February 20, 2022

ONONYE | Dating Shows: A Chance for Communal Entertainment

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I just started another dating show. Well, it technically isn’t a new one. Like most Cornell students — at least according to my Twitter feed for the last few days — I have started binging the new season of Netflix’s “Love is Blind.” Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers ahead!

I have a love-to-hate relationship with dating shows. I love them because they’re sappy, and I’m a sucker for a good rom-com — hence my rom-com column from last year. It’s fun to laugh at awkward dates, point out the character flaws with the “difficult” contestants, argue about who’s just there for fame, root for the underdog and place bets on who will win the season. 

I’ve watched almost every dating show that you can imagine: “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “Married at First Sight,” “Too Hot to Handle” and “Love Island” (my personal favorite!). The shows place people in impossible — often impossibly perfect — situations and ask them to find love. And each series has an unbearable twist: you can’t see the person you choose until you’re engaged, no physical intimacy on the island, one person enters the challenge without a partner, 30+ women fight for one man! 

Although fun to watch, these scenarios never really create couples that last — RIP my favorites  Luke Trotman and Siannise Fudge (“Love Island” U.K. Season 6), who had the best fairytale romance. These shows are simple entertainment, and the joy comes in criticizing other people’s lives. It’s knowing that you would never make that mistake, rooting for the character that you identify with (for me — always the Black woman!), wishing that you could be as bold or as pretty as the people on your screen and romanticizing a love life that doesn’t exist in the real world. 

And as someone who loves a good dating show, I’ve never watched one that isn’t a little bit problematic. They’re filled with microaggressions that I see every day in my own and my friends’ dating lives, scratching the surface of the messiness that is dating in the 21st century. Will that interracial couple actually work out amidst societal and familial pressures? How are they going to handle a long distance relationship after the show? How will they handle their socioeconomic disparities?

Everyone who watches dating shows knows these microaggressions exist and we (I say we because I also do it!) have conditioned ourselves to pretend they don’t exist. When my mom and I watched the first season of “Love is Blind” at the start of the pandemic, we watched it from the TV in our gym because my dad was so frustrated every time we turned it on — meanwhile, we couldn’t get enough of it. We are watching this season from opposite sides of the country and calling constantly to debrief. 

Watching dating shows is a communal experience. You watch them with your family, your friends, your weekly viewing party, your Twitter and Instagram followers. These shows create a cult-like community culture in the same way that football games and “Euphoria” do. 

The first dating show I really watched was “The Bachelor” with my good friends from my high school youth group — the irony! Every Monday night for weeks, 10 high school church friends gathered in one of our living rooms to watch “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” or “Bachelor in Paradise.” This summer I got back into “The Bachelor,” living in an all-women’s hostel — Thompson-Markward Hall — during my summer internship in D.C. Every Monday night after the young women (each about 18 to 25 years old) came home from long days working on the hill, we crowded around the living room’s projector to watch the week’s latest episode. With both groups, I spent more time talking and laughing than actually listening to what was happening in the contestant’s lives. The pleasure was in the experience — good snacks, a run down of the episode with my friends after, a chance to catch up once a week, the opportunity to fill my head with near-nothings. The appeal wasn’t necessarily the show itself. 

So, if you haven’t watched a dating show yet, start now. And don’t do it alone. You might hate all of the contestants, think the show is incredibly unrealistic and cringe at the nudity and vulgar language. But there is something about watching them with your friends and experiencing dating culture as a community, one that is distinct to our generation. 

Anuli Ononye (she/her) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Womansplaining runs every other Monday this semester.