It should come as no surprise that I am irrationally obsessed with sex and romance. In addition to writing tirelessly and reading voraciously about all-things amorous, I also enjoy watching television programs that tackle the strange and wild world of dating and love. From The Bachelor to all of those awful reality TV celeb-dating fiascos (I even wrote an article about reality TV dating tips because I am so obsessed!), I spend a considerable amount of my time glued to the small screen, fully immersed in televised romantic highs and woes. Two shows that I am particularly taken with are Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker and VH1’s Tough Love. Both programs focus on successful matchmakers who help eligible singles break their bad dating habits and then subsequently set up these rough and tumble singles with their “perfect match.” The premise of both shows is slightly similar: Tough Love deals with everyday women who want to break free from their hang-ups caused by past relationships, while Millionaire Matchmaker is much like what its name suggests; A millionaire is paired with less financially fortunate arm candy in the hopes of forging a legitimate romantic connection. I was instantly drawn to both shows because I consider myself to be very intuitive when it comes to who will pair well with whom. While I am not a practicing matchmaker, I do instinctively understand the intangible elements to consider when hooking two people up. I became interested in studying these two self-proclaimed matchmakers and paid close attention to the rules and tricks they preached to their single clients.
I don’t love either show, but I am always captivated by these two relationship “experts,” Tough Love’s Steve Ward, and Millionaire Matchmaker’s Patti Stanger, who have basically made a lucrative career out of something that interests me. Steve Ward went on to expand his Tough Love brand to Tough Love Couples, a show that forced troubled twosomes to confront their issues from intimacy and trust, to fighting and lack of sex. While flawed, I found Tough Love Couples to be honest, endearing, and actually kind of helpful in a vacuously superficial TV kind of way. While it’s hard to achieve depth on reality television, Steve Ward has a way of breaking people (and their terrible conceptions of love and romance) down only to build them up better. And it’s his big heart, not his sound bite-worthy tough insults, that keep me coming back to the show season after season. I’m not positive that his matchmaking skills are perfect—it’s really hard to gauge what his success rate is in a 12-episode season—but you get the sense that this guy cares about connecting people and making their existing relationships blossom.
On the other hand, Millionaire Matchmaker’s Patti Stanger seems like she’s just out to capitalize on the chronic relationship problems of the rich. Similar to Steve Ward, Patti Stanger dishes out some pretty hurtful and harsh tidbits to both her millionaire clients and their would-be daters. While she claims to be a dating guru, the emphasis she places on looks, money, and just superficiality in general, calls into question whether she should be the person dolling out advice. It’s obvious that a huge part of what makes us attracted to members of the opposite (or same) sex is based on physical appearance, but there is obviously so much more than that. Recently a good friend of mine was complaining about how people just match her up with “good on paper” single guys that seem like a great catch, but have nothing in common with her as a person. This reminds me of Patti’s approach. Her mantra “the penis does the picking” might ring true in the sense that sexual attraction is a huge factor in all of our romantic relationships. But what happens after the sex?
This brings to mind my dad’s great dating theory. He once told me that when he was single he would meet a lot of women who he would connect with physically, but he couldn’t imagine the thought of having breakfast with them the next morning. His system of figuring out who he was compatible with involved finding a girl he could stand to take out for a meal post-coitus. He recounts that when he met my mother—after getting hit by what he calls “the thunderbolt”—he wanted to take her out to breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, and the rest is history. My big problem with Patti’s system of matchmaking has to do with her inability to spot true magnetism between two people that’s deeper than just hormone-based attraction. Instead she’s bound by rules that only apply to the superficial set, who aren’t in search of a long-term partner and instead are beckoned by the promise of a quick fix.
Sure, I get it. These guys are millionaires and they want the biggest, best, and most ostentatious thing available (read: breast implants, big Barbie hair, and a size-2 frame with a brain). But isn’t that the very reason that these guys (and gals) are in fact single? Their unrealistic wants, expectations, and insecurities have informed their physical type, versus looking for real compatibility or connection. Unfortunately, instead of toning down these very surfaced tendencies, Patti plays up to them by rooting out potential suitors based solely on looks and nit-picky rules that only exist in Patti’s narrow-minded world. Patti champions unrealistic ideals, asks women to change their looks to tailor to the millionaire’s specific taste, and even tries to dictate how they should dress to her exclusive cocktail mixers. I have seen her bring women to tears, rip apart perfectly attractive people, and dish out cold-hearted advice during her “screening sessions.” In addition, while she verbally assaults the single women who hope to be paired with a millionaire by constantly telling them they’re not pretty, skinny, or stylish enough, Patti treats the men who are auditioning to be matched with a female millionaire like her own personal Chippendales dancers. She has no qualms about asking men to take off their shirts as she giggles like a schoolgirl at their perfectly sculpted abs, and flirts with them relentlessly until a new group of bachelors are ushered in for their screening. Perhaps it’s this kind of subconscious sexism that impedes her process—she’s so caught up in enforcing her arbitrary rules and reinforcing archaic notions of romance that she can’t spot a real, honest love connection.
Patti is also doing these men and women a disservice by playing into antiquated gender roles. By reinforcing this old fashioned notion of relationships and dating, she is forcing people to play by a code that no longer applies to modern society. She has a strict rule of making the man plan the date, and forbids sex before monogamy, which is one thing I completely agree with. But the vulgarity in which she conveys her strong feelings on abstinence (“Not in here,” as she points to her mouth, conveying oral sex, “or in here, or here,” alluding grotesquely to anal and vaginal intercourse by pointing like a child to the corresponding orifices.) This is a great lesson that we can all try to stick to—don’t have sex before you really think the courtship has a strong foundation and a future—but when Patti is basically prepping all of the girls to be blow-up dolls with a pulse, how can these millionaires NOT think about sex? Her system is deeply flawed and surfaced, and her hotheaded temper may make for good TV, but it gets in the way of the true purpose of the show, which is to create matches and make people happy.