The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

MAFS, parasailing, and a single baked bean served in a used pair of undies

OK, I’ll admit it. As embarrassing as it is, I am a huge fan of Married at First Sight. Yes, yes, I know. It’s so low-brow it’s basically a moustache, and it’s probably making us all dumberer, and it’s about as genuine as a Praba handbag. But that, my friends, is exactly what makes it so damn good. For as much as we normal people are prone to doubting our own intelligence, both general and emotional, watching shows like MAFS is a glorious adventure in self-affirmation. That is to say, whatever we may be, we can at least find comfort in not being a fame hungry, emotionally unstable, botox obsessed, entitled sack of narcissistic underachievement. And that’s just the men.

But as much as the show makes me feel good about myself, this most recent season was a little different. Because in amongst all the affirmations of my apparently amazing intelligence and emotional maturity, there was a landmark event in the history of white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class Australian men.

I felt triggered.

Now, I am the first to admit that I can be a little facetious. Yes, I will probably send a look-a-like stripper to my own burial (you’ve been warned), but don’t let that fool you into thinking I can’t appreciate the… graveness… of a situation. So even though I just made a joke about being triggered (and stripping by proxy at my burial), it did indeed actually happen, and it really wasn’t fun. One minute, I was watching a bunch of morons embarrass themselves on national television, and basking in a joyous uplift of self-worth. Nek minute, I was suddenly wondering whether I was one of those morons.

You see, shortly after the fake-marriage of ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson, each had started to doubt that the commercial TV producers obsessed with drama and ratings had taken a genuine interest in delivering them into the arms of their one true love. Before that realisation could completely run its course, however, they were put on a bus to Terrigal for their honeymoon, and were promptly sent parasailing. Once there, it quickly became apparent that ex-stripper Bronson was very keen for parasailing… and ex-human Ines was not.

As I watched ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson discuss their respective views on parasailing, I suddenly felt a very strange sense of deja vu. This was followed by noticing a slight sheen of nervous sweat on my forehead, and a growing sense of queasiness. Being completely unexpected, these feelings were a little unsettling. But not as unsettling as the slow realisation that my queasiness had nothing to do with the three-day-old pizza I’d been eating, or remembering that the slight sheen of sweat had been there for the last 40 years (goddammit). No, what was unsettling was the fact that what was unfolding on screen was just a little too familiar.

Ex-human Ines, as I said, did not want to go parasailing. Which was fine, since people like different things. What wasn’t particularly fine was how she expressed her reluctance. It was difficult to tell with the amount of dialogue beeped out, but it was fairly obvious she wasn’t saying “Oh my darling Bronson, do you mind if I give this a miss?”. Instead, I got the distinct impression she was just telling ex-stripper Bronson to “SHUT THE FÜCK UP” a bunch of times, probably because that’s exactly what she was doing. And therein lay the trigger.

I knew what it felt like to be Bronson.

Apart from the whole ex-stripper thing, I mean. And the muscles and tattoos. And being fake-married on TV. But other than that, I had been in that exact situation. Apart from the parasailing.

The point is that I knew what Bronson was feeling in that moment, as I had been there. And the longer I watched and the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how many times I had been there. There are far too many examples to share, but there is one particular story that is unique in its utter ridiculousness, and may, therefore, prove instructive.

This story is, I admit, a little different to the one above. For starters, I and my partner at the time (let’s call her Doris) hadn’t been through the horrifyingly arduous spectacle of being fake-married by fake-experts to a complete stranger on national television. We had instead had the luxury of meeting and choosing to be together in real life. And we weren’t about to experience the stress of having a bogan tow us through the air in a boat. We were just having my friend over for dinner, whose name is also Tim, and who is so laid back that he would have been happy if we’d served up a single baked bean in a pair of used undies. It was, in short, about as benign a situation as you could get.

Which of course makes it all the more perplexing why the reaction from ex-girlfriend Doris made ex-human Ines look like ex-Mother Theresa. Like that moment when I walked into the kitchen to ask if she needed any help, and was met with a fairly high-volume “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF”.

Look, I get it. Everyone is different, and what is basically benign to me can be massively malignant to someone else. So although Doris never explained her apparently significant apprehensions, I can see how it could be stressful to have two Tims at dinner. I mean, every request for “Tim” to pass the salt would be met by mass confusion and possibly even twice as much salt as you wanted. Unless your name was actually Tim, of course, in which case you would get just as much salt as you wanted, since there was only one other Tim. Except if your name was Tim and you passed the salt to yourself, in which case there was no need to ask for salt in the first place. Anyway, the point is that I can see that under such emotionally fraught conditions, two hours of verbal abuse can be a perfectly reasonable response to having a laid back dinner with a friend called Tim.

But this is the thing. As difficult as it was to be treated that way by someone I cared about, I actually do understand that people handle situations differently, and being flawed, emotional beings, all of us are prone to a little over-reaction on occasion. By which I mean to say, the problem wasn’t so much the actual behaviour, as bad as that was. It was what followed.

___

When we first met fake-husband Mike, he seemed like the unlucky-in-love, good looking larrikin with not much hair but plenty of heart. Happily for him, his fake-wife Heidi also seemed like a winner. She was basically like Mike, but smarter and funnier and nicer and more successful and better looking and with a better personality and with more hair. They hit it off immediately, and each seemed very happy with the ability of the fake-experts to pick fake-spouses for a fake-TV-show. Life was good.

That was until one day later, when Heidi opened up about her difficult childhood, and Mike responded by telling her he wanted to go for a swim.

And this is where the gaslighting comes in.

For those that don’t know, gaslighting is shït. It’s also the deliberate and calculated manipulation of someone into doubting their own reality. To wit, even though everyone watching could see that Mike was being a massive jerk, by the Power of Gas Light Mike was able to make Heidi feel like a crazy person for talking about her childhood when he wanted to go for a swim. “I’m not your therapist,” he explained tersely. “This isn’t therapy.”

Sadly, the most unbelievable thing about this story is not that Mike was a massive jerk. People are massive jerks all the time. No, the really unbelievable thing is that this shït actually works. Watching along in our lounge rooms with friends, it’s easy to imagine ourselves telling Mike to go fluff himself. But that’s the thing about gaslighting. It is invariably deployed in private, by narcissists, against those that are maybe a little self-doubting, and a little vulnerable. And that’s what makes it so effective. Mike’s confidence in his position, together with the lack of emotional support from friends, results in a normally strong woman like Heidi issuing Mike an embarrassed apology, instead of a swift kick to the jelly beans.

___

In my case, delivering Doris a swift kick to the jelly beans wasn’t really an option. Not only because I’ve never committed violence against anyone (let alone a woman), but Doris doesn’t even have jelly beans. Oh, and also because Doris didn’t do anything wrong, and it was apparently me that was the crazy person.

“I was just expressing how I feel,” Doris later explained. “Am I not allowed to express how I feel?”

“Of course you are, Doris” I replied. “Of course you are.”

And so, I came to learn that it’s actually perfectly reasonable for someone to respond with “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF” when their partner asks if they need help because a very laid back friend called Tim is coming over for dinner to eat a single baked bean served in a pair of used undies. A valuable lesson that I will treasure always.

Like I said. Gaslighting is shït.

– Tim

Category: Bad

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