In 2005, ABC ran a special documentary series called Hooking Up on what was then the new frontier of online dating for women in their late twenties. As a high school student, I wondered if I would someday be intrepid or—as these women were not-so-subtly stigmatized as—desperate enough to enter this uncharted world.
Fast forward to 2014. I’m an online dating veteran with hundreds of virtual and dozens of in-person exchanges under my belt. And I’m not the only one. According to the Pew Research Center, 11 percent of all Americans who use the Internet have used an online dating site, and that number jumps to 38 percent among people who are single and looking. To say that online dating is widely pervasive is an understatement, which is why Bravo seems a little late to the game with the Online Dating Rituals of the American Male.
The network claims the series “unmasks the world of the booming online dating culture from the male perspective.” Men line up multiple dates in the same day (shocking!) and other scoundrels use online dating to “bang” as many women as possible (scandalous!). Really though, we would have to go back at least a decade for this to count as real “unmasking.” The premiere attempts to juxtapose the good and the bad of heterosexual male online daters. Based on the pilot episode, the behavior is not as eye-opening as it is eye-roll inducing.
The quintessential creeper is Alex, a 29-year-old who “dates online because it makes getting laid a lot easier.” I’d like to say right here that if Alex didn’t flirt with sexual harassment on his dates (more on that), he would have won me over for his honesty and painful insecurity that manifest as boorishness. Alex is the bad guy, if we’re defining “bad” on a scale of what women would bring homes to their moms (which Bravo seems to presume we are). He has the sketchiest and vaguest professional pursuits; he’s a car salesman who dabbles in his father’s bail bond business. (The scene of him muting calls during a workday afternoon while scanning online dating photos of only women with bikini shots is really all the evidence you need.)
The lines that Alex, or “PrimeTime99,” spouts are stand-alone gems: “This girl is an alcoholic. She probably has self-esteem issues. I like that.” and “Someone who has that much insecurity to lie online is probably easy to sleep with.” Unsurprisingly, he’s as sexually aggressive as one would expected a man who claims “a little ass grab here or there never hurt nobody” to be. He does, in fact, regularly grab his dates’ buttocks without permission, and like a blue-balled high schooler tells one lady, “Don’t be such a prude.”
It’s truly masterful that he hasn’t been banned from dating sites or, you know, arrested.
He tells one lucky lady, “I have a dog’s tongue. I will rock your world.” He later speaks about his penis completely unprompted: “It’s not that long. It’s like a hockey puck. It’ll get in there.” Then, during the post-date interview, he makes the image way worse (and contradicts himself): “I’ve got a salami that’s smooth, long, and tasty in my pants.” What possesses him to think that women will find his penis analogies appealing is unclear, but his constant reminder that he used to be overweight make suggests a host of insecurities driving his wildly inappropriate dirty talk.
Then there’s Marcus, a 36-year-old divorcé in Los Angeles looking for his next wife online because he’s starting to wonder “did love forget about me?” Marcus is the good guy, presented as a reliable businessman-type; his various professional pursuits in the art world and fitness training industry are not quite clear, though, he rocks suits really, really well.
Yet, while he is the stereotypical “good guy” he’s pretty self-righteous and irritating in his quest for love (which does actually resonate with real life online dating). On his first date, Marcus takes out a woman, Michel'le, who seems perfectly normal—as normal as the actress/model can be—except that the footage of her is pretty obviously spliced to make her seem flighty and self-obsessed.
Somehow, Michel'le's story about waking up from a date with a man who hosts strippers (which, to be fair, was weird) qualifies as Marcus’s worst online dating experience. Really, Marcus? One quirky and slightly sexual story during the course of dinner counts as your worst? You’re not even being melodramatic in a good, Bravo reality TV-show sort of way—you’re just being annoying. Try having an OkCupid guy who won’t even pay for your Rolling Rock attempt to make out with your face right after you tell him your grandpa just had a heart attack. Then you can talk about “worst online dating experiences.”
But even if Michel'le was a narcissistic Girls Gone Wild alumnus with the IQ of a box of raisins, it wouldn’t excuse Marcus’s deceptive, wimpy, and douchey behavior. When she offers to reveal her real age because he’s been pestering her about it all night, he tells her to hold off and save something for the next date. Of course, Marcus has no intention of spending another minute with her, but is too pathetic to step out of his guise as the suave, sophisticated “good guy.” His spineless duplicity confirms that the good guy is actually pretty much a louse.
Marcus even walks out of another date with a girl named Mindy while she finishes her meal. Bravo, though, somehow tries to cast her as a slutty slob for a) enjoying food and b) mentioning she is on her period (again, scandalous!). We don’t buy it though—clearly he’s the jerk.
The poor foot soldier of love, having survived two nightmare dates, manages to strike gold with a woman with a great bikini shot named Chloe. The episode closes with the two of them kissing and eating ice cream on the couch after Marcus tells her his most recent date went so badly. Yes, men, that is totally the protocol when you come over late at night: make it painfully clear we are you’re sloppy seconds.
“After this crazy road, I think I am going in the right direction,” Marcus professes with certainty during this second (just the second!) date. The prematurely rosy ending rings hollow and artificial and, ultimately, is just not that fun to watch.
These men don’t seem as desperate or even peculiar as the women of Hooking Up. That may be because bachelors tend to be depicted far more positively and glamorously than their female counterparts who are relegated to stereotypes of shrill spinsters and old maids. But it is also the stigma of online dating that has faded tremendously. (Though not completely, obviously, as Bravo still finds the practice unusual enough to devote an entire television series to it.)
There is a way to examine modern dating habits that could both entertain and enlighten. Unfortunately, Bravo relies on old tropes of “good” and “bad” guys and contrived awkward sexual interactions that will make only pearl clutchers blush and the rest of us who have tried online dating for more than hour scream, “so, what?” Perhaps the only new insight the show offers is in its confirmation of the worst impressions of men in the world of online dating. Sadly, sometimes even the “good” guys can be pretty darn deceptive, shallow, and arrogant.