Beat JENeration #026: Dating Around is Schadenfreude-tastic

Well, of course I spent Valentines Weekend watching Dating Around on Netflix.  Duh.

I have loved hate-watch competitive dating since the dark days when it was relegated strictly to game shows. Knowing reruns of The Dating Game or Love Connection were waiting for me after school, I didn’t dilly-dally on the walk home. And one day, maybe, I will tell you about my borderline obsession with MTV’s Singled Out. Curiously, however, this did not translate into much enthusiasm for The Bachelor. I like to think I only made it through one season because I evolved into a better person, but between you and me, there just wasn’t enough of a romance to cringe ratio.

Those wanna-be-bridezillas lining up to fight over some rando dude bro they just met is all cringe. Plus I could never suspend belief enough to buy into an attractive and normal-ish enough guy resorting to on-camera courtship in order to snag a spouse. Premise, is everything. Which is why something like Joe Millionaire actually worked for me. It’s completely plausible that 20 gold-diggers would scratch, claw, and scheme over a wealthy hottie and that a construction worker/underwear model would sign up for the paycheck and an IMDb credit. 

Which takes me to the premise of Netflix’s Dating Around.

Six singles in New York City are followed on a series of blind dates. There’s no prize at the end, just a final shot of that show’s star single and the person they have selected to go out with a second time. As a game show, it sucks, but in my opinion, it is the new pinnacle in competition dating reality.

I’ve been married for a long-ass time, but I know dating is a fierce and sometimes rather tragic game most people are forced to play.  But from the committed seats, it looks exciting and exotic. Like a safari. Something I think would be cool to do, but ultimately decide is too expensive, hot, dirty, time-consuming — and also could result in me being eaten by a lion or trampled to death by a herd of small, but powerful dik-diks.

Yeah, I spent a lot of time at the San Diego Zoo and I know dik-diks live in pairs, rather than herds like other antelopes, but that would be the irony. They would congregate in a herd to run me down.

Yeah, binging on some Rom-Com-Emotional-Travel-Show-Wild-Kingdom TV time is safer and more enjoyable. Because admit it or not, watching “reality” anything is 1/3 entertainment, 2/3 schadenfreude.

In the six-episodes of the series, Netflix does a good job of providing us with a variety of relationship flavors and while there are some singles and couples I found myself rooting for, the drama in each episodes is driven by its villains. There are so many people to get your hate-on over — and for so many different reasons.

Scoping out #datingaround on Twitter, I have come to find recent NYC transplant, Sarah gets the bulk of the vitriol. I found her hella annoying, in that way young hipster quirky cute girls generally can be, but I liked her. A jazz-singer with a good haircut and 9-minute joke about Greek mythology in her arsenal, I want her as my perineal single friend with whom I could always expect amusing Tinder antidotes over brunch for years to come. She full out says after being left at the bar that she’s going to go home to masturbate and she shut down the worst person of the episode (skeezy dick-joke telling John) before her food even arrived —and while using the word “skadoodle” — this gal deserves respect.

The first episode revolves around Luke, a kind of white bread real-estate broker. This is probably the worst of the series and while I can see where they would want this to suck in Bachelor or First Date fans with a cadre of successful beautiful people, I encourage you to power through it to more interesting attempts at coupling up.

In each episode, the dates are all presented together, braiding in and out conversations seamlessly. The main dater wears the same thing for each of the dates and they follow the same pattern from drinks to dinner at the same restaurant to a walk to the “after hours” drink or dessert and into the shared Lyft home (if things are good). That all the dates are so much alike is probably the strongest commentary on dating I’ve ever seen. It’s like job interviews- same suit, same resume, same canned responses to the same HR textbook questions. The dating self isn’t the real self, obviously, but when there is a crack in the script as things take a turn for the positive or the worst, it becomes clear that it’s the real deal peeking through. That’s where the show is the most fun. That glimpse past the facade is the most rewarding part.

Some people are better at keeping up appearances than others, so thankfully the restaurant setting facilitates another avenue for the truth to be told. I have never thought much about the level of vulnerability eating in front of stranger can bring until watching these singles strip down to their core via chowing down. Table manners— they say it all.

Take for instance Tiffany from Jersey. Yes, she started out as a horrible human being when she asked Luke to guess her age, but I couldn’t have guessed how much worse it could get. When she started eating, smacking her lips, bragging about how she smacked her lips, opening her mouth, garishly swishing around her tongue — oh my GOD, I have never in my life felt so good about myself. This also allowed me to accurately predict that she would end the evening throwing herself at Luke. Almost as bad was the creepy sequined jacket wax-mustache bald crappy songwriter guy in the third episode shoveling his whole plate of food down while charming, lovely laid-back Lex was trying to open up. 

Also, drink orders! Really, people – if he orders a Miller High Life, just end it there.

Of the show’s suitors, I liked lesbian goddess editorial make-up artist Mila the best and found older gent (and private investigator/total romantic/drug enthusiast) Leonard’s dates the most exciting. From the second the woman I call Old Lady Gaga Bat Lady (real name Lauren) walked in late, all attitude in a ballgown, complaining that this was a late night for her (she likes to be in bed with teeth out early), I was already calling out to the universe for a geriatric dating show. There is so much I want to write about, but I won’t spoil it for you and I don’t want to beat to death all the obvious high low points (like 36 year old divorcee Gurki date from hell with culturally-deaf, angry, bitter, real estate douche nozzle Justin). Let’s just agree to dissect all those juicy bits in the comments, okay?

All in all what Dating Around showed me is that I am unbelievably out of touch with modern courtship — and I’m thrilled by that. Also, all the bad stuff about dating I remember — the awkwardness, the thunderously loud not-clicking that drowns out the din of other people enjoying themselves at the bar, the totally inappropriate asshole guys who can’t even pretend it’s not just about the sex — it’s still going strong. This is the kind of thing that could seriously save some marriages.  Also, I wanted to call all of my single friends on Sunday to tell them that I loved them and to apologize for not fully understanding what a pain in the ass dating is.

It also taught me that I have zero sense in picking what constitutes enough chemistry for a second date. I was wrong every single time. But I also saw multiple possibilities and am quite certain these people are all single because they are too damn picky.