Friday, June 20, 2014

Rom.Com - The Truth About Online Dating (And Love)

New class: Scaring Off Guys 101
I am gritting my teeth with the story I am about to share, but it has to be done. I’m writing about a webseries called Rom.Com that deals with dating websites. I have to come clean.

I, your faithful reviewer, have experimented with online dating. No, I will not say which site, and no, it’s not going well. I mean, I didn’t really think it was going to go well. I mostly joined because I had a paper due, and a long weekend off, and at some point I realized that creating an online dating profile was hands down the fastest and most entertaining way to procrastinate my butt off. 

Effective too. The paper was nearly late.

And I made a pretty kickass profile too. Very snazzy, and reasonably true to life. I’ve gotten messages, and I’ve replied. I even went on one date (got stood up). But the reason I’m telling you all of this is because the morning after I made the profile, I woke up in a cold sweat. Why? Well, I’d just realized that I had done what I swore I wasn’t going to do: I set up that profile because I wanted the validation of random people on the internet.

That’s a terrible reason to do anything, but it’s especially a bad premise on which to base a romantic relationship. And on some level I knew that. I knew that I wasn’t going to really do anything about this. But that made it even worse. Because either I was trying to date people purely because they thought I sounded cool and fun in a highly edited and manufactured profile, or I had no intention of ever dating those people and was using them for external validation. Both of which are super crappy.

I logged back on and re-read my profile. Looked at the pictures. Tried to see it like someone else would. And I realized something: that profile? Not me. Not actually. What it is is the me that I want people to see. It’s the person I want people to want to date. In a real sense, and I’m still working on this, I don’t want people to want to date me, I want them to want to date awesome me. You know?

I want people to want to date the me that is actually responsible about recycling, the me that bikes to the farmer’s market. I want people to want to date the me that’s a published poet and who mentor’s youth kids and who listens to really good alternative music. I mean, all of those things are true of me, but they’re not the whole truth. They’re lies of omission. The real truth is that yeah, I love the farmer’s market. But you know the last thing I bought there? Cake. I do listen to really good alternative music, but I also listen to bubblegum pop and I own every single Katy Perry album because I like it.

It’s true that I mentor youth kids. It’s also true that I use that as an excuse for watching Teen Wolf and going to Starbucks a lot (it’s clearly the best place to have meetings, okay?). I mean, for crying out loud, I’m a grown woman with a deep aversion to doing laundry (I haaaaaaaaate it). But none of this was in my profile. None of this was the stuff I wanted someone to want me for.

I want to talk about Rom.Com, a seriously adorable webseries from Cracked. The show, which has only three episodes so far, and in grand total is probably no more than twenty minutes long, is exactly the kind of feminist, fun, heart-warming but still smart entertainment that we all claim to crave. So why is no one watching it?

Like, seriously. No one is watching it. I had to ask my friend (Elizabeth) to screencap the episode because there were no images available online. Seriously. None. I checked a lot. Which means that not only has no one really watched this show, no one is really talking about it either. And that’s crap because it is wonderful. Allow me to tell you how wonderful it is.

The show is about a couple of employees at a dating site - Josie (Kaitlin Large), Max (Michael Swaim), and Elise (C Ashleigh Caldwell) - who have vastly differing opinions of how love works. The plot is loose at best, but still cute. Josie is the main character, the websites tech guru who has invented and perfected their algorithm to match couples. Josie is convinced that all love has a scientific explanation and that science can form the perfect match. She’s a cold headed realist, and she’s perfectly comfortable with that. At least she is until her boyfriend dumps her in the work breakroom for being too obsessed with compatibility and stats.

This prompts Josie to do some real soul-searching about whether or not there is a non-numbers component to love. And it means that she has to actually talk to Max, who believes that love is magic and wonderful and feelings and people are unpredictable miracles. It’s obvious that Max and Josie are endgame (he looks at her like she hung the moon, even though she seems pleasantly oblivious), but the show doesn’t bash us over the head with it. Mostly? They’re really good friends who call each other out on their crap.

And Elise is also there. Elise is less of a character with feelings and motivations and more of a terrifying robot with designs on world domination. Josie refers to her as a crazy dragon lady. It’s apt. She’s the CEO of their company (FindLove.Net), and obsessed with the idea that by matching couples together, she is creating life itself. Elise has a bit of a god-complex, and it’s kind of amazing. More on that later.

The first episode has them competing to see whose understanding of love will appeal most to investors. The second episode finds the group interviewing focus group users, the people who use datings sites, to determine what can be changed about their site in order to make better matches. And the third episode has Josie and Elise betting against each other that Josie cannot create a dating profile so horrifying that men will not contact it looking for sex.

I mean, that’s what technically happens in these episodes. But it’s not what happens.

What really happens is that we get to see the world in which these characters live. And far from being a cynical, snide place full of people scoffing at the idea of love because they work for a dating site and therefore they must be dissatisfied sellouts, the show’s actually really upbeat. All of the characters, in their own ways, really and truly believe in love. They just believe really different things about it, and from that comes the comedy.

But what really gets me going about this show, the reason I am so desperate that the thing get more views and get renewed for another season and so on, is the way each and every character, all three of them, is a fully realized human being with wants, needs and flaws. Josie most of all.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the show is effortlessly feminist. It doesn’t feel feminist when you’re watching it, it mostly just feels light and funny. But it is. Josie, the main character, is both incredibly compelling and lovely, and kind of a total mess. She’s obsessed with her job, blind to her own faults, and willing to break people’s privacy just to prove her own ideas right. I mean, she creates a fake dating profile, then texts guys from it just in order to win a bet. She’s not really firing on all cylinders, if you know what I mean.

But then, she’s also the character with her feet most on the ground too. Josie is a realist and a scientist. She’s very practical, she’s not flighty or flaky like your average romantic comedy heroine. She’s not even comically clumsy! She does a high kick and not a single thing gets kicked that isn’t supposed to get kicked! It’s almost like they wrote real flaws into her character (like her hubris and denial of human emotions) instead of relying on cheap tropes. Weird.

And Max might be the voice of reason, but he’s not really a champ at life either. While Josie is off trying to prove that science can cure everything, Max is sort of in the background, spouting off about love conquering all and how people need to believe in something. 

And that’s true, but while Max might have his head and heart on right, he never actually does anything about it. He’s single, a romantic, and seemingly unwilling to really risk anything enough to be in a relationship. I find that oddly interesting. Not particularly surprising, but interesting.

Elise isn’t exactly well-rounded so much as she is alarmingly intense in one specific direction, but I also like that about her. How often do you watch a show where the terrifying boss with delusions of power is actually a lady in a power suit? I mean, I’ve got Better Off Ted, and that’s pretty much it.

Incidentally, Better Off Ted is really good and you should totally watch it. Very similar tone, now that I think of it, and there’s a lot more of it.

Which brings me to my next point. All that stuff I was talking about above? All that character crap and the funny things and the goodness? Happens in three episodes that are only about seven minutes each. That’s it. Hot dammit I want more of this show and I want it now.

It feels fundamentally unfair to me that this show gets so little love when it is exactly what we are all professing to be looking for. It’s feminist and funny. The humor doesn’t come from a place of cynicism or anger, it comes from the real-world hilarity of people with different opinions bumping up against each other all day. It’s a show about love that believes in love. Yeah, they work for a dating site. And yeah, they all kind of think dating sites are skeevy. But they don’t think that this demeans their work or even that it really changes what they do. Their goal is to make the best dang dating site they can, and haters gonna hate.

How can you not love that? 

And did I mention that it’s hilarious? Because it so totally is. It’s written by the people who make Cracked so much fun to read, and it’s written with that same worldly-wise but still hopeful tone, and it’s just…I like it a lot, okay? I like that they really use the web-series format to its best potential, I think the whole thing is really well acted and written, and I enjoy the ever loving crap out of it. Sure, it’s only twenty minutes, but those are twenty minutes I’ve now watched probably five times. So, you know, that’s got to count for something.

Going back to the beginning, though, I think I really love this show because it recognizes the real truth about relationships, online and off. As Josie realizes after her boyfriend dumps her, she never took into account who he wanted to be. She knew who he was, but she was so focused on the present that she missed wondering who he wanted to become. And that, as it turns out, matters.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of who I am right now. I actually like myself pretty darn well, thank you very much. But I do want to change and improve and grow. Doesn’t everyone? I want to publish more poetry and I want to go back to the farmer’s market and come away with actual vegetables this time and I want to get over my weird thing about laundry (still hate it). I am a messy, flawed person, and I’m okay with that. But I want to be better.

When it comes to relationships, I think we kind of need it both ways. We both need to be loved exactly as we are (validation), and we need to be encouraged to be better. You can’t have real love without both acceptance and judgment. You are accepted as you are, and you are pushed to be more. Real love doesn’t settle for less than the best of you. 

That is, for the record, why I love this show, and why I believe that Max and Josie are endgame. They push and prod and demand that they become better people. But more than that, the show itself is a surprisingly nuanced view of love and relationships. It’s deep. A lot deeper than it arguably should be. It’s true.

Josie’s algorithm failed because she didn’t take into account the people we want to be, but the important part of that episode isn’t the failure. It’s the part where Josie realized that she failed, and thought about what that meant. The cool part isn’t that all of this is happening in the plot, the cool part is that the characters care. These questions aren’t just academic. The show is written in such a way that the characters really care about the answers. And I like that.

Plus, it’s a cute fun silly show that has two amazing female characters, one and a half really rad male characters (Daniel O’Brien’s character is mostly just a punchline about statistics - funny, though), and a sense of humor that is compassionate and optimistic. Who doesn’t want more of that in the world.

As for the saga of my online dating adventures, well, they’re probably coming to a close. While I understand the concept much better now, and I think I’m past the part of only doing this for external validation, I think, in a very real sense, I’m not going to find what I’m looking for in an online profile. But then again, who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Please watch this show so that it makes another season and I get to see more of it. Please.

2 comments:

  1. Hey - great article!

    I feel your pain about online dating - but you can get a lot of fun out of it too. Have now added this and Better Off Ted to my "watch" list :)

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    1. I can say that the online dating experience has led to some of the most fun conversations I've had in a while. So there is that. And yay! I think you'll really like both of these shows. :D

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