUSTRALIA: INDIAN WEDDING RACE
SBS, WEDNESDAY, 8.30PM
MARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT
NINE, MONDAY AND TUESDAY, 7.30PM
Love lessons: Clockwise from left, MarriedAtFirstSight is back for another walk down the aisle; Richie Strahan and Sam Frost in
TheBachelorette; and experts grill
a couple on SevenYearSwitch.