ROMANCE – Why ‘The Undateables’ Makes Such Compelling Viewing

Before I discuss C4’s popular dating show The Undateables, I should probably touch briefly on another one.  As it appears last night, Channel Four let the cat out of the bag about why I signed a three month-long contract agreeing to remain single back in November!  In a forty-second trailer for the second season of their (aptly named) dating show First Dates, I can be seen, looking rather bored in the background!

Turns out I’m rather identifiable, as a number of friends texted me as soon as they saw the clip!  In my date’s defence, I have a feeling he was in the loo when that particular clip was filmed.  Decide for yourself here …. Not gonna lie, after the Dumbo / prostitute impression on Blind Date all those years ago, I probably should have realised mine is not a face for telly ….!!!! 😀

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As the clip suggests, I spent the majority of my date people-watching (and wishing I had the seat with my back to the wall!!), however more on that at a later stage ….

Tonight I wanted to talk about another Channel Four Dating show – The Undateables.

You know you’re doing something right when you can market something about dating to men, as well as to women.  In general women are a lot more open and accepting of dating-related media, events and websites than men are.  As a female blogger, I always see it as a bigger achievement when a man compliments me on the blog than when a woman does.  I know how to write for women … men are very different creatures!

And so I was impressed when the boys on my team at work began discussing ‘The Undateables’ recently.  It was a show I never imagined any of them would tune in to.

The premise of the show has potential to be very awkward.

Daters are immediately identified as ‘Undateable’ – generally due to some disability or learning difficulty.  The documentary follows young singletons with physical disabilities, Aspergers, Autism, Down Syndrome and Tourette’s in their quest for love.

It’s a difficult path to tread, because the stars of the show are all real people.  And very vulnerable people.  At times the scenes are awkwardly funny, and so creating a documentary where viewers feel like they can laugh, but with the real-life characters, as opposed to at them, is a complicated task.

Take one couple with learning difficulties, for example.  They have been dating for a year, since the first season of the show, and Ray is completely obsessed with Leeds United Football Club.  Having stashed his girlfriend Jeanette up in Leeds kit, he takes her to her first ever football match.  And she proceeds to sit in the home stands, and cheer at the top of her lungs for the away team … for about forty-five minutes.  It takes another supporter to intervene and tell her that she’s shouting for the opposition, not cheering for Leeds with a different name!

It’s impossible not to laugh, and to their credit, I feel the producers struck a balance of empathy and humour, so that you don’t feel like you are laughing at the characters’ expense.  However there are definitely a lot of cringe-worthy moments.

For the most part, the cringing moments involve those characters with learning difficulties and underdeveloped social skills.

Because it is in these scenes, that you realise, we’re all the same at heart.  Deep down, everyone just wants to  love someone and be loved. However when you remove the layers, and games, and subtleties, and social nuances which cloak the dating world most of us know, and simply lay bear feelings we all know far too well, sometimes you don’t know where to look.

Take a scene from the first episode of the second season for example.  An autistic man called Daniel is on a date with a girl called Hollie, who has learning difficulties.  It’s their second date, and he’s been looking forward to ending the date with a kiss.

We’ve all been there … that moment at the end of a date, when you think it’s gone well, and you’re waiting to see if the other person will make a move.  That moment of vulnerability, where you don’t know if you’ve misinterpreted things, or if your feelings are unrequited.

Daniel – ‘Would you like me to kiss you on the cheek?’

Hollie – ‘No, I’m alright thank you.’

Daniel (standing awkwardly, looking over her head into the distance) – ‘Erm, a little bit of a kiss?’

Hollie – ‘No.’

Daniel (dejected, raising his arms in resignation).  ‘Oh alright then, I think you still really like it.’ (Blows a kiss, she catches it)

Daniel – ‘Alright then.’  Shakes her hand.

Hollie – ‘It was nice to meet you.’

Daniel (one last ditch attempt) ‘Do you want a hug?’

Hollie – ‘No, I’m alright.’

Daniel – ‘Oh ok then …’ (he shrugs and walks away)

The scene is so awkward to watch, but the reason we all empathise with it, is because it’s like a childlike version of the internal monologue we all feel at the end of a date.

I’ve said it before.  The reason dating and relationships fascinate and scare people … the reason we live on tenterhooks, and get excited butterflies, is because relationships rely on two people.  Your feelings and actions are always to some degree governed by the other person, and their reciprocal feelings and actions.  No one can have a true relationship on his own.

The painful rejection of the scene with Daniel is awkwardly close to the bone.  We’ve all been there.  Maybe not so vocally, and on national television, but we’ve all had times when we’ve made a move – either physically or emotionally, and like Hollie the other person has not been keen.

A second scene from the show sticks out in my mind.  It involves Zoe, a 24 year-old girl with Down Syndrome, who has been engaged twice before, and is a hopeless romantic, desperate to find a husband.

On her very first date with Nsimba, she brings up the subject of marriage over drinks.

Now, bless her, this is a girl after my own heart.  I know far too well how easy it is to scare a guy off with the M word.  Though arguably not in quite the same way.  I actually realised the other day, that as a result of the last year being filled with family weddings, and those of my very best friends, a lot of my anecdotes revolve around weddings (no matter how unromantic …. for example me throwing up at my brother’s wedding!) and my flat is basically full of wedding invitations and pictures!  Any guy meeting me for the first time, or coming up for ‘coffee’ would probably thing I had my wedding all planned out.  Ironic, because at the moment I just see them all as a great excuse to get dressed up and drunk … hence the vomit story!

Anyway … we’ve all been there on a date.  Maybe not a first date!  But at some point in a relationship …

You really like the person you’re seeing, and you want to know where you stand.  Do they feel the same way as you? That vulnerable question which underpins almost all early relationship fears!

Most of us would tip-toe around the subject.  We might just wait for the other person to bring it up.  Or if we’re feeling cavalier … probably normally as a result of dutch courage, we might ask more vaguely what they’re looking for in a relationship.  Are they looking for a relationship?  Cough cough, hint hint!

Not Zoe.

And perhaps this is how Zoe has been engaged twice!

Because, armed with nothing more than a soft drink, Zoe launches straight into telling her date Nsimba that one day she hopes to marry him.

He smiles awkwardly and looks away, lost for words.

Worried he doesn’t understand her, she spells it out.  ‘Hopefully we can arrange a wedding together!’

Again, Nsimba squirms.

‘Hopefully we’ll be husband and wife!’ she clarifies.

Silence.

‘Get married?  Have a life together?’

Finally Nsimba speaks.  ‘No one’s ever said that to me before!’

It’s impossible not to grin.  Because again, it’s one of those incredibly vulnerable positions we all know from a relationship. Ok, possibly not to that magnitude!  But we all understand the uncertainty.  The desire to know what the other person is thinking.  But played out with a childlike innocence, which only serves to enhance the gravity of what Zoe is actually suggesting to a virtual stranger.

Ironically, Nsimba doesn’t run for the hills.  And after their second date, the pair become a couple.  So maybe Zoe’s honesty about her intentions does work!

Though I can’t say I’ll be trying that tactic on any first dates just yet (apart from ones I really want to get out of quickly!)

So what makes The Undateables such appealing viewing?

The fact that we can all relate.

The more I write about dating, the more I begin to understand how universal certain problems are.  How deep down we all have the same fears and the same worries.  Most of us react in the same way to things, and often make the same mistakes.

It’s interesting just how similar we all are deep down, no matter how different and individual we like to think of ourselves.

On my way out of a yoga class this evening, I got chatting to a pair of girls who regularly attend.  One of them ended up telling me a story of a guy she was seeing recently.  A whirlwind romance, which ended in complete, unexpected silence.

Her Henley Boy.

And the only guidance I could really offer her, was that unfortunately far too many of us have been there before.  I can’t count the number of women who have come to me with Henley Boy stories in the last six months, and I don’t doubt there will be many many more.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get a second dose of Henley Boy treatment myself.

The painful reality of dating is that it’s always far easier to give someone else advice, than it is to take your own advice.  And sometimes you need to see your emotions and fears laid painfully bear – without the social disguises – to really understand what’s going on in your own head.  Which is where I think The Undateables hits the nail on the head.

Because funny as some of the scenes may be, I defy anyone to watch an episode, and not be able to relate to at least some of the awkward fears and actions of the real-life characters.

Definitely one worth catching up with on 4oD ….

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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