‘Oh my God!’ I shriek as I flick through the TV channels and land on M6’s new reality show, its name displayed in the bottom corner of the screen with the ‘M’ of maman transformed into a girly pink heart. ‘This is totally my core subject for book2, I have to watch this, however dreadful it is…’ The Boy is washing up in our open plan kitchen, an undertaking which seems to involve more clanging and splashing and running of taps than is strictly necessary. I crank up the TV’s volume and reach for my laptop, curious to read about the ‘concept’ of the show.
‘Elles sont actives, dynamiques, autonomes … et mamans célibataires,’ reads the show’s blurb. So far, so good. Dynamic, independent working women, who are also single mums. I approve of the choice of positive adjectives and the word order of the sentences, which places their relationship status and motherhood last.
There are 1.76 million monoparental families in France, according to the INSEE statistics quoted by the programme’s producers. 85% of these families are headed up by a single mother. ‘But in a daily life whose rhythm is dictated by their work, their children and all the occupations of a single mother they have little time to devote to searching for their ideal man…’ I ponder for a moment what ‘all the occupations of a single mother’ might mean, trying to imagine what these tasks which are not work or childcare related might be, but draw a blank. Hopefully the show itself will enlighten me. Although I do hope the cameras won’t be allowed to peer inside the ladies’ bedside cabinets to contemplate their Rampant Rabbit collections.
Episode one introduces us to Caroline, Marie and Carine who are shown preparing meals for their children, driving them to school and contemplating their towering ironing piles with varying degrees of despair. It’s when they are asked to describe what they are looking for that I begin to want to throw things at the television screen. Pale, blonde and dreamy looking Marie professes to be looking for her own ‘modern fairy tale’. Short-haired brunette Caroline would like to meet her very own Mr Big. Heavily made-up Carine (whom The Boy immediately refers to as la cagole, and whose online profile describes her as having previously lived a life of luxury similar to Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives) has simple needs: a man with the charm of Sean Connery or Robert De Niro, with a touch of Nicholas Cage.
The phrases ‘prince charmant‘ or ‘Knight in white armour’ aren’t actually bandied about, but they might as well be. The assumption is definitely that each is looking for a Mr Right and hoping to build something ‘serious’ and ‘durable’.
‘They should concentrate on just finding a guy they have some chemistry with, not obsessing about how it has to be du sérieux right from the outset,’ I say, half to The Boy, who has now joined me on the sofa, and half to the TV screen. ‘You don’t go into anything knowing what the outcome’s going to be. You start off casual. Otherwise it’s doomed in advance.’ I think back to when we met, in May 2007. We definitely started off casual. I didn’t take The Boy very seriously at all in the beginning. He was five years younger than me for a start. And I was hung up on someone else.
‘Of course,’ The Boy nods. ‘But, having said that, most of the girls on the online dating site where we met said they were looking for a prince charming. It wasn’t always true, in practise, but that’s definitely what they were telling themselves…’ I shoot him a sideways glance. I suspect The Boy was as guilty as the next guy of pretending to be a prince for an hour or two in order to charm his way into their lace underwear at the end of their first date but, as they say, ignorance is bliss.
Whatever their real aspirations and motivations (aside from wanting to become D-list celebs for fifteen minutes) the mamans are somewhat unlikely to find love in the reality TV show context, where their every word and movement is, no doubt, scripted in advance. The heavily edited version of events the audience will be presented with each week won’t exactly be trustworthy either. The whole thing is little more than a farce, entertaining and excruciating in equal measures.
In the first episode, for example, each maman hosted a picnic/barbecue to which ten hopeful suitors from all four corners of France (and a film crew) were invited. Not the most natural of dating situations, in my humble opinion, and it was moderately painful to watch the candidates compete for the attention of the mums, flirting outrageously, in some cases, in order to stand out from the crowd.
It soon became clear that the format was going to be reminiscent of ‘The Bachelor’. After a single day on their group date, peppered with a few brief tête-à-tête moments, the women were already being instructed to throw out three candidates. I couldn’t help thinking that in the real world, some of the men would have withdrawn themselves from the running spontaneously, but this did not happen. Clearly every male interviewed was in this competition to win, on principle, or failing that, to spend as much time in front of the TV cameras as possible.
I don’t know if will be able to bear to tune in for future episodes, but the mind boggles. Will the men be introduced to the women’s kids at some stage? Will they – in the case of the divorcees with kids – bring their own along? If a winner is selected who lives at the opposite end of the country, how will the logistics work? And, more importantly, will there be any more traditional Breton dancing? Or perhaps a trial by ironing?
The Boy’s suggestion – that the women simply audition their ten chosen men in the bedroom – earned him a withering stare. My tirade about how these poor, misguided women were likely to find that kissing Prince Charming will probably only mean they wind up with an extra mouth to feed and an even more voluminous ironing pile did not amuse The Boy, either, as he thought I might be implying he didn’t pull his weight in matters domestic.
But I rather liked The Boy’s suggestion for an alternative title for the show. It would make a fantastic French title for book two, if such a thing ever comes to pass.