Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tough Love: Relationship Boot Camp or a Much Needed Intervention?

A show called Tough Love had its season finale episode on VHI this weekend. I have followed the show religiously out of morbid fascination. While it could easily be construed as another offensive and shallow reality show at first glance, I think the cast shows an accurate (albeit exaggerated) representation of a too common problem facing all women; the battle for our own self-worth.

Here is a quick synopsis; eight women who are hopeless at relationships are under the impression they are on a matchmaking show. The big reveal is that their “matchmaker,” Steven Ward, is going to put these women through emotional and mental hell, also known as relationship boot camp, with the intention of making them close to match-worthy. Steve promises that if these women follow his “rules” they will all be capable of finding true love.

No need to explain what happens next; tears are shed, tantrums are thrown, and expensive camera equipment is destroyed. Alcohol also makes a frequent appearance. Seriously, when will these reality show women JUST SAY NO? How many unstable women curled up on the floor crying hysterically will they need to see before they learn to put the bottle down?

But in this case alcohol is simply fuel for the fire. The real problem is they walked in the door with more emotional baggage than they could carry.

These women don’t need boot camp, they need counseling.

The spectrum of defense mechanisms is shown full force. First there’s Arian; Arian has the traditionally stigmatized “daddy issues.” As a child she was constantly seeking approval from her father but rarely received it. Her defense? Validation through sex without any emotional commitment. She gets to feel wanted and approved of but never lets herself get involved enough to be hurt. A lot of men scoff at the so called “daddy issues” but they are very real. Our childhood experiences have a profound effect on the way we rationalize things. Instead of scoffing these guys should remember what they are witnessing so they don’t make the same mistakes with their own daughters.

Then there’s Taylor, the stereotypical gold-digger. Even Mother Theresa would have struggled to feel an ounce of sympathy for this girl. In the beginning of the show she refused to look twice at a guy unless he came with a trust fund and Harry Winston ring in tow. We later learn there are underlying reasons for her behavior including a dysfunctional family life and a child she had to give up for adoption.

Keep in mind, I am not excusing their behavior. Women aren't allowed to be evil just because their dad didn’t hug them enough. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t consider their behavior a black and white representation of who they are as a person.

The other classic stereotypes are also present in an over-the-top reality TV manner; the serial monogamist hyperventilating at the prospect of not being married by 25, the OCD list-maker with impossibly high standards, the shy co-dependent sweetheart who only dates losers, the bitter wild-child who sabotages all potential interest, the career-focused workaholic, and….the vampire? Stasha is just strange.

Stereotypes exist because they're true enough of the time. These particular stereotypes reflect a widespread social epidemic of women not valuing themselves. Whether it’s the result of a less than ideal childhood, poor body image, or just plain low self-esteem, so many smart beautiful women are convinced they are “less than.” This is a subject that weighs heavily on my heart and one of the main reasons I began to proudly speak about my passion for feminism.

I hope these women learn that the reason they are failing at relationships is not because they don’t know “the rules” as Steve calls them, but because they haven’t taken the time to figure out their own emotional needs. If they don’t, that serial monogamist probably will be married before 25.

She’ll probably be divorced before 25 too.


  1. Those are some really good thoughts! I completely agree too. No woman should be looked down upon b/c of her behavior. I think about "the woman at the well." So many people think that Jesus spoke to her as though to shame her for having been married 5 times and then not being married to the man she was living with...BUT the truth is that it's impossible that Jesus was coming from that approach b/c it doesn't align w/ other responses He gave like His response toward the woman caught in adultery.

    No, Jesus had to have been saying to the woman at the well, "I get you. You've been rejected 5 times and the man you're living w/ now won't even 'man up' enough to marry you. I know your pain." Another reason I believe that is closer to His response is b/c He never even told her to "go and sin no more." He just asked her not to tell anyone what He said. Anyway, I know I'm off the subject, but your post reminded me of that b/c that's who Jesus is. He looks at the "golddigger," the one w/ "daddy" issues, and the others and simply tells them, "I get you too and I love you just the same."

  2. That is so true and I enjoyed discussing this with you in person as well. There are so many people, especially in the celebrity spotlight, that others are quick to judge. Instead they should start trying to get these individuals the help they need. I bring this up all the time when discussing Britney Spears. My heart goes out to her because I truly feel she just needs a few people to genuinely reach out to her.

    The "woman at the well" is such a wonderful example. We all need someone to say "I get you." There would be a lot less pain and suffering in the world if we could see people as God sees them.