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Pop Culture, Scourge of the Onelys (Twice in a Week!): “I Vow” Commercials April 1, 2009

Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, As If!, Dating, Heteronormativity, Pop Culture: Scourge of the Onelys, Singled Out.
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OK. So I understand that Chemistry.com’s whole business revolves around assuming and promoting couple-dom as the most desirable relationship status. In order to do this, it’s no surprise that the company (and others like it) tends to promote stereotypes about and simultaneously degrade single people (see, for example, this offensive commercial).

But — as if that’s not enough — the newest series of Chemistry.com commercials, dubbed on YouTube as “Chemistry.com Vows,” presents two people mimicking wedding-ceremony protocol and normalizes the matrimaniacal tendencies of American culture.

I’ve used the above video as a prime example because, for one, it creeps me out. The woman begins,

I vow never to wear a flannel nightgown

And the man replies (with a creepy smirk):

Can you just make that, I vow never to wear a nightgown?

Eew – and that’s “chemistry”?! (not to mention: what, exactly, is wrong with flannel nightgowns — sheesh!)

But secondly, this video — and, indeed, the whole series — assumes that the goal of dating, even of relationship-making, is to make commitments that imitate heterosexual marriage rituals (because the goal is, eventually, marriage … right?!).

And, perhaps even more problematically, the series assumes that the “joy” of being in a relationship is to make compromises and to “fit in” with “normal” (non-flannel-pajama-wearing) society. In fact, all four of the Chemistry.com “Vow” ads that I found online pit one partner against the other, having one partner “vow” that he/she will “get over” (or at least conceal) the other person’s flaws. Take, for example, the “Subway” commercial:

And the (snarkier) “Gay” commercial (kudos to Chemistry, though, for at least matching same-sex couples):

Or, as in the flannel-pajama commercial above, one member of the couple agrees to compromise in order to make the relationship “work,” as in the “Sushi” commercial:

I understand and agree that good relationships will inevitably require compromise and even “dealing” with tastes that may not match your own. But why this push to make compromise and “putting up with” others — not to mention the push toward “serious” marriage-like commitment — the central tenet of what dating’s all about?

One of the reasons I’m single is because, in my last relationship, my partner was willing to put up with ALL of my flaws, and we had to “work” at every aspect of our relationship. He even said that if we ever got married, he thought we should see a relationship counselor regularly — just to make sure things “worked”! I couldn’t understand why we had to have this mindset; and eventually, I guess I just grew tired of having to constantly appreciate all the compromises he was willing to (and did) make for me (I suppose that all that appreciation on my end began to feel like “work”).

So, copious readers, what’s the deal with the rhetoric of “work” in relation to dating and relationships? I’ve written about this question previously in relation to Laura Kipnis’s compelling and polemical book, Against Love, and I’m interested in how “work” has become a “normal” aspect of what we expect when it comes to being “in love” and maintaining intimate relationships.

— L

p.s. I searched and searched for a Zyrtec commercial that I just KNOW used the same “Vow” theme — but I can’t find it anywhere online. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I found the theme even more bizarre in the context of an allergy medication!


1. Alan - April 1, 2009

I initially thought it was appropriate that Chemistry.com would promote marriage…after all, it’s a dating site. But then I realized that one can promote relationships without necessarily promoting marriage or falling into matrimania. Though obviously they’re going to promote relationships, as that’s their business.

Haven’t read “Against Love”, may have to when I have time.

Lauri - April 1, 2009

Alan, your post made me think of this: if it’s about business, why would these dating sites want to promote marriage/commitment? Don’t they do more business the more people break-up?

It reminds me of those gum commercials where they say the company is going out of business because the flavor lasts so long.

2. Lauri - April 1, 2009

Interesting, Chemistry.com pits itself against eHarmony as being a more open and progressive alternative. I think that’s why I was so surprised to see these commercials- everyone knows eHarmony is the site for people who just want to get married at all costs, but Chemistry originally advertised itself as being the anti-eHarmony.

WRT the “work” issue- I think it is a completely made up by coupled people to make it seem like they are doing something challenging or accomplishing something. It’s a way to make marriage or coupledom seem more worthy of tax benefits and presents and whatnot and more important. Like, they are doing all this “work” for the good of society or something. Like it’s not all fun and games, in fact it’s akin to Doctors Without Borders and Greenpeace.

L, I am with you, I don’t see the point in “working” for a relationship and never have. If it feels like work, why not just be alone? I think guys I’ve dated have actually been put-off by my lack of drama. I see friends “struggling” with “challenges” in their relationships, and none of it seems like a big deal to me in the least.

What is interesting is that no one ever talks about maintaining friendships as work, and that’s FAR more work than maintaining a romantic relationship. People say that you can choose your friends as opposed to your family, but you also have far more choice regarding your romantic partner than you do with your friends, especially after a certain amount of years when friends become more like family. I have some friends that I can only really describe as “difficult.” But when they’re being difficult I just kind of ignore it, it will pass eventually. No one ever talks about “working” to maintain friendships, they figure if it gets bad enough they’ll just cut it off. Why not apply all the same strategies to coupledom? I don’t know, I clearly will never understand the whole thing.

Alan - April 1, 2009

I wonder if some people are simply more interested in relationships, and thus find working on them a challenge, instead of pointless drudgery. Just like some people find needlepoint or rock-climbing worth the effort, while others don’t.

onely - April 2, 2009

Alan, I’m *this close* to buying your theory. It’s a very generous one. But… needlepoint and rock-climbing fanatics (in facebook it’d be “fans”) are usually considered subgroups of people with “special” interests. In the case of relationships, our culture demands that bookstores provide us with whole cases of books on the subject and demeans anyone who dares to ask about the joys of being single or who doesn’t want to “work” at a relationship. If you’re happy being single, you just might be … lazy! That’s not a sub-group’s motto — it’s an entire culture.

Lauri — good point on the difficulty of maintaining friendships… I have lived in five different cities in the last 12 years and thus have friends all over the place (including Christina!). It’s a real challenge to maintain those friendships. Often it’s just easier to let them fizzle out. But that always feels kind of sad. And our culture doesn’t explicitly acknowledge that sadness.

— L

Stephen Patrick Morrissey (not really) - September 7, 2009

It sounds like these people are doing what these ‘vows’ used to be called back in the day — SETTLING for what they can get. Come on, everybody needs to lower their standards, right?

3. Rachel’s Musings » Singlism Promoted in Pop Culture - April 2, 2009

[…] time to take note of these, though. Onley has been posting critiques of pop culture here and here, for example. These are examples from songs and commercials. Let me add one from a […]

4. Special K - April 5, 2009

I agree a bit with Alan…I think that it definitely is a personality feature how much you are willing to “endure” in a relationship. I guess that is what you are getting at how much work am I willing to live with? Everything is work…even preparing breakfast, oh God I love my granola…expends energy, thus being “work” but that work has a payoff that motivates me to invest in going to my kitchen.
I believe all relationships is a cost/withdrawal balance. It does take work. I am willing to live with a washer and dryer downstairs. For some people, sharing and lugging their jeans it “too much” and they buy their own. The same is true for romance or even friendship.
My idea? the less you like someone, the less you are willing to work.

5. Singletude - May 24, 2009

In defense of Chemistry.com, that site is specifically for the marriage-minded. It’s owned by Match.com, but whereas Match markets itself to a broader audience, Chem is Match’s answer to e-Harmony. It is a matchmaking service rather than a dating site but doesn’t incorporate e-Harmony’s restrictions on religion and sexual orientation. So the commercial is appropriate for its market. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive to the rest of us!

This question of how much to work at a relationship has been on my mind a lot lately, and I really am torn about it. On one hand, I think that all relationships–romantic or not–require a certain amount of work. I also think that some of the best, most rewarding relationships–again, romantic or not–are those predicated on some kind of commitment. I think we feel the most free to be ourselves and can grow the most in relationships in which we know that the other person isn’t going to just walk away if we have a bad day. Overcoming disagreements and shared trials has a way of bonding families, friends, AND partners and helping us mature as people.

BUT I think it’s sort of foolish to make a commitment to someone with whom you have so much interpersonal conflict that you know from the outset the relationship will demand a herculean effort to succeed. IMHO, as soon as you see insurmountable challenges, you should acknowledge that they’re insurmountable and end the relationship before it gets so serious that people get hurt. I think the main mistake a lot of us make is in ignoring these early warning signs because we’re so desperate to be coupled that we convince ourselves we can overlook them.

6. Brent - July 7, 2009

Even though I think Chemistry.com’s “vow” campaign is stupid, I can at least understand where they are coming from since most relationship’s include compromise (it seems like since they are a matching site though they shouldn’t be advertising that the matches they find for people aren’t fully compatible…). However, why flannel nightgowns?!

I understand the other ones somewhat since the vows are somewhat common things people do and may also be somewhat common things their partner may find annoying or have to deal with but why flannel nightgowns?! I don’t know a single person who wears one first of all and if I did, why would their partner have a problem with it?!

onely - July 9, 2009

WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA What if they had on FOOTIE pajamas?

Antje - February 11, 2012

Adam was the first gay. God fmerod Adam just as men are built today (including penis) but Eve was an afterthought.

7. Stephen Patrick Morrissey (not really) - September 7, 2009

The ‘flannel nightgown’ commercial especially creeps me out because the man is basically informing his girlfriend (and presumptive future wife) that he wants her to be his sex doll. Nightgown? Hell, no! He wants access to his wife so she can do her wifely duties. All the better for him to slip it in while she is sleeping, eh?!
And, since he made her to promise this, he is going to take her also promise to dress like a Hooter’s waitress when she serves his dinner every night!

Onely - September 7, 2009

Don’t even get me started on Hooters. . .
= )

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