Saturday, July 24, 2004

Reality TV and Mormon Dating: Outback Jack goes to my Singles' Ward 

by Karen
I realize that in the company of the intellectual giants in the bloggernacle, this next confession may forever peg me as a lightweight (if my previous posts have not already pegged me as such...) I watch reality dating shows. Not the serious ones like the Bachelor, no, I prefer the gimicky rip off shows. (My personal favorite moment was when the preening queen from Average Joe Hawaii dumped the average guy for the hottie, then was in turn dumped by him on their post-production vacation because she admitted that she once dated Fabio. Ladies and Gentlemen, TV does not get better than that...)

I have, until now however, been unable to explain my illogical attraction to the gimicky dating shows. Outback Jack changed all that. I have entered a level of higher consciousness and now choose to share it with you. Outback Jack goes to my Singles' Ward. Let me clarify, the Outback Jack syndrome has infected the Mormon Singles Scene. And let's just say it does not bring with it a wave of dignity and charity.

For the uninitiated. Outback Jack is a fairly hot, but strangely small man, full of testosterone and Australian good sense. A nice guy--certainly more sincere than his American counterparts. He seems well-meaning, and apparently naieve enough to agree to be on American television. The deal had its perks for him. The producers dropped 12 pampered, phenomenally gorgeous women in his lap, and every few days he gets to pick which ones will "continue on this journey" with him. He started out extremely kind, if a bit overwhelmed. However, as the show goes on, and these women continue to throw themselves at him, his attitude is slowly changing. Let me illustrate: On the last episode, as he was about to eliminate one of the pouting blonds, he voiced over "Ah, I'm about to break one of these sheila's hearts. That's so hard for me, I'm not a cruel person." About to "break a heart?" Come on. And once again, we witness the fact that power begets hubris. And hubris begets stupid voice-overs.

So it finally hit me. Single LDS men are by and large in an Outback Jack kind of "reality." I have attended my fair share of singles wards, and by the mid to late twenties, on average, the women are ahead of the men in both quantity and accomplishment. Now, I'm not trying to toot my own horn here. I'm quite sure I'm the woman that pulls the average down for the rest of my talented and beautiful sisters, but I am an observer, and I'm not the only one making this observation. The women outnumber the men, and by and large, therefore, there are MANY more "on the ball" women competing for a few really great men and a quite a few average joes. Sounds crass? It feels crass and undignified. And breeds very bad behavior, both in women and men.

In fact it breeds the kind of behavior seen on reality t.v. Women who act with charity in any other situation can be pouty and catty, and then feel both guilt and social ostracization. The men get an overinflated sense of self and start behaving badly--manipulating women they are not interested in for ego gratification, and dating friends simultaneously, lying to both of them, just because they can get away with it. (Incidentally these things happened to friends of mine, just this past week...I'm not being hypothetical here.)

The result? More and more women are dating outside the church, and finding ironically, that their non-Mormon boyfriends treat them better than the men in the church. I find it fascinating that women in the church are waiting for moral men to marry in the temple, then find that non-Mormon men handle the dating scene with a greater sense of morality. Which is sad, because for the most part, I like the single Mormon guys I know. I think they're trying to do their best to navigate a really horribly awkward situation, and are caught up in it. I can't say with certainty that I would behave differently if put in the same situation. But the fact of the matter is, the demographics powerfully skew the social situation, and that situation skews behavior.

So, I'm willing to admit that I could be caught in the flames of indignation on behalf of my friends who are continually hurt by others' bad behavior, and also so socially awkward, that I can't manage to navigate the waters of single mormoness without looking like an idiot most of the time. However, I think this brings up some really serious questions about single womens' expectations for a temple marriage. Fed up with the indignity of our situation, should we just give up, and cobble together families and happiness in the best way we can? Or is the ideal (that we haven't tasted yet) worth the intervening social torture? How are we supposed to act when faced with this kind of manipulative behavior? What's a single gal to do?

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