Reality television, first impressions and the romantic ideal
I get a good laugh out of dissing and bitching about reality shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Married at First Sight. My mum enjoys watching them, and I found myself bored after dinner, watching this thing I call ‘trash television’. Why waste my time on it?
‘Married at First Sight’
Married at First Sight was on television tonight. First impression: Stupid show. Stupid, stupid show. I’ve watched random episodes of this show when I’ve happened to be in the room while it was airing, and I’ve heard that one couple are still together after being match-made on the show by professional relationship psychologists over a year ago. Cute.
I’ll cut to the chase – and I don’t actually mean a point about finding love on television being ridiculous – but, actually, reality television does suck you in. It employs tactics that provoke empathy in the viewer. A man, bit of a sensitive guy (this is unusual for a man, so you can see where this is going), having unsuccessful relationships, and a woman, having come out of a long-term relationship, close to being engaged, only to find out her partner cheated on her and thus left her heartbroken. The two contestants get married, and they had never met prior to the wedding. But you can see they are head over heels in love with each other.
Also cute. But had they portrayed the two characters any differently, I doubt I would have been able to feel happy for them. They lay it on pretty thick.
Another couple got married on the show, but breaking the fourth wall, the man confessed, ‘She’s not what I ordered. In fact, she’s completely the opposite.’
Dude. Get over yourself.
The romantic ideal
This makes me realise that, yes, everyone has some kind of ‘type’ of person they go for, in their head. They have an ideal. If you refuse to see past this ideal, one of the psychologists pointed out, it can be impossible to see love when it’s right in front of you. For this guy, it took a real-talk chat with his male friends to make him get over his sexy brunette ideal and realise his new blonde wife made him happy.
I will put my hand up and admit that for a long, long time, my ‘type’ of man was a possibly long-haired, mysterious character, cute, playful, almost always (in my mind anyway) a musician, tall, lanky, shy, a bit nerdy, very smart, with unusual hobbies. His hair would probably be wavy rather than straight, he’d have relatively good fashion sense, and he’d be a particularly romantic person who loved to write. I would imagine all the romantic love poems and messages I would get. That – yes, that – was my ideal guy.
But Mr Ideal Guy was just a checklist. A checklist of things and an amalgamation of all the perfect characteristics cherry-picked out of all the men I ever got the chance to know. There was no such person, there would never be such a person that would check every box.
I’ll be a hundred percent honest with you, too. In terms of the physical appearance of this romantic ideal, my so-called ‘type’, I have never, ever been in a relationship with someone who was ever my ‘type’. As far as I’m aware, no man who has been my ‘type’ has ever liked me, either.
The ‘type’ is, the majority of the time, determined by first impressions. You are immediately attracted to someone who appears like your ‘type’ of person. Unless you are blind, you almost always see someone’s appearance first.
Unfortunately, we still judge
I don’t believe anyone who says that they don’t judge people based on appearance. I personally say I don’t judge people in general, but I know in my mind that that is a choice, and a choice I’ve made against my erring as a human. All humans see something, and in our minds we categorise it immediately upon recognition. The same happens with people. We see a person and we immediately class them as boy or girl, old or young, short or tall, until we find that within milliseconds we have already formed an opinion about them.
It’s up to us whether that opinion goes deeper than a description of their appearance. I still catch myself judging other people’s fashion sense but try not to go further. I still see someone embarrassing themselves and try not to think that they are a shame to their age group. As a part Asian, I still find myself observing Asian tourists, who often get lost and in the way of regular commuters.
It’s up to us whether we pass judgement or just keep thinking about it.
Dropping the ideal
I can name a few people (I won’t embarrass them) who have told me how they met their significant other. After knowing their rather negative first impressions, one might never guess that they ended up together. Yet these make the most beautiful love stories I’ve heard. They are the happiest couples I’ve seen.
It’s really something when you look past the differences and go beyond what is on the surface. It’s true that if we don’t allow our ‘ideal’ to be challenged, we may never find what is truly right for us. Nick sometimes pouts at me and reminds me that I initially thought he was ugly – well, I didn’t think he was that bad, but at the time I didn’t think he was drop-dead gorgeous either. Similarly, not only did he think I was out of his league, but he didn’t think he’d date an Asian girl. If we had let our superficial opinions consume us, we would never have given ourselves the chance to know or accept each other the way we have, and I highly doubt we would be in a relationship now.
(I think he’s very attractive now, for the record.)
(He still thinks I’m Asian, though, because that hasn’t exactly changed.)
When I think of couples who have stories like this or have let go of their ideals, that’s when they start to think real and be realistic.
It’s funny, because no one would ever call any of those dating shows realistic.
On Married at First Sight, the couples are matched by psychologists, but I don’t think love is a formula. By the same token, I don’t completely believe in love at first sight. Otherwise I must have been pretty blind for most of my life.
When people have dreams of falling in love and finding ‘The One’, many people think it’s a dumb concept and that they’ve lost their mind. But I think that what they are really doing is the opposite. They’re not succumbing to fairytales. They are letting their romantic ideals go, trying not to have expectations, and trying to just let anything happen.
No one really knows if the contestants on these shows are going to be successful in finding love. (That’s why we are all watching! Ha!)
But one thing I can say is, you’re a much better person if you enter or prepare for a relationship with an open mind.