I love watching dating shows. I like fancy outfits, extravagant filming locations, expensive pre-set dinner menus, and, admittedly, the drama.
But more than anything, I love relationships. I remember what it feels like to catch the eye of your crush or the indescribable hurt of a first breakup. I know the thrill of saying “I love you,” for the first time and coming home with the phone number of a new friend you can’t wait to text.
Maybe that’s why I am so drawn to these shows. I believe in the power of love and can’t help but connect with the participants who follow their hearts in the romantic reality show scene. Sure, these participants may be relaxing on the back of a yacht while I cozy up with a cat on a Craigslist sofa, but our parallel emotions are undeniable. My heart breaks alongside the character when there is betrayal, and I wince at the harsh words leaving another’s mouth that I recall having said during an argument of my own.
Modern dating shows, with all of their quirks and flaws, have made me realize that the human experience so often transcends boundaries of location, class, and false eyelashes. In fact, I believe there is a lot to be learned about my own relationships through the lens of reality TV.
Lesson #1: Love Covers a Multitude
A popular twist on the dating show agenda? Finding a way to integrate the traditions of matchmaking onto modern-day TV. Many cultures have practiced matchmaking for centuries with undeniable success stories, and shows like these have left me intrigued. Viewers watch matchmakers interview their clients about their preferences in a mate and link them to someone who checks the boxes.
Some responses to the answers in the interview are heartfelt (must be close to their family). Some are nearly humorous (must love Italian food). But the premise is the same: we all have preferences for the people in our lives. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the show is when the matchmaker introduces their client to a potential partner who checks all of the boxes, but (gasp!) is a vegan who can’t stand Italian food. Both parties are horrified. The date is done before it even starts. The client knew what they wanted, and when they believed their needs weren’t being met, they called love off before it even began.
I personally enjoy a good pasta dish, but these situations remind me of times I have been quick to dismiss a potential friend, or source of inspiration due to how I defined them by something superficial. How many times have I labeled someone “not a good fit” for connection because of first impressions, style differences, or social status? Who could I have shown a deeper love to, or been blessed with a deep and meaningful relationship if I hadn’t made snap judgments that have no bearing on their heart and their capacity for kindness?
In 1 Peter 4:8, I am reminded of the immense power of God’s love and God-inspired love, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (ESV).
I don’t think the point is that I need to allow every individual into my life, regardless of their values. Instead, I’ve grown to see that there are wonderful relationships that are only achieved if I hold my judgment until I truly know their heart.
Lesson #2: Consider the Lilies
I had a friend try out for The Bachelor several years ago. They were hosting a casting call and she decided to check it out after her yoga class. She stood in the audition line in a giant auditorium in her yoga pants and a ponytail and was shocked by the others she saw waiting in line. These auditioners were decked out in full-length gowns and had brought along professional makeup artists to stand in line with them, ensuring they were flawless when it came time for their two-minute tryout. My friend ended up leaving before she could even write her name down on the audition list. “There is no way,” my gorgeous friend thought, “that I am going to stand out when I am just being me.”
This friend eventually did find love, not in a ball gown but in her yoga pants and ponytail. And while I bask in the fact that I found my life partner while in sweatpants and a messy bun, the desire to shape-shift to gain approval from those whose love I desire is ever-present.
Matthew 6:28–29, comes to mind when I consider the human nature of surface-level concern, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. ” If the Creator, in all of His infinite glory, is ensuring every lily is under His care, then surely, the clothes we wear are not going to determine the future of love in our lives.
Every time I watch a dating show these days, I wonder who was overlooked as a genuine candidate for connection because they felt insecure on audition day. More than that, I wonder who I have overlooked because I was distracted by the excitement of knowledge, beauty, and power instead of the genuine foundation of love. I’ve seen it in romantic relationships and friendships alike: when I am preoccupied with the surface-level attributes in myself or others, I am preventing love from being the center that builds us up and moves us forward.
Lesson #3: “I Do” Is Only the Beginning
The climax of the dating show Love is Blind ends with a couple at the altar. These two have been on a journey together: they got engaged, sight unseen, and then spent three weeks in person, determining whether or not they were fit to be together forever. After trials and tribulations, the couple must determine whether or not they are ready to get married. When they both say yes, the crowd cheers. They officially made it!
While it is impressive to find your person in a blind dating experiment, I know I won’t be the first to admit: the “I do” at the altar shouldn’t determine the success of a relationship. It’s only the beginning.
As a married woman for all of fifteen months, I am hardly qualified to say that I understand what it takes to create a long-term relationship. But as cliche as it may be, there is a reason 1 Corinthians 13:4 is so readily quoted around the institution of marriage. The “Love is patient,” verse is one I have known since I was young. And when I watch the characters on these shows cry heartfelt tears when they are not chosen within the limited timespan, or celebrate a successful relationship because they made it back down the aisle, I so often want to yell at the screen (and often do), “You need to be patient! Real love takes time to develop! One month simply isn’t enough!”
The patient kind of love that 1 Corinthians 13 is talking about is found in more than just the sparkle of a wedding celebration—because the words in this chapter show exactly how God loves us. This kind of love is in the spouse who takes the time to cook, clean, and cover the bills when their partner has fallen sick. It’s in the heated disagreements that still end with “I love you.” It’s in the, “I’m sorry”s and it’s in the big forgiveness and big honesty. That patient kind of love may not be as fun to show on TV, but I believe it’s the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.
And if there is one thing that Love is Blind has provided me with, it’s this: every bit of patience that’s shown in my relationship is living out the “I do” over and over again.
A Reality Check with Reality TV
I have always said I love reality TV. But what I think I mean by that is I love the beautifully complex social creatures humans were created to be. I love the power of connection, and I love how we express feelings through words and actions, and art.
So maybe I don’t love reality TV as much as I thought. Maybe instead I love the beauty of bonding and all of the emotion behind it all. Because while I may be able to see heartache and tears and triumph and laughter behind modern dating shows, what it boils down to is this: we were created to love and be loved, by our Creator and by the people He fills our lives with. And that is a reality I love to celebrate.