Dating shows aren’t about love

Exploring the true messages and motives

a sunset proposal on a rocky hilltop
PHOTO: Louis Watson / Unsplash

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

I love reality TV competitions. I’m currently in my Drag Race era, but I’ll watch pretty much anything. Don’t believe me? I watched Dance Monsters on Netflix. But if there’s one kind of reality show I refuse to watch, it’s dating shows. 

This was not always the case. After school, I used to turn on MTV to watch Next, Room Raiders, and Parental Control. So what happened? Clearly, I didn’t outgrow my love for cringey TV. Am I now too queer to subject myself to hetero nonsense? The topic of inclusion in dating shows often excludes representation of queer, racialized, and plus-size contestants. But I think a more profound issue is that dating shows are fundamentally not about helping people find love; they’re about making money. 

Participants are not in scenarios where they can comfortably build connections and get to know each other. Instead, producers generate situations where contestants constantly compete against each other and watch the person they’re interested in date other people. The premise of most dating shows is more conducive to generating drama than healthy relationships — probably because drama is more exciting to watch. 

So why do so many of the most popular dating shows these days center around marriage? The American versions of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Married at First Sight have aired a combined 62 seasons. Most of the folks who have gotten married on or as a result of these shows are now divorced. And yet, producers continue to wash, rinse, and repeat the same formulas selling us their heteronormative ideals of monogamy and marriage. 

Dating shows “often feature the common romance tropes of ‘soul mates,’ ‘prince charming,’ and ‘love at first sight.’” Not only does this provide a very narrow understanding of love and dating, but it also does not align with dating trends among millennials and gen Z. For instance, “fewer and fewer are looking for a relationship that will end in a marriage.”

So should we get rid of dating shows altogether? Well, I think they can be a fun distraction, and I’m going to guess that the millions of people who watch these shows agree with me. However, we need new concepts with more diverse casts, and less of an emphasis on dating only for marriage featuring monogamous relationships. Let’s put the dating back in dating shows, and showcase more people having fun dates and enjoying each other’s company regardless of whether or not they want to be together for life.