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What Are Dating Shows Doing To Our Love Lives?

What Are Dating Shows Doing To Our Love Lives?

Tessa Ndjonkou

We all have guilty pleasures. After a long day of college or work, when I want to relax, unwind, and just generally turn my brain off, my guilty pleasure is reality television, specifically dating shows. 

From Love Is Blind to The Ultimatum on Netflix, I’ve seen them all. They’re hard to avoid now, especially with reels from the shows popping up on TikTok and Instagram. While I can’t quite put my finger on why there is something so cathartic about watching the dating lives of people crumble while the week’s hottest hits play in the background. But every now and then, the repeated tensions, fights, and all-around toxicity that are trademarks of the genre make me wonder: what are dating shows doing to our love lives?

They’re Making Us Vain

You’ve probably noticed that in most dating competitions, the candidates are attractive according to mainstream beauty standards. Despite the recent push for diversity, most candidates are still mostly thin, athletic, white, and able-bodied. Nothing is ever coincidental in the production of television programs, so the overarching message sent to the public seems to be that only these types of people are worthy of love. It also implies that the most important part of dating is physical attractiveness and how you compare to the current standard.

In the latest season of Love is Blind (available on Netflix), Bartise admits to his fiancée Nancy what initially drew him to the woman he is currently attracted to, Raven. He describes her as the “typical type of woman he would go for in the real world” with her “tight clothes”. To him, she is the ideal partner because she is a “smoke show” who would look good next to him.

They’re Making Us Insecure

Bartise’s words aren’t an isolated case and they don’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, he represents a larger problem of contestants and programs enforcing outdated narratives that affect us without us even noticing. In a time where media determines what is right or wrong and plastic surgery is so normalized and accessible, Bartise’s words cause irreparable damage to Nancy’s self-esteem.  After hearing this, insecurities you might not even have before might come up; and all that just from a casual comment. 

They’re Made To Go Viral

It’s safe to say that dating shows like Love Island or Are You The One are strictly scripted to follow the narrative that brings in the most clicks. Drama generates clicks, drama makes a show go viral. TikTok and Twitter are full of the wildest moments from the programme that have audiences laughing or yelling at their TVs. But that does not change the fact that these programmes normalize toxic and harmful behaviors in relationships.

After watching dating shows like The Ultimatum, you’d think that all relationships should be dramatic, rhythmed by disagreements over the smallest thing, or have marriage as an end goal. They shouldn’t.

There’s No “Reality”

Dating shows are made in a vacuum, a controlled environment that ceases to exist the second they step back into the real world. It’s highly unlikely that you can form a genuine connection with someone with only a few conversations with them in a pod without any contact with the outside world.

In fact, last July, Jeremy Hartwell, a former contestant in the second season of Love is Blind sued Netflix over “inhuman labor laws”. He revealed that showrunners would deprive contestants of food for hours at a time, but encourage them to drink alcohol even on an empty stomach. I’d reckon it’s easier to pretend or even to convince yourself you’re in love when you’re under the influence.

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All in all, despite televised dating being a great way to de-stress and unwind after a long day, it isn’t short of subliminal messages that we should all be very aware of and wary of. 

Dating shows will never fail to make me and my friends laugh but we also bond over the narratives surrounding modern dating and gender norms that these shows perpetuate. A word of caution, dating shows should only be considered for what they are, modern-day cautionary tales. There is a widespread understanding of this now and a significant number of Youtubers and therapists like Mickey Atckins react to the absurdity of your favorite dating shows. I’d give them a look, it’s worth it.

Do you think dating shows have impacted our love lives?

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