Are people really so desperate that they would volunteer to go on a blind date on national TV to find love?
In a world where the search for love has been game-ified by apps, dating websites and reality shows, the answer, unfortunately, is a resounding ‘yes’.
And so we have Channel Seven’s First Dates, the show that reminds all single people why they’ll be alone forever, and simultaneously perpetuates the view held by many ‘coupled’ people that if you’re single over the age of 25 you must have at least some mild form of social or cognitive impairment.
The recent Australian season just ended and has been replaced by the even more outrageous UK version, airing on Seven on Tuesday nights at 7.30pm.
The entertainment in this show is all in the editing, cleverly manipulated to find humour in irony.
Jake, 24, who clearly had tickets on himself, said he was searching for someone he could have “an intellectual conversation with” and was matched with Chloe, a legal assistant often mistaken for a “dumb blonde”.
There was Steph, 24, who didn’t like it when guys stared at her boobs, so she decided to wear the lowest-cut dress she could find in the hope that her date would be able to see directly through her cleavage and into her soul.
And there was Toby, 25, who was just looking for a “mature” and “classy” woman. He was paired with Simone, 31, who proceeded to eat the table decorations.
On Tuesday night’s episode of the UK version we were introduced to AJ, 23, who described himself as an ‘analysist’, while lamenting the lack of intelligence of the women he’s previously dated. Sigh.
It’s arguable there is no other reality show that portrays the complete lack of self-awareness that has become all too common in our social world.
Of course some ‘contestants’ are just searching for their 15 minutes of fame, but others are truly desperate and dateless. And terribly, terribly lonely.
Watch a preview for First Dates
The silent threat
Loneliness is a silent threat in our society and a condition far more common than most realise.
A hallmark of loneliness is feeling that you have nobody to talk to, or that nobody really understands you.
The whole point is that if you had someone who you felt comfortable enough to reveal your loneliness to, you probably wouldn’t feel lonely.
According to a Lifeline survey from September, over 60 per cent of respondents “often feel lonely”, and a VicHealth study of adolescents found loneliness was a more detrimental effect to the wellbeing of young people than either stress or anxiety.
Meet ‘Australia’s Bridget Jones’
The self-help lie
We live in a time and a culture that presents a very confusing message about independence versus relationships. Self-help books encourage you to love yourself before anyone else can love you, and Instagram quotes preach that you cannot depend on others for your happiness.
But these are just words we use to distract people from thinking about how miserable it really is to feel alone. They promote a culture of self-interest and narcissism that detracts us from the one thing that has repeatedly been shown to be the most core ingredient for happiness: relationships.
The reality is that our brains are wired for human attachment. We need other people to make us happy. People who are partnered or married, or with a reliable source of social support score higher on every measure of happiness I’ve ever seen.
A photo posted by Inspirational_quotes968 (@inspirational_quotes968) on
Why we watch
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. And yet instead of encouraging people to seek the comfort and support a close relationship can offer, we put them on a TV show and blatantly use them as a source of entertainment.
And therein lies the true appeal of First Dates: the show plays on our innermost vulnerability, the fear of being alone, and reflects it back to us in a humorous, and subtly confronting way.
Are we laughing at the desperate people who volunteer for the show? Or are we laughing at ourselves?
Dr Melissa Weinberg is a research consultant and psychologist, specializing in wellbeing and performance psychology. You can view her TEDx talk here