Would you agree to go on a date with someone without being able to see what that person looks like? Would you let millions of people watch? While there are many similarities between ABC’s newest dating show and finding people through Internet dating, there are some stark contrasts.
Because of trends in American dating shows, I expected Dating in the Dark to go down that familiar, slippery slope of low brow television. I expected humiliating competitions for attention. I expected shameful displays and staged events. And because of the darkness, I expected a sideshow atmosphere where good people would be exploited for a few moments of drama.
I was pleasantly surprised. Conversation is the introduction, rather than a hot body or pretty face. People are potentially matched in a variety of ways and (thus far) no one has been left out. No one is voted out, either, but they do face a potentially heartbreaking wait on the balcony while their partner chooses to make an appearance and pursue the relationship, or walk out the front door, down the drive, as their former partner watches them go.
The daters have the opportunity to know each other’s minds, with a layer of separation between them to help overcome any reluctance. Online, you have the screen. On the show, you’re physically in each other’s presence, but have the darkness to provide that screen. You can use the darkness to hide from your partner, but not from the camera.
Many contestants seem to try to make a human connection, if for no other reason than to relieve their nerves, and quickly touch or hold hands when left alone together. This also gives them a chance to obtain information about the other person without having to resort to crass personal questions (not that these go unasked), but I’m not sure if the daters are able to differentiate between that basic need for contact and comfort, a sexual attraction, and the feeling that comes when you’ve truly struck a chord with another.
Sadly, many of the participants seem to go down the same path that countless other daters do, continuing to judge on looks, even when they haven’t been able to take in those looks visually. The show also seems to reduce the women to shrieking, flirty teenagers when they are in the presence of the men and the men to checking out the bra sizes when they are separated and allowed to look through each other’s luggage.
The daters get physical, sometimes during their first meeting. The darkness seems to make them forget somewhat that they’re being watched, so what we see doesn’t look nervous or staged, but at the same time feels a little exhibitionistic. Since they do know they’re being watched, I wonder how much ego there is in what happens — how much behavior is put on in an attempt to look good for the public, or even future interests.
Of course, such shows love to fan the flames by keeping the alcohol flowing. This show keeps it subtle and mostly above board, for the time being. They are pretty creative when it comes to finding things to do in essentially one small room where you can’t see and so can’t rely on most of the distractions we often use to distance ourselves.
Contestants seem to come across as both more honest and truthful and more callous and judgmental than necessary. They seem to cover some very personal issues, real issues, and at the same time an equal amount of frivolous nonsense. I don’t mean that in a bad way, necessarily. It’s a nice balance. None of us can sustain constant serious conversation with no break. There’s a place for all forms of interaction.
The hardest part of the show to watch surrounds the moment when each person is first revealed to the other. One at a time, each member of the couple is lit, while the other remains shrouded in darkness. We get to see their reactions and it is viscerally painful to witness people who have their feelings involved in the outcome standing shy and vulnerable, to see their partner mentally evaluating them or obviously turned off of by what he or she sees.
It makes me a little sick when, following the reveal, the daters sit around and talk about their lack of assurance that they want to continue dating the other person, even though they have had close contact, fun and games with their partner for the entire show. It makes me wonder what they’re looking for, what they are so sure they haven’t found after a couple of short interactions.
For some, it is clear why they are still single. They are very openly picky, harping upon even the smallest of perceived flaws in others. They sometimes try to camouflage their inner ugliness by talking about fellow daters in couched terms, like calling the slightly– ever so slightly– heavier girl thick and having conversations about whether the male of the pair can overcome this.
What is even more frustrating in that regard is that these people are all obviously chosen based on their appearance. While there are a range of looks to the people on the show, none of them have any real issues with their personal presentation. On one hand, that insures the show won’t go down the path of exploiting people on this particular basis; on the other hand, it leaves me feeling empty. It’s dating pretty people in the dark.
I’d like to see a show where people had to face some real choices about the person of interest, hard truths about why they are attracted and what limits there are (or are not) to bonding with another. That is why I will always prefer Internet dating. I want to delve deeper, to truly get to know someone. I don’t want to date. I want to connect. I bond with the person inside the person. The rest is window dressing.
As in all cases, the truth comes out. If you’re a shallow person, you act that out. It comes through in what you say, how you behave, and in subtle gestures. You can’t hide that, even in the dark.
Dating in the Dark airs Monday nights on ABC. Take a look. It might just make you think twice about the choices you make and upon what you base them.
Photo by Violator3 http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=772482