Episode 6 – “200 Things a Guy Has To Be To Date Kameelah” – August 13, 1997
Episode 7 – “If A Tree Falls In The Firehouse…” – August 20, 1997
Episode 8 – “He Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” – August 27, 1997
The Real World is a crucible for relationships, adding the heat of constant temptation to the pressure of long-distance dating. Turning the cameras on a relationship is one of the easiest ways to get good television: tearful break-ups and full-throated fights, either on the phone or in person, are on the horizon of any relationship that goes through the Real World gauntlet. Over this stretch of episodes, we see relationships at their beginnings, middles and ends.
We first met Montana’s boyfriend Vaj in the season’s first episode; he seemed like a jerk and was openly peeved about Montana doing the show. They’re open to seeing other people while they’re apart, with the intention of continuing their relationship after the season; Montana doesn’t want “some little stupid mistake” to derail their plans for a life together. “I don’t have any problems being monogamous,” she claims. “Well, I have a little problem being monogamous, but not when we’re in the same city.”
If this all seems delusional and doomed, it’s because it is. I’ve never known anyone who has tried the long-distance, see-other-people thing and remained unscathed, and I’d bet The Real World has never helped matters, either. Montana wants to believe that Vaj isn’t jealous, like he says, but she guesses that “he isn’t as cool as he says he is” with their arrangement.
While she intends to marry Vaj one day, she sees Boston as her “extended bachelorette party” and she’s unapologetic about it. “I want to go live in the rainforest, man,” she tells Sean. “I want to take all my clothes off and wear a little belt made out of beads and live among the Yanomami.” Her confessional is even more succinct: “I want the best of both worlds” — a safe relationship later and some fun now — “so what?”
The first person to test Montana’s theory is Sean. They flirt and play fight constantly, and not just to annoy Elka; Syrus picks them as the two housemates that will eventually hook-up. As they playfully share a bowl of ramen, Sean even acknowledges their energy, wondering aloud what Vaj will think about their relationship. (This scene also provides possibly the best Montana Anecdote™: “Female monkeys, I swear to god, will lay down and masturbate for the male monkeys to get them to give them oranges,” she giggles. “I’m not lying, I’m an anthropology major, I know how the world works!”)
When is comes to Vaj, Sean is prescient. Vaj visits and he’s the same soul-patched ass that we met the first time around, this time with a skateboard and a Che poster. He either doesn’t like Sean’s all-American attitude or does indeed feel threatened because of Sean’s friendship-plus with Montana. When Sean tries to make smalltalk, he cracks stupid lumberjack jokes and sarcastically says his tattoo came from an extra-large Cracker Jack box; his shrill laugh haunts my nightmares.
Montana and Vaj put up a “Gone sexin’” sign (literally) and get the physicality of their relationship back on track. But their emotional and mental relationship is still uncertain. Vaj doesn’t want to know if Montana has seen anyone else: “Do everything under your power to allow me to labor under the illusion that I’m the only one,” he pleads, “even though it’s not true.” At approximately this line of contrived dialogue, I realized that Vaj is the amalgamation of the Jason Lee’s characters in Mallrats and Chasing Amy, if only the bad parts.
Montana wants to keep Vaj’s visit short-but-sweet. The same goes for their phone conversations, because she always feels worse when they talk. Clearly, having Vaj at the forefront of her mind only underscores their distance, and reinforces the cognitive dissonance of wanting to see other people while in a relationship with someone you love.
“She needs attention from men even if it destroys her life,” Sean explains in his confessional. This becomes clear when Montana meets Matt, a Bostonian law student that looks like a New Kids on the Block reject and has “more stories to tell” than even Montana. They hit it off and trade numbers, but Montana feels guilty: she knows talking to guys and getting numbers would hurt Vaj’s feelings.
When she next talks with Vaj, Montana prods for information about dates that he’s gone on and seems surprised that he’s dated “so soon.” She admits that he has mixed feelings: Vaj dating stings, but it also alleviates her guilt for the same behavior. To his credit, Vaj says this is exactly what he didn’t want to happen; he’s happy to stay monogamous and wait for her to return, an offer Montana refuses; he seems like Casey on Sports Night, going on dates because Dana made him.
While Montana’s relationship with Vaj is on the rocks (“it brings me no pleasure because it bring me pain”), her relationship with Matt is going so well that it gets a falling-in-love montage (to the tune of Gina G’s ‘Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit’). Matt wants to know if he should “practice for the New York bah” (phonetic Boston accent) but is shocked when he finds out Montana lives with Vaj. “If I’m putting myself on the line, I’m the only one that has something to lose,” he says, but Montana disagrees: “I have a lot to lose… you’re rocking my world.”
Montana is struggling as she juggles relationships with Vaj, Matt and Sean. The show cuts the tension with a credit-sequence about Montana’s Love Geometry, charting her move from love triangles to love parallelograms. Jason is a similar position, but thankfully his problem is just a love line: he left his “incredible” girlfriend Timber back in Boulder, and unlike Montana and Vaj, he didn’t work out an arrangement in advance.
Jason admits that he’s never been faithful in a relationship, and while it doesn’t seem like he’s going to start now, he says he wouldn’t cheat without telling her. It’s not a particularly brave stance, but it’s an honest one: he’s a poet-writer searching for answers and human connections, and he can’t do that while in a relationship. “I don’t want my girlfriend around because I’ve got to learn some things about myself and I’ve got to go through some crap right now.”
Timber shocks him with a surprise visit; no matter how well he fakes it (not very), he definitely does not want her to visit. While admitting that it’s “very awkward to have someone from the outside world” visit, he tries to make the best of it… with shower sex. The bliss doesn’t last, though: Timber “sometimes” becomes belligerent when she drinks, and “when she starts crying when she’s drunk, there’s no stopping her.” Inevitably, Timber gets drunk, belligerent and tearful; the two fight and Jason is pissed: “I love you but I hate you right now.”
Both Jason and Timber are carrying some serious parental baggage. Jason says Timber’s behavior reminds him of when his mother would drink, and Timber allegedly has abandonment issues because her father walked out when she was five. With their joint damage in mind, Jason wants to try to work it out; Timber considers moving to Boston to save the relationship, but Jason asks her to let him go it alone.
“It’s always easier to walk away than it is to deal, and I’m the king of walking away. Without my girlfriend around… it makes me feel like I’m in the wind by myself,” he says with both sadness and hope in his voice. “To be on your own, is very lonely but also very free.”
Montana and Jason are not the only housemates dealing with a long-distance relationship. Genesis, 20, has been dating Tammy, 28, for three years, which means at no point did their relationship meet the tried-and-true “half your age plus seven” rule. It’s Genesis’ first serious relationship, and the familiarity of time has washed away attraction and sex; she says they haven’t had sex for two years and they feel more like sisters than lovers. But familiarity breeds not just contempt but also paralysis, as Genesis worries she may never be able to leave Tammy.
Much like the gay bookstore, Genesis finally visits her first gay bar, and — “like a bird that was let out of her cage” — her sense of freedom and belonging is palpable. That can’t be said for everyone: Sean was uncomfortable with everyone being so “sexually expressive in their gayness, and even self-styled progressive Kameelah isn’t ready for a gay bar with a drag show.
Genesis hits it off with a drag queen named Adam/Eve and with an unnamed girl on the dance floor, who she ends up making out with — the first person she’s kissed other than Tammy. “Tammy is going to kick my ass,” she thinks, but Tammy’s reaction couldn’t be anymore different: she asks if they should just be friends, and Genesis admits that’s all they really are at that point. A quiet, natural break-up: how un-Real World.
The Real World doesn’t care about pre-existing relationships. In fact, recent seasons have drifted further away from the original concept of the show to focus on the relationship angle specifically, moving exes into the house for the gimmicky Real World: Ex-Plosion season. There’s no footage in happy couples that remain intact despite time and distance: an on-screen graphic is perhaps the only mention of Sean’s girlfriend Becky, a person whose mere existence was the most shocking development in these three episodes. Maybe that love parallelogram was more complicated than even The Real World could deal with.
Best Music: Three episodes and about a dozen songs to choose from, including first run Robyn (‘Do You Know (What It Takes)’), a personal favorite (Fiona Apple’s ‘Sleep To Dream’) and an alt-rock staple I could never stand (Soul Coughing’s ‘Super Bon Bon’). Still, the pick has to be Savage Garden’s ‘I Want You’, an at-the-time guilty pleasure that still evokes memories of sixth-grade dances.
Some Wiki research reveals that the song would be an appropriate one for the sexually-fluid Genesis: Savage Garden lead singer Darren Hayes was married to a woman for five years before eventually coming out as gay; they remained friends and Hayes described her as more like a sister to him. He officially came out in 2006 when he announced a civil partnership with British artist Richard Cullen.