TheConfidante In the Media
Did you know Sophie Monk is going to be the new Bachelorette? No?… Who? Some of you are only vaguely aware the show even exists or who Sophie Monk is. Some knew the day it was announced and already speculated on what she’d be wearing.
Once again, is this going to be celebrity news getting far more air time than it’s really worth? Then again, here in Australia, there’s something else at play. READ ON for my latest blog on why the obsession...
We really, really love our reality relationship shows. If you’re disputing this and you have an intense “unlike”, this does not apply to you. I bet you know someone who does though.
The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Seven Year Switch, Married At First Sight — every channel you surf, there’s another reality relationship show staring you down. Did I mention The Last Resort? This is the one where couples at rock bottom are sent on an intensive relationship Boot Camp to see if they can hold their relationship together.
Why is there such a large market in a country with such a relatively small population for such a specific niche? Why does watching other people’s relationships enthrall us so?
It turns out there are a few reasons. From where I’m sitting in my tracky dacks those nights I’m not in the therapy room, they’re actually more interesting than the shows themselves.
People like watching other people, real or fictional, similar to them, or going through similar circumstances. Relationship drama shows certainly tick that box for a lot of people.
Take Married at First Sight. It is a pretty good reflection of how sudden, jarring, and tumultuous the modern dating scene can be. Online dating apps like Tinder are throwing people together at breakneck speed. Swipe right, don’t mess up the opening line, strap yourself in and go for the ride — rinse, repeat.
The lightning speed with which Married at First Sight seems to throw its cast together, runs them through various ringers whilst still having the expectation that something could, or should, come of it, is very familiar territory to the modern online dater.
What about Seven Year Switch, where couples in long term relationships face shake-ups to allow them to reassess their situation? Many couples around the country can utterly sympathise with the struggles and indulge vicariously in the fantasy presented on the show.
For many Australians, the appeal is simply that they may well see a part of themselves in the show. Is it equal parts catharsis with wish fulfilment? At the very least, it is a mind numbing, easy way to spend an hour effortlessly on the couch nodding to yourself and muttering “Uh huh, I’ve been there” or “Oh my gosh, I nearly went there”, every now and then.
But surely that can’t be it, right? How many of us actually find ourselves surrounded by multiple suitors, or ‘suitresses’, in a quaint chateau in the country ala The Bachelor/ette?
That’s where we find:
Voyeurism (and maybe a little Schadenfreude)
I’m not talking the kind of voyeurism that drove viewers to Big Brother; rather just the opportunity to be a fly-on-the-wall of other people’s much more interesting (read: heavily produced and often dictated by a dedicated production team) lives.
Basically, people like seeing stuff that’s normally hidden from them. It’s natural, and you can see manifestations of it in just about every aspect of life. We move from behind a tree to better see a view. We work harder to have more money to attain more luxuries. We peek out the window when there’s an argument outside. We see tragedy on the news then watch people on TV having intimate candlelit dinners (surrounded by a film crew).
From the mundane to the explicitly voyeuristic, our desire to see what’s hidden permeates every aspect of our lives.
Reality TV shows give us a nosy view into many aspects of different situations we’re not normally privvy to. Even in something as innocuous as Dancing with the Stars, Australian Idol and The Voice we’re able to see back-stage antics and heart wrenching stories behind the act that we don’t normally see when we go to a performance.
Sometimes, we watch not just to see the smaller, candid moments, but to watch the burning car crash as two obviously incompatible people are contractually obliged to date. Now I realise this explanation starts to paint dating reality show viewers in maybe an unpleasant light, but…
When we combine voyeurism and empathy we get a very important third reason why these shows are so popular:
When we see these people and their dating joys and woes, we start to compare them against our own.
This, too, can take many forms. Maybe we’re just really happy we’re not in the situations others are. Maybe we wish we were. It might give us food for thought? How would I react in that situation? It might even reveal some insights we might apply to our own lives.
Married at First Sight provides ample comparison material for someone in the digital dating scene; “Been there.”, “Missed that nightmare…”, “Wish I’d done that.”, “How come that didn’t work for me?”
Seven Year Switch gives long term couples other situations to get a fly-on-the-wall view of. Maybe they see themselves in those disenfranchised couples, or maybe they reaffirm why their relationship is strong while those on TV crumble.
And the uptick of all this self-reflection?
More couples are willing to seek counselling.
Counselling attendance is on the rise since dating reality TV shows have started gaining popularity. Relationship Counselling is trendy! Couples who might have shunned the idea are now much more willing to seek help if they feel they’re experiencing problems. Sometimes the best motivator is to watch someone else who reminds you of yourself and realise “That’s me if I don’t do something ASAP.”
And now you have a perfectly rational set of explanations you can whip out the next time someone tries to call you out on your week-long reality TV dating show binge. You’re welcome! Oh and yes - in the name of keeping ‘abreast’ of current relationship affairs, I knew about Sophie Monk.
Joanne Wilson is a Sunshine Coast professional Counsellor and Neuropsychotherapist with a keen interest in relationships and pre-marriage therapy. She is often found contributing through guest speaking invitations and has also produced her own books, Pearls of Wisdom from the Thriving Thirties, The Relationship Rejuvenator E-Book and presented a series of relationship seminars.
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