“The Queen commands a comedy, Will.”
- Shakespeare In Love, 1998
- Shakespeare In Love, 1998
Somewhere in between Zooming my friends and getting the most out of my KitchenAid mixer during quarantine, I saw something on the Internet that hurt me. It was a headline that read, “We Set Up Virtual Dates All Over the Country — and You Can Watch.” Ignoring the fact that so much focus is put on making sure singles can still date, even during a global pandemic — heaven forbid they have to remain single until July; the horror — what actually stood out to me was this: You Can Watch. For me, there is no greater example of how little regard our society has for the feelings of single people than when we turn their search for love into entertainment.
Grab dinner, cue up Netflix, and start scrolling. Your food won’t even get cold before you find a show that takes people’s desire for partnership and twists it into a version of a Roman gladiator fight where no one dies. There’s no scenario too intense, no imposed “rules” of the “game” too outlandish. The entertainment world will make single people do anything — and they’ll let you watch.
I’m speaking, of course, about Too Hot To Handle, Love Is Blind, and any show that takes singlehood and exploits it for the entertainment of others. Even typing Love Is Blind turned my stomach. If I told my family I was going to get engaged to and move in with a stranger after talking to him on the phone for a week, they’d have me committed. But film people doing the same thing, and we’ll binge it in a weekend.
I wish I was just talking about television, but this happens in real life, too. In New York, there’s a thing called UpDating, which is a first date that happens live in front of an audience while the two people on the date are blindfolded. Earlier in the year, I received a PR email pitching me on UpDating, which said this: “Creators and co-hosts help things run smoothly and keep the audience laughing, on top of casting and matching up New York’s most eligible singles.” Did you catch that? They keep the audience laughing. At two single people who want partners. And who have no idea if the person sitting across from them is potentially that person, because they are wearing a blindfold while being laughed at. I acknowledge that some people might find this entertaining. What I’m saying is that every time they do, it breaks my heart.
I’m uncomfortable walking into a first date when even just the bartender knows it’s a first date; I’ll try to hug the stranger I’m meeting because shaking his hand tells the room what we’re doing. I’m already taking on a massive amount of vulnerability just by opening myself up to meeting this person, I’d rather not pile on more stress by letting other people watch.
I believe my romantic life is private. I believe it’s worthy of its privacy being respected. My desire for finding companionship is not something for you to watch while you eat Alison Roman’s shallot pasta on the couch with a glass of wine. It’s not something for you to pause every now and then so that you don’t miss anything cringe-worthy when you have to pee. If there’s anything cringe-worthy about my romantic life, that’s my business, and I would find millions of people watching these moments incredibly humiliating. But each new TV lineup continues to demonstrate that single people searching for love and companionship is entertaining to other people. And it makes me sick.
Marriage is a sacred, respected thing. I believe singlehood should receive the same respect we reserve for marriage. You’ll never (I hope) turn on your television to a show featuring married couples, where the first one to get divorced loses. You’ll never watch a conception competition where the first couple to carry a baby to term wins a prize. People don’t battle it out over babies where the winners secure an adoption. These concepts are disgusting. Because we treat some parts of private life with a sense of reverence and respect — but when it comes to single people displaying themselves in search of that sacred companionship, we just wanna watch. I mean, they signed up for the show, they knew what they were getting into, right?
Maybe if we started viewing singlehood as a sacred, precious time in a person’s life, the state of being single would be treated with more respect, and it would feel like a more respectable way to be. Maybe then fewer people would be willing to audition for shows like Love Is Blind. Maybe then we, as singles, wouldn’t feel so compelled to find a partner at any and all costs.
Because there are costs. The ones that are easiest to see are the hundreds, if not not thousands of dollars spent on dating apps and matchmakers and coaches and webinars over the course of singlehood — without any investment protection. These services never owe you a penny back if you don’t connect with a partner. (If Amazon even misplaces my sparkling water, you bet your ass that I’m getting back my cash. But money spent on trying to not be single anymore? Hey, you spent it. Sorry, sugar.)
But I’m also worried about the emotional costs of being seen as less protected, and less private, simply because we’re alone. I’m worried about what it’s like for a single woman to watch The Bachelor and Love Is Blind and see her status flayed before her for other people’s pleasure. When I watch these shows, when I see single people displayed as contestants competing for love, I feel small. I feel like my relationship status is seen publicly as shameful. My proof comes when the entertainment industry takes advantage of single people’s shame — which is spoon-fed to us by society — and makes us dance like animals in a three ring circus. Remind yourself of that before you ask a friend for her “dating stories” over dinner.
Single people are not your birthday clowns. Our vulnerability is not a fun way to pass your time. Our desires and feelings are valid, and just as sacred as the private romantic lives of everyone else. Until I see the respect I have for single people reflected back to me, I won’t keep quiet. No matter how “against the grain” I sound, no matter how many single people volunteer for these trash shows, no matter how binge-worthy the world thinks they are. I will keep screaming until I stop seeing single people degraded for the entertainment of others. You just watch.