Did you look up from your phone long enough to take in The Seven Year Switch and say “None of these people should be together.”?
What are they doing there, living with a man/woman who no longer makes them smile, who seems kind of depressed most of the time, who refuses to hug them in public, who spends up big on a TV and then questions why you need a ceremony at a wedding?
WHO EVEN ARE THESE PEOPLE?
They are me. And you. And your sister and your friend and your mum. They are everywhere.
Perhaps the biggest shock about watching the undoubtedly exploitative Seven Year Switch last night was not how awful it was – I don’t think anyone watching was expecting an episode of Four Corners – but how human it was, how relatable.
It’s a very lucky person who has never been in a relationship that has drifted off course. It’s someone with very little life experience who can blithely claim “If you’re not happy, just LEAVE.”
Life is more complex than that. And long-term relationships are a thousand origami folds more complex than that.
There’s Ryan and Cassie, the Gold Coast couple with two kids who have found themselves feeling more like mother and son than husband and wife. These people – who, like all the contestants, are being mocked all over social media today – lost a baby. They have lived through life’s most testing experience, one that fractures the strongest couples, and it sent them spiralling in different directions.
Then there are the show’s other parents, Jason and Michelle. Michelle seems sad. She seems beyond sad. She has the look, familiar to newish mothers, of a woman who isn’t really sure what has happened to her life. She looks like a woman who knows the way she’s feeling – about her husband, about her home, about herself – isn’t quite right, but she has no idea how to fix it. All she knows is that she loves her kids and she wouldn’t be without them, but she’s woken up as someone else and she hasn’t got a handbook for how to live in the new her.
We all know a Michelle. Some of us have been Michelle. Michelle needs some help.
Which, of course brings us to the question of whether Michelle, or any of the other people on this show, are going to find what they need on a TV program that seeks to make a spectacle of their troubles?
Perhaps not. Let’s face it, almost certainly not.
But we might.
Was there anyone at home last night who heard that Jason and Michelle hadn’t had sex in 17 months and thought, ‘Shit, we can’t become that’.
Was there anyone who saw the way that Brad bullied Talena, the woman he professes to love and thought, ‘Thank God I’m not married to that guy/broke up with that girl/was never attracted to controlling men like that?’ Any man who confiscates your engagement ring every time you have a fight is, surely, the very opposite of a keeper.
How about seeing the way that Jackie and Tim’s life and home had been swallowed by their business and how she managed to somehow remain cheerful about the fact he barely likes to touch her in public – “You’d better f***ing say you love me on TV” might be the best, most honest line every spoken on a reality show – and recognising a little bit of their own awkwardness and insecurity reflected back at them and more than a million of us did – was because relationships are endlessly fascinating, even up close.
Watch: Jackie tries to make Tim say ‘I love you’ on television. Post continues after video…
It was the very opposite of the #relationshipgoals of Instagram – Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift kissing on a tropical beach – the ones that look nothing like our lives.
Up close, with no filter, relationships are messy, and difficult, and go through dull and desperate times.
Sometimes you realise that you’re in the wrong one but you are too paralysed by fear and indecision to move.
Sometimes you look at your loved one and wonder who the hell they are, really.
Sometimes you’re the needy one, and nothing your partner can do can fill you up.
Often, you need to be reminded that not everyone in the world is living in Taylor and Calvin’s Insta account and it’s not only you who boils with fury about another f***ing towel on the floor. Maybe that’s the gift The Seven Year Switch gave us.
And sometimes, just sometimes, you find yourself swearing at your beloved on national television.
Well, maybe not that last one. Unless you’re Jackie. And then you’re too awesome to care.