Romantic relationships: TV tells us one thing, life says another

  • Living
  • Friday, 10 Feb 2023

Serious dating and fun can go together. Photo:

I got a text recently from a 40-something male client that said, “I’m anxious about restarting dating. I just want this process to be done.”

I followed up with, “When you say that you want the process to be done, what do you mean?”

Every week, an average of three clients say to me, “I hate dating. I want to be in a relationship.” And my standard response is a question that I pose right back: “You know all new relationships start with a first date, right?”

The reason I thought I this today is a new season of The Bachelor (premiered Jan 23 in the United States). Now, let’s be clear: I do love watching the show. Mainly because it’s a trainwreck. And, of course, I can say I watch for “work purposes”, but who are we kidding? It’s a lesson in how not to go about starting a relationship.

So many dating shows rush people through some man-made obstacles in order to get to the “outcome”, and in the case of this show, the outcome is an engagement. As if to say, nothing matters until you’re engaged. I could not disagree more.

I continued to say to my client, “Dating is not something you can rush through to just be in a relationship.”

He replied: “I want to be married.”

Me: “Putting that pressure on yourself makes it feel like every date is an interview for a wife. No wonder it’s so exhausting.”

Him: “What’s the alternative? Besides having fun, enjoying the conversation, getting credit card points for paying, etc? Obviously, I learn a lot from each interaction, both about myself and the other person.”

My aside: That doesn’t sound so bad to me! Dating should be fun even if, or especially if, you’re dating with purpose. In fact, on a previous season of The Bachelor, starring “Pilot Pete”, a contestant, Kelley, used the word “fun” a lot. (“I want to have fun.” “Let’s have fun.”) Peter was bothered by this, replying, “I’m not here to have fun; I’m here to find a wife.” As if those things can’t coexist. Having fun does not lessen the seriousness of a situation if it amplifies its goodness. For what it’s worth, Peter and Kelley are currently together.

Back to my client ...

Me: “What, in your mind, is so grand about marriage? That stage requires work too. But different. Being married to the wrong person would be awful, so why rush the part of finding her? That’s why I want to make sure you do take the time with the process and don’t feel every woman you meet is ‘the one’ or nothing. So many people think seriously dating and fun can’t go together. But they can and should!”

I know people are looking for that comfortable place where you can sit on the couch in your jammies, but in doing that, you’re missing all the learning opportunities that come in the earlier stages.

The show simply reinforces to me that the initial stages of dating should never be skipped just to have the “outcome” you want. What’s the point of the outcome if it’s not earned and grown with the right person? There’s a big difference between “playing house” and making a home.

As I would say to my client or anyone else, it’s not “done” when you meet the right person – it’s just the beginning of a new, and often more complex, stage of life. And the “dating” should never stop, even if and when you find your person. – Tribune News Service/Erika Ettin

Erika Ettin is an author, online dating consultant, and columnist with Tribune News Service.

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