Bogart and Bacall. Tracy and Hepburn. Homer and Marge. Rock- well and Conger? It's doubtful that last pair will linger long in the hearts and minds of the public, despite the fact that their entire courtship was broadcast, for our amusement and amazement, on national television. Of all the women in all the world--or at least of the 50 finalists willing to trade dignity for fast money--he chose her. Isn't that romantic?
The entire concept and execution of Fox's Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? are the antithesis of romance. Romance requires more than ratings, more than a gimmick and more than a $35,000 diamond ring. It requires a relationship. Even in fiction, we demand a meeting of minds, hearts and bodies. A connection between two people that makes us believe in all the complexities of love. I can't write a believable romance novel without characters who care, who have substance, who have heart--and who are willing to spend the time and effort to get to know, trust and respect each other.
Love at first sight? I'll buy that. A contest to marry some guy with deep pockets? I can't make it play.
The sum of Rockwell and Conger's relationship consists of two hours on stage in Las Vegas, where he watched from the shadows as she performed in hopes of winning his interest. Isn't that illegal in some states?
What happened to the passion, the fun, the work involved in finding a life mate? The foolishness, the excitement, the fear and longing? Apparently this couple didn't feel that those little perks were necessary to their peculiar version of happy ever after. Why did he opt to select a wife from among a group of women who agreed to a public competition--including a mortifying swimsuit parade? Ego? Desperation? Maybe Rockwell simply has a wacky sense of humor. Surely there's a punch line yet to come.
Why did this woman, and all the others who entered into the bride contest, decide to answer the cattle call? Well, duh. Ka-ching! For money, for 15 minutes of manufactured fame, two complete strangers tie the knot on national television. Any bets on how long that knot will take to unravel?
Still, America watched. We can't help ourselves. Sitting in the comfort of our homes, we can feel mildly appalled and wonderfully smug. Whatever our own love life might be, we haven't sunk so low. We assure ourselves, as we watch the bevy of prospective brides, that we never will. Money, we think, isn't everything. And we wonder how much she'll cop in the divorce settlement.
As a woman, I can't work up the energy to be offended. It's all too bizarre. Rockwell and Conger are adults, free to make the world wince and snicker--perhaps, in some odd way, meant for each other. Boy meets girl, girl marries boy and promises to love, honor and cherish--at least till after February sweeps.
Nora Roberts, a romance novelist, has written 134 books; over 100 million are in print