Looking for Love on the Boob Tube

(Originally published in Main Line Life on 2/6/08)

Ain’t love grand?! Or it would be if only you could find your perfect soul mate. The one person who would love you and all your little idiosyncrasies. He or she has to be out there somewhere, right?

If you haven’t met your true love yet on any of the internet dating sites or at “It’s Only Lunch,” why not go on a television show, act like a complete idiot, and compete with other complete idiots for the privilege of marrying a stranger (dare I say the phrase complete idiot again?) Under the guise of journalistic curiosity I have occasionally been forced to watch television shows like The Bachelor, Joe Millionaire, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? and The Bachelorette just to see how far American culture has slipped down the scale of tackiness. I excuse many of my weird viewing habits this way.

The premise of most of these shows: Lonely bachelor or bachelorette looking for love, can’t find it. Enlists the aid of the Fox network (isn’t that what you’d do?), goes on prime-time television to select a spouse out of dozens of contestants, and proposes on the spot. As I mentioned earlier, love is a many-splendored thing.

Watching these shows, I feel like I have entered into the twilight zone of bad television. They give me the creeps. They make me mad. I can’t believe it. I can’t look away.

As appalled as I am by the revolting spectacle of the parading meat market throwing themselves with feral ferocity at “the prize,” I would recommend anyone in the younger demographic of the dating pool to watch one of these shows. It’s good for you to see desperation at a young age. It makes you swear you never want to be there yourself.

The women contestants on these shows all have careers (or jobs, anyway), big hair, and shapely figures. They also have wolverine eyes and sharp white teeth that gleam fiercely under the glare of the television lights. The men contestants usually seem a little dim and shallow (well, duh).

The premise often rests on the notion of the male bachelor as an older man and a multi-millionaire. Does the term “sugar daddy” come to anyone’s mind? I find it difficult to imagine how any nineteen year-old woman with an ounce of common sense in her noggin could end up on one of these shows. Once there was a forty-three year old woman contestant who should have known better by that point in her life. Did these women all miss some crucial genetic code that should be imprinted in all of us by now? Doesn’t the song, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…” mean anything to them?

Apparently not.

These reality matchmaking shows are like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You want to do something to stop it, but all you can do is sit by and watch.

As outdated as the concept of finding a rich husband simply by looking sexy and answering cutely and coyly to a series of inane questions sounds, it must still work. You can literally feel the women’s movement seismically slide into a bottomless canyon, Gloria Steinem slitting her wrists on the way down.

The way it works is that the original pool of dozens of contestants is narrowed down to a half-dozen or so, after the bachelor or bachelorette carefully ponders for two or three minutes which contenders might be possibilities for a life mate. These last few finalists are then put through a grueling set of intellectually challenging questions like my favorite from Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire: “If the mansion was cluttered would you a.) clean it b.) wait for the maid to do it c.) ask your new husband to do his share. Then it’s time to model beachwear. This actually makes perfect sense because it’s not like the selected one needs to be a Madame Curie type.

Perhaps even stranger is the episode where contestants actually meet the bachelor or bachelorette’s friends and family in the real world. What’s family for if not to help you pick out your future mate from a reality show?

Then the moment we all anticipate. Usually the male bachelor is revealed in a sensitive, soulful montage of clips highlighting his lonely, yet very wealthy lifestyle. The bachelorette never has much money, but she is self-sufficient, pretty, and a certifiable ditz. And even though the ages of the women contestants have been commented on and analyzed from the very beginning, the men contestants’ ages are discreetly rarely mentioned. Oh joy, the double standard lives on.

When the final selection is made, the weepy couple gazes into one another’s eyes as the rejectees return, sadly, to real life. A life without rose petals, champagne, and regular spa treatments.
When the show is over, and the confetti has settled, I think of how the great showman P. T. Barnum would have loved such a spectacle. I personally need to take a shower.

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