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Should Christians be watching dating shows?

Forced intimacy, casual sex and “love at first sight” – is this how God wants us to find love? Dating and relationships writer Lauren Windle explores...

The pandemic has brought a whole new need for light-relief. As we settle in for yet another night on the sofa, many of us are looking for programmes that offer escapism – enter the dating show.

When it comes to TV trends, I’m well ahead of the curve with this one. I’ve been submerging myself in the worlds of First Dates, Take Me Out and The Bachelor long before anyone uttered the word “lockdown”. Millions of people around the world watch these shows, so why do we love them so much?

The answer to that, in my case anyway, is clear but potentially problematic; I enjoy the fantasy.

I love the idea that two strangers could be sent off on holiday, matched together for a dinner, or married the first time they meet; instantly finding themselves in the depths of their very own love story.

On American series The Bachelor, one man “dates” 32 women, slowly eliminating “girlfriends” until he is left with one, who he proposes to. The cast of the show are often Christian. Jesus is freely spoken about and the recent bachelor opened the show with a prayer.

I would delight in this public celebration of Christianity on one of America’s biggest TV shows, if it wasn’t accompanied by such blatantly “unchristian” practices.

For one person to encourage multiple partners to build emotional (and occasionally physical) intimacy with them, when they are not committed exclusively, is just damaging. There’s also a point at the end of the process where the bachelor gets a “fantasy suite date” with his final choice of three women. This involves an overnight stay in a hotel room without cameras to explore a physical connection. He does this three times in the same week with each woman.

To me, it’s like having an “I love Jesus” bumper sticker but swearing at other road users.

Shows like Take Me Out, First Dates and Married at First Sight, rarely have public declarations of faith – although they do happen. But when boiled down to the bare bones, they all require the same; fall in love quickly so we can catch it on camera.

The pressure-cooker dating model is not, I believe, what we’re called to. God doesn’t rush.

Sometimes a relationship can move quickly, but often, a steady increase in emotional connection as commitment grows between the couple is the best way to forge a healthy relationship – albeit boring TV.

Years of studying (and at times idolising) these fast-moving pairings has taught me something important – the least exciting relationships are the ones that are built to last.

The ones that aren’t based on initial lust-filled “love at first sight”, the ones with realistic expectations and the ones where people take the time to allow their feelings to grow – these should be our inspiration.

So, given that so few of these are featured in dating shows, should we be watching them?

My feeling is, in this time when things are tough, we don’t need to berate ourselves for enjoying a bit of trash TV. But we do need to be very clear on what is fabricated, unobtainable and actually undesirable. We need to recognise the difference between “love fact” and “love fiction”.

Lauren Windle is a journalist, public speaker and author. Her book Notes on Love: Being Single and Dating in a Marriage Obsessed Church is available to pre-order now. You can connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @_Lauren_Celeste

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