I watched three episodes of The Jeremy Kyle Show back-to-back the other day, wrapped in an orange blanket on my neon yellow sofa. I wasn’t ill – in any medical sense – but I was a bit sad, and in the mood to have my brain gently minced. So I watched Jeremy Kyle and dribbled into the overpriced silk cushions that I had hoped, on purchase, would herald a sweeter existence, but which have, frankly, failed to make a discernible difference to my emotional wellbeing (fuck you, John Lewis). I want to feel better about myself. Which is obviously the only reason The Jeremy Kyle Show exists. It gives those of us who are lonely, with no human company on weekday afternoons, a little reminder that things could be worse. We could fall pregnant and not know which of the brothers we’ve been fucking is the father. We might trust our husband of just over a year so little that we’d force him to undergo a polygraph test, on national television. We could be in a long, drawn-out feud with our sister-in-law, and she might turn up at ITV studios, brandishing the ashes of our recently deceased mother, to whose funeral we were not invited (I don’t know either babe, but it happened).
Everywhere you look there are unfortunate people, making a mess of their lives. And reading about them in newspapers (I am totally obsessed, for example, with the tragic story of that young woman who convinced her friend she was a man, and then had sex with the duped friend, who was blindfolded, using a dildo. She has been sentenced to eight years in prison for her deception – which is probably about right) and watching them on TV in all their unfiltered, bare-faced, track-suited reality is a boost to the ego for the rest of us, who are coping – or at least washing our hair and applying lipstick before appearing on screen.
Until you realise that, essentially, The Jeremy Kyle Show is a mirror. We are all only ever about three steps away from appearing on it ourselves, hysterical, angry and rejected. We are never far from breaking down in public; sobbing on the streets, with greasy hair and bacon stained leisure-wear; screaming into the abyss for something to – please God – right the terrible wrongs tearing up our guts like seaweed thrown against rock.
All we want is to feel wanted in all of our haunted, flawed, entirety. We are broken and desperate in our humanity and very, very lucky if we get a break from that through our work or our lovers or our friends.
Desperation. It’s the cliché no singleton wants to align themselves with. Why do you think I’ve spent the past three and half years writing blogs in which I try to convince you that I’m happy and fulfilled, fabulous and funny and fine all on my own? It’s because I don’t want you to know just how close I am to lying down in the grass and decomposing in a puddle of my own tears. It’s because I don’t want you to know that I spent Saturday night staring at my iPhone, anticipating the dopamine hit of a text message that never arrived, downing cheap prosecco, chain-smoking Marlboro Gold, smoothing out wrinkles with the tips of my tobacco stained fingers and choking back self-pitying sobs that would have only smudged my make up if I’d let them fall – and then what good would I have been to any gentleman caller who did happen to amble by?
It’s not a good look, is it? I think, in fact, it is exactly what my friend David meant when he said that the reason gay men love me so much is that I exude an air of tragedy. Like, Madonna, Lady Gaga or Judy Garland – I try too hard, I care too much and it’s transparent and unsettling and everybody can see right through it, no matter the bitchiness and bravado I shovel on in an attempt at disguise.
I know that other people have bills to pay, books to edit, sick mothers to tend to. I know that you don’t want to hear if I’m miserable –I know that you are miserable too, mostly. Or else you will be, very soon. But the world is dark and frightening. There are children dying of starvation, there are earthquakes. There wars leaving whole towns shattered, apartment buildings with the windows blown out, dust and rubble – a naked doll poking up out of the debris. There are men with guns stalking restaurants, concert halls and sports stadia.
And who can blame us, it the midst of the pain, (and by us I mean me and the Jeremy Kyle guests, and probably you, too, if you’re still reading), for sometimes being scared, irrational, impulsive and neurotic? We are only human, and we need love.
Who knew reality television could go this deep.