My husband has many film school friends that make their living working behind the scenes in Hollywood. Likewise, my sister-in-law has a number of college friends who are actors. So whenever we get word that a friend in the business is going to be on a show or is working on a show, we make a point to watch it to be supportive. That is why we watched Hitched or Ditched last night on the CW, and unlike my dedication to watch every single episode of Discovery Health’s Mystery ER last year, I can’t be supportive enough to keep watching Hitched or Ditched.
The premise of the show, for those who can’t figure it out from the title, is that couples who have been dating for a long time but haven’t gotten engaged are given a week and infinite resources to plan their dream wedding and when they show up to the altar, dressed to the nines before their friends, family and viewers at home, they must decide if they will stay together or break up right then and there. I was wary when I heard the concept of the show, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m going to attempt to explain why I find this so problematic and, ultimately, horrible.
First of all, while I am married and do encourage my long-dating friends to get married, I do so for a variety of pragmatic reasons. Being married is a social institution, and that’s all it is. It says that you’re going to share a life with that person for as long as you can. And if we remember marriage is a social institution, that does mean that the contract can be negated, just like any contract, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you love that person any less. It makes your life a whole lot easier in terms of tax breaks, insurance policies and a variety of other socially/governmentally mediated activities/events. A wedding, with the ritual and the rings and the vows and the white dress, that’s the thing that shows you profess your love, a party for all of your friends to celebrate the commitment you intend to make to your partner.
To me, they’re separate entities, but we often confuse one with the other, and that’s a major problem with this show. Planning a wedding – your commitment ceremony or love celebration party, if you will – is not at all the time to decide whether or not you and your partner should enter into a marriage. In fact, if you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a significant amount of time and you two haven’t mutually decided to enter into a marriage, there are reasons why – reasons that do not need to be discussed on national television as you go along with the charade of your relationship, sampling cakes together. The show confuses the two entities, and thus confuses the participants by conflating a wedding ceremony with an actual marriage.
Secondly, even though I personally encourage my long-dating friends to marry, there’s something seriously wrong with a show that drives forward the notion that marriage is the only proper outcome to a long-term relationship. Some people are perfectly happy living without that social contract, and that’s fine for them.
I would much rather that the money being spent to tempt these couples with free dream weddings be spent on wedding ceremonies for people who actually do know that they want to get married, but can’t afford to celebrate that decision in the way they’d truly like to. Because that’s a nice thing to do for people, rather than spend a week cruelly asking couples to conform to some notion of social rightness by asking them to get married or break up.
There’s more I could say about this show that probably needs to be said, like maybe something about how utterly ridiculous it is that we hold heterosexual couples to this standard of “get married or break up” yet 45 states, including my own, won’t let homosexual couples engage in equal social contracts, but ideological issues aside, there’s nothing joyful to be found in Hitched or Ditched. It’s not entertaining to watch people with relationship issues fall apart on national television, because this show takes itself seriously unlike the trainwreck sensationalism of daytime talkshows. And there’s nothing to be learned from this experiment, unlike, say, enjoyable trash like Wife Swap. It’s really just sad, cruel and sends a highly problematic message. And I can’t spend any more time on it than this.
(Now that I’m posting this, I should note that I had no idea until now what the title of this episode was as I hadn’t planned on writing about it and I’m so horribly offended. Really, show? Have you have no faith in any of your participants, do you?)