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Photo: Pablo Betas (Flickr) Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0

As our personal lives have changed due to new technologies and digitalisation in the last decades, so have our attempts at finding love and relationships. We are indeed currently experiencing a shift in the dynamics of how people meet. Busy schedules and hectic environments dominate our lifestyles leaving us little time in our quest for love and relationship. No one expects to meet someone in real life anymore, leading to an emergent online dating market. Not too long ago the idea of online dating seemed embarrassing and shameful for all parties involved, but nowadays we simultaneously operate various online dating profiles by couching ourselves in pretty words and photos, and eventually boast our Tinder or Grindr accomplishments.

The digital world has become the playground of finding love and relationships with a wider and quicker range of possibilities than real life could ever offer with the notion that our soulmate is only one click away. With this increased freedom of choice, we should technically be happier, however, it brings a certain despair of wrong-choosing and overextension. Our own and society’s pressure of finding the perfect partner, next to our pursuit of a perfect body and career, tends to eventually paralyse us. So why not give the responsibility for finding love away into the hands of scientists?

The digital world has become the playground of finding love and relationships with a wider and quicker range of possibilities than real life could ever offer — with the notion that our soulmate is only one click away.

This is exactly what producers of reality television shows thought and created various dating shows based on the idea of scientifically choosing couples and bringing them together. The general concept of reality television is well known and often assessed disparagingly. They are dismissed as trash television and American import, however, many might not know that quite a few of those shows, even the very popular ones like Big Brother and Survivor, are originally European with Big Brother being Dutch and Survivor Swedish. Since their launch in the late 90s they have been exported into several countries with national adaptions and a great audience.

The same phenomenon occurred with dating shows which feature the concept of scientifically chosen partners. Dating in the Dark and Adam Looking For Eve, both originally from the Netherlands, and Married At First Sight, which was initially broadcasted in Denmark, are only three examples. All of these shows feature participants who are searching for love and relationship. They leave the responsibility in the hands of scientists (and TV producers) which pair them while putting them into an unconventional and unfamiliar situation – total darkness, remote island or in front of a marriage registrar.

The three shows not only promise potential love and relationship but seem to counteract prevalent social behaviour and customs. Dating in the Dark and Adam Looking For Eve are both playing with the idea of looking beyond social conventions such as physical appearance and clothing. Although their intention is quite similar, their approaches differ greatly. In Dating in the Dark the candidates are in total darkness, trying to find love according to the saying ‘Love is blind’ and the notion that everyone judges and is being judged at first sight, and that this limits us from getting to know the character of a person.

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Photo: Arcadius (Flickr);  Licence: CC BY 2.0

Adam Looking For Eve also goes against the idea of superficial judgments but instead of showing nothing they show everything. The participants are naked on an island when they first meet (couples are matched based on scientific compatibility) and they try to get to know each other away from society. The show calls this approach “looking for love in its purest form”. No phone, no friends, no job, no clothes – stripped of every social connection and determination that defines someone, can this be a real possibility to find love, or is it merely entertainment for the audience and a way for the participants to be in the spotlight?

Reality Television can be dismissed, as it has been so often, as unreal, not educational and useful only as a distraction. However, these shows share an international popularity. Many dating series have adaptions all over Europe, with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette leading the way, and apparently hold a universal and cross-cultural appeal. The possibility of finding love and relationship with the help of scientists seems to be an opportunity that some want to take and many to watch. The many possibilities of online dating, the few of real-life dating and the overall digital portrayal of oneself have created limitations and restrictions in the quest for love and given our understanding of “love is what we all seek in life”, why not do anything to find it, not matter how controversial or new?

‘Controversial and new’ also describes the show Married at First Sight which uses conventional methods – marriage – but in an (for our society) unconventional way — arranged marriage. This show is, more than the others, based on the idea of scientifically chosen couples who are genetically, psychologically and characteristically similar which allegedly leads to a higher probability of true love. The chosen couples get married in front of their friends and family without ever seeing each other beforehand, and spend five weeks living together afterwards. Opinions about this method and its participants range from calling them brave to crazy, but regardless of what we think of this, it is indisputable that the people involved are open to the possibility of love. How far would you go for love?

Photo: Scarlett White (Flickr); Licence: CC By 2.0

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    Isabell Wutz

    Former Editor

    Isabell Wutz is originally from a small town in south-east Germany but relocated to the Netherlands for her master's programme in Art, Media and Society. Now she lives in Brussels. If she could she would travel through the world to refute stereotypes.

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