Reality television, first impressions and the romantic ideal

Love heart drawn on paper with crayon

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.

Now the couples don’t really get married legally, but I believe they do have some paperwork to fill out that says they are bound to a relationship. Couples on the show speak to psychologists regularly about the growing relationship between them, much like a marriage counselling. They speak to the psychologists regardless of how the relationship is going – good or bad.

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.

Comments on this post

Early on in our relationship, I asked my boyfriend for his first impression of me when we meet three and a half years ago. He kept telling me he couldn’t remember, but he eventually told me: “I thought you were really annoying.” 😂

He still thinks I can be annoying. :P But now he calls me the love of his life and it’s very sweet. I thought he was gay when we first met, so pretty much out of my league.

He isn’t exactly my type, but I’ve come to realise that my “type” is just a clone of myself. So I’ll never be able to find them and I’ve settled for what’s possible in the current realm of reality.

Hahaha. When I was a teenager, some people actually thought I was annoying too. I didn’t write this in the post because it didn’t go with the rest of it, but Nick’s actual first impression was that he thought there was something special about me and that he had seen me somewhere before (he hadn’t). Over time he had some negative impressions after learning more about me.

From my side, I just didn’t really think to give Nick a second look because he didn’t catch my eye in the first place. I thought he was not very masculine, but I didn’t think he was gay. :P If you think about it, it’s such a naive thing to do to dismiss someone based on a lot of your first impressions. If I think about it, Nick is my ‘type’ in that I like tall and skinny nerdy guys with good taste in fashion, but I know he didn’t really care much about what he wore until we got together. There are a lot of things I appreciate about him that I never put much thought into, or didn’t think I would ever like, but when you’re in love with someone I guess that’s what happens. xD

I never had the ideal of my marriage or even romantic partner, I always believed that an open mind really lets you see the kind of person they are. No need to be blinded by ideals and falling in love with ideals instead of the person. 500 Days of Summer is an example of this. I don’t believe in falling in love at first sight is true, either, despite claims, because you don’t know the person.

Regardless, it’s better to have an open mind rather than having an ideal of a person that you want to fall in love with, otherwise, you’ll be crushed by the weight of disappointment.

That’s a perfect movie that is not a love story – a pretty funny one at that. I like to think I was always open-minded, but when I was younger I definitely had an ideal person. It was nice to sort of fantasise about, but after you don’t end up dating the people you think about, I think that’s when you start thinking more realistically about love.

What you said is true – so many people are disappointed when they meet someone they like, but hate something about their appearance, because they have this ideal person pictured in their head and the person they like doesn’t tick all the boxes. A lot of television shows seem to be based on this, which is funny because if they make those views public, they just feel humiliated if they end up choosing someone who didn’t match their ‘requirements’. I’ve seen it happen, haha.

Reality television really does have a weird way of drawing you in. There are many shows that I wouldn’t normally consider watching because I think they’re dumb, but if a friend has it on, I still get sucked in even though it’s so dumb! I remember watching several episodes of Jersey Shore once with my sister because it was so ridiculous!

The idea of Mr. Perfect is a funny one to me, because I don’t know anyone that has ever come close to it. It cracks me up because Andrew is really the complete opposite of me. We don’t share a ton of similar hobbies, he is very calm and relaxed while I get worked up pretty easily. I wouldn’t even consider him my “type” and yet we work so perfectly together. I guess that’s because all those traits and characteristics such as tall, dark, and handsome are so trivial compared to what’s important: that you care, love, and respect each other.

“She’s not what I ordered”? If he wanted a mail-order bride, perhaps he should have rethought his desire to get married.

Haha, the thoughts you and Nick had about each other are funny. For what it’s worth, I take a while to find someone attractive…usually. Every now and then, I come across someone who is so aesthetically pleasing to look at that I could look at them all day.

I used to have a specific romantic ideal. In some ways, I still do, but I like to think it’s only logical—respects women, not against giving up nuts, doesn’t smoke (asthma), not homophobic, not against adoption, can take home to family. I’ve stopped letting the appearance get in the way…and I’m also bad at faces, so it’s not like one’s face is engraved in my mind for more than, say, two minutes at a time.

I’ve oddly never been interested in the love-related reality shows; they’ve just seemed too fake to me to interest.

The thing about reality TV is that people think that’s how is supposed to be like, eg. love in first sight, where are the difficulties? I know some guys who want to be with some ‘hot’ brunette women, but won’t consider anything else (that is more realistic).

I’m the same when it comes to dating “my type”. “My type” would probably think he’s too good for me anyways X’D. But it’s fine, this girl can deal with it! Significant others are definitely more than appearance. I’ve talked to someone about this before; would you rather be with someone who looks like an eye candy to you but has a “horrible” (self-define the characteristics) personality, or someone who is outside of your eye candy scope but has an awesome personality?

In my case, my first sight and thoughts about my boyfriend when I first met him was that I didn’t like him at all (I thought he was a jerk). That totally changed over the years X’D.