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Crossfire

Is Internet Courting Making a Mockery of Marriage?

Aired March 17, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Want to marry a millionaire but don't want to go on TV? How about responding to this billboard or this Web site? But is this any way to find a mate? And is it making a mockery of marriage?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women; and in New York, Ellen Fein, co-author of "The Rules."

MATALIN: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. We wish you a very Happy St. Patrick's Day, but tonight's topic, depending on your view, celebrates or commiserates St. Valentine's Day and true love.

Romantics, feminists and anti-capitalists were outraged over the non ill-fated Fox TV broadcast, "Who Wants to Marry a Multi- Millionaire?" Love for sale, women as chattel, marriage as TV entertainment, clucked the critics. But arranged marriages, blind dates, unions born of practical demand are as old a civilization.

But today, those ancient practices are taking futuristic forms. Actor Tom Arnold of "Roseanne" fame is using the most contemporary of dating and mating devices, the Internet. Point and click MarryTom.com and you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about him. And if you like it, how to get it.

Or how about the boys in Columbus, Ohio, who put up a simple billboard, "Three millionaires looking for wives ages 25 to 55"?

So for all of you lovelorn and love torn, is the direct approach making a mockery of marriage, or is it the most efficient marriage mold for today's practical person? Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Ellen Fein, there's so many insults to the sacrament of marriage these days, it's hard to know where to start. But let's start with this television show, "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Multimillionaire?" You know, we all know the Cinderella story of Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger, never consummated, not even on their honeymoon, of course, and now it's already over.

Ellen, can you tell me anything at all that was redeeming about that flesh market?

ELLEN FEIN, CO-AUTHOR, "THE RULES": I think it was very redeeming in that a woman got to do what she wanted to do. People got to do what they wanted to do. Isn't that what feminism is all about?

You know, as a rule -- As the author of "The Rules"...

PRESS: I didn't think so.

FEIN: As the author of "The Rules," we say women shouldn't approach men, they shouldn't answer their billboards. You know, we have a Web site, Therulesbook.com, where we do e-mail consultations, where we have women who do these kinds of things, and we don't find that the results are great, but, hey, isn't that what life's about, trying and -- I think it's about having to a sense of humor. I think the stuff's funny. I think the guys that put up the billboard are just -- I think it's just in fun. And Tom Arnold, too. I just find it funny.

PRESS: Well, let's stick with the show for a second.

FEIN: I don't think it's a whole thing on life and people and America as a country. I think it's just Tom Arnold is being funny. That's all.

PRESS: OK, back to the show for just a second. I mean, here's a guy, right? I mean, what they say is he's got all the money, and he's got all the brains, and she's got...

FEIN: And he's a comic and he's funny.

PRESS: Just a second.

FEIN: OK, OK.

PRESS: She's got the beauty and she's got the body. In other words, basically, she's saying, "I'll give you my body for your money." I mean, is that what feminism is all about?

FEIN: No, that's not what happened here. What happened is they made a show. They thought people would watch it. They thought they'd get great ratings. It ended up not being so great. Nothing ever really happened and nobody sold anybody's body.

PRESS: Well, Ellen, Ellen, something happened.

FEIN: What happened?

PRESS: They got married. It wasn't just a joke. They got married.

FEIN: It was a joke. There was an annulment before it ever started, trust me. This was not a real marriage. I've said it before and I'll say it now. It was never going to be real.

MATALIN: OK, Patricia, I want to defend some of these people who partook in what Ellen is rightly pointing out is not the heaviest thing we have to deal with as we cross that bridge into the new millennium, because I see a lot of this elitist opinion of the ilk I saw over Paula Jones.

OK, let's take Darva, for instance. And, of course, this is a worldwide phenomena. "The London Free Press," Ross MacCllelan (ph), says that Conger is, in fact, a feminist. She's a feminist who exercised publicly -- exercised publicly and without feeling any need to apologize the same in-your-face girl power for which the Spice Girls became famous, a point Ellen was just making, didn't she?

PATRICIA IRELAND, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Well, I'm not going to condemn Darva for going on a show. If she thought she could have a fun vacation in Las Vegas and get some air time, you know, more power to her.

On the other than, I do take wedding vows seriously. They did take vows that were legally binding. She can say in her heart she wasn't marrying him. But I think it does show, you know, women compete for a man based on charm and looks. He's only got to have money. And, of course, he gets to choose. And in our culture, it's, you know, it's better to be married and divorced if you're a woman than never married at all. You're an old maid, he's a bachelor.

FEIN: Why do you think he gets to pick whoever he wants? He was on a show. He got to pick the girl on the show. That doesn't happen in real life. Men don't just get to pick whoever they want. Has anybody ever just picked you that wanted? You get to pick, too. This is equal rights. We're feminists. We both pick. It was a really good show.

IRELAND: Well, I've been married for 32 years so nobody -- I'm not really in the market to be picked. But I think what we also see in this is that in all reality, people are very anxious to have long- term, loving relationships. They're hard to find in this culture, especially when we spend so much time working. And so they're willing to go to great lengths to do it. But I do think it sort of demeans marriage. It's like marriage is a blind date.

MATALIN: Well, what -- I mean, let's go to -- maybe view this as Ellen has rightly viewed it. A thousand women chose to participate in this.

IRELAND: Right.

MATALIN: They all had to fill out forms. His mother looked over them. Presumably, he made the decision based on other criteria.

But what about the early feminist encouragement to be all you can be, take a risk, go on an adventure? Maybe for some of these women, this is the only way to get out of wherever they were.

FEIN: Can I tell you something?

IRELAND: Well, that may very well be, but the...

PRESS: Well, just a second, Ellen.

FEIN: OK.

IRELAND: That may very well be. I think that the question is also, though: How do we view marriage? Do we view marriage in a traditional way that says, you know, the man does the choosing, he gets to be the head of the family, or do we see it as something a little more equal? That is where she gets to ask questions of him, too.

I think Tom Arnold's site is actually kind of sweet. He tells a lot of things, including some not-so-good things about himself.

PRESS: Yeah.

MATALIN: More than we ever wanted to know.

PRESS: I know, more than we wanted to know.

FEIN: Look, we all watched...

PRESS: Ellen, go ahead.

FEIN: We all watched the "Titanic," right? And on the "Titanic," Kate Winslet's mother says, "Look, we have --" You know, "Your father died. He left his debts. We have no money. We have a name. You've got to marry this guy otherwise I'm going to have to work." That's bad when a young girl has to marry a man for money.

That was not what happened here. This isn't some, you know, "Fiddler on the Roof," where the father said, "You must marry the butcher, not the man you love." This was a woman who said...

IRELAND: Well, it's true he didn't actually have any money. So that's true.

PRESS: All right, Ellen, I want to ask you...

FEIN: It was just fun. Let's all laugh.

PRESS: Oh, yeah, let's take our marriage vows today and let's laugh about them tomorrow. What the hell? I mean, it's just a joke. Ellen...

FEIN: I don't think that -- I don't believe that these were real marriage vows. It was a television show.

IRELAND: Did she have her fingers crossed behind her back? Is that what we're saying?

FEIN: Yes.

PRESS: Ellen, I want to ask you about this. You and Mary both...

FEIN: Ask me. PRESS: You and Mary sort of assert that this is evidence of girl power. OK, now let me just go jump from the show to your book, which I think is, by the way, just as bad, just throw that in. Here's a couple of rules from your book, "The Rules," OK? Rule number 10.

FEIN: Attack "The Rules" girl. Go on.

PRESS: Rule number 10, quote, "Don't overwhelm him with your career triumphs. Try to let him shine." Let's go to rule number 17...

FEIN: Sherrie wrote that. Kidding, kidding, kidding, kidding.

PRESS: Your co-author friend.

FEIN: Kidding, kidding.

PRESS: Rule number 17: "Let him take the lead. He declares love first just as he picks most of the movies, the restaurants and the concerts the two of you go to." You know, I don't call that girl power.

FEIN: I love that rule.

PRESS: I call that girl surrender.

FEIN: I don't think that's surrender. What is so nice about a little romanticism coming into dating? What is so awful about a man picking a restaurant?

PRESS: What's so wrong about...

FEIN: I didn't say he must pick where you live. It says let him pick the restaurant, let him take the lead, let him pick the theater. I think that's a very nice rule. You can read that one again. I like that one.

PRESS: I mean, maybe I get it wrong, OK, but I thought...

FEIN: I think it's a nice way of dating. What's wrong?

PRESS: Pardon me. If I could get a question in, I mean, I thought the idea of modern feminism was that there is some equality, there was some, you know...

FEIN: Yes.

PRESS: ... sharing maybe of power, that maybe women were even assertive. Here, you just say...

FEIN: Yes, you see, that's why...

PRESS: ... sit back and let him make all the decisions. Is that...

FEIN: No, we said we wrote a book. We said we have a Web site. We said we don't have to have a man write this book with us or do our Web site or do anything. We can do our things alone because we're feminists. But when it comes to dating, men really like it in a way to take the lead. We like it when the man asks the woman out and he answers her billboard. And we just find love works better when men pursue women.

PRESS: You mentioned a billboard. Can I just show you the billboard again in Columbus, Ohio?

FEIN: I'm kidding -- Yes, please do.

PRESS: OK. Columbus, Ohio. Here it is: "Three millionaires looking for wives, ages 25 to 55." You go to the Web site and it says, "If you're interested, you send your name, address, e-mail, occupation and educational background." Now, can you tell me seriously, why would any woman answer that? Don't you recognize that a lot of millionaires are just jerks?

FEIN: I have no idea. Even if I didn't -- Yes, all -- Not all. Right, you don't answer an ad based on a guy being a millionaire, but I think part of what's good about it is that we're allowed to. If this was a hundred years ago, my father would have probably picked out who I was going to marry, and so I wouldn't even be able to answer a billboard if I wanted to, which I don't want to.

MATALIN: You know, Patricia, this is such incredible -- We're all trying to be such hip, 21st century people, but the reality has been -- is that it has been going on, still goes on. I am a great yenta. I love to fix my girlfriends up, OK, and they always have the same three criteria when you break it down. I call it the three Fs. He must be funny. He must be fatter than me, and he must be financially secure or have the potential of being financially secure. Why shouldn't we be practical and efficient about making these choices?

IRELAND: Well, I think practical and efficient is great. And, in fact, it'll probably surprise you to learn that I think, especially looking at where we are now, that arranged marriage, at least if it wasn't compulsory, might have a lot to recommend it, where you would have some background, have some knowledge, know the guy's family. It's this kind of instant love and marriage that drove me crazy when I heard about "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Multimillionaire?" I take it seriously.

FEIN: But that was just one television show. Did you see this happening over and over again? Is there a large group of show flings going on?

IRELAND: I think that the -- I think that the culture does really look at marriage as something that's not permanent anymore. It's like, "OK, this is just my first marriage. You know, my second one will be better. If you missed my marriage -- my wedding ceremony, come back for the next one."

FEIN: Well, you know...

MATALIN: Been there, done that.

(LAUGHING)

(CROSSTALK)

IRELAND: Yeah.

FEIN: You haven't been at our Web site lately, though, because we've got 96 chats going on, women chatting back and forth about relationships. And it's not just about a piece of paper and marrying the first guy that comes along. It's about love. It's about commitment. It's about a lot of things.

IRELAND: OK, so visit our Web site, www.now.org.

MATALIN: OK. This is a war of the Web sites.

PRESS: All right. Yes, and don't forget to let the guy pick all the restaurants. Oh, man, I'll tell you.

Well, when we come back, you've got mail. How about dating online? And why not marrying online? It's the next thing. Here we go.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Finding a husband or a wife today is easy. You don't even have to leave your house. Just go online, join a chat room, and check out the merchandise. Yes, believe it or not, people are meeting and marrying on the Internet. Is it the millennium way of doing things or a cheap substitute for the real thing?

We debate modern mating tonight with Ellen Fein, co-author of "The Rules," who joins us from New York; and here in our Washington studio, Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. Now the world's expert on marriage, Mary Matalin.

MATALIN: Well, it takes practice, OK. Third time's the charm.

OK, look, this was not devoid of romanticism, OK. I know he's been so denigrated today, but let's look what Mr. Rockwell had to say about the whole deal on "LARRY KING LIVE."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK ROCKWELL, MILLIONAIRE GROOM: Wow, this could be a magical, romantic journey. If it works, imagine. I mean, this would be a storybook romance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: You know, everybody has their own version of romance. My husband proposed to me on the hood of a pickup truck at a stock car race over the roar of the engines and the smell of gasoline. Maybe not your idea of romance but maybe this was their idea of romance. Maybe they thought this could be a love-at-first-sight thing. We can't deny there was some -- if not possibility for them -- a genuine one. The 23 million viewers that tuned in might have been thinking of their romantic fantasy or applying a romantic fantasy to the viewing of this.

IRELAND: Well, but I think happy ever after is for fairy tales. Real marriages take a lot of work like anything worthwhile. They take a lot of knowledge of who you're with, what your values are. It's not the kind of thing that you just look, you have a visceral response. And that's usually lust, not love.

MATALIN: I had a visceral response to James.

(LAUGHING)

IRELAND: Now was that lust or love or what?

PRESS: That's enough, that's enough, that's enough.

Ellen Fein, I want to ask you about this online dating. I actually know a woman who met someone online -- as they say, love at first byte, b-y-t-e, these days -- took off to go to Colorado to marry him. By the way, I haven't heard of her or from her since, but, I mean, isn't -- Aren't there certain dangers, at least, if you would turn off your cell phone.

FEIN: Yeah, sorry.

PRESS: Talk about the modern mating -- Hey, maybe you better answer it. Might be a hot number for tonight. Ellen, isn't it something -- Don't you see something dangerous about this dating and mating online?

FEIN: I don't really know much about it, but, no.

PRESS: You would date someone that...

FEIN: But you said she flew to -- She said she -- Well, you said that she flew to Colorado.

PRESS: Well, let me ask you, would you go out with somebody that you just happened to meet in an online chat room?

FEIN: I might if I was, you know -- I might if I was, you know -- I don't see anything so terrible about it. I have many friends that are doing -- We do e-mail consultations about it. I don't think it's terrible, as long as you're not flying to Colorado to visit a stranger.

PRESS: Well, let's take Tom Arnold's Web site. Tom Arnold's up on the Web site, you know.

FEIN: Right.

PRESS: I mean, anything -- Right? He's looking for whatever is next after Roseanne. And he says he's looking for an adult single woman, child-bearing age, good with children. Willing to relocate. And this is the most important thing: self-confident enough to wear a bathing suit on vacation. And if you send in all these...

FEIN: You don't think this is a joke at all? I read about this and I thought it was so funny. I thought, wow, what a great idea.

PRESS: You think it's a joke?

FEIN: Yes, he's a comic.

PRESS: You think it's a joke?

FEIN: Yes, he's a comic. I wouldn't take it seriously at all. I wouldn't answer it. I wouldn't take it seriously, but I think it's funny.

PRESS: Tom Arnold...

FEIN: He was married to Roseanne. He's funny.

PRESS: But Tom Arnold -- Wait a minute, Tom Arnold says he's serious, and he wants all these women to send in...

FEIN: Yeah.

PRESS: Then he's going to pick the ones that he dates. I mean, what's the difference between that...

FEIN: And the ones that are doing "The Rules" won't answer. We'll have to pick them.

PRESS: What's the difference between that and the slave trade, Ellen?

MATALIN: They're not getting paid.

FEIN: Well, "Rules" would not answer the ad because they would let him come after them. But I don't see it as slave trade. I think you -- Come on. You guys know this is all in fun. Nothing terrible's happened here.

PRESS: I wish, I wish.

FEIN: It's all in fun.

IRELAND: He didn't -- Well, I think it's very interesting that Tom Arnold did not say anything about you had to look good in your bathing suit. He just said you had to have the confidence to wear it.

PRESS: To wear it.

IRELAND: I wear a bathing suit, OK. It's cover up, but I wear a bathing suit and I have great confidence. And I don't know if I'd pass muster with Tom.

MATALIN: Well, you're a better woman than I. I like to hide that cellulite at all cost.

IRELAND: I like to swim.

MATALIN: But about that. Keep going back to the very first point is the essence of feminism, the women who choose to answer do so voluntarily. And he did put in there, "Look, I got a low sperm count. I'm blah, blah, blah." He told all his negatives.

(CROSSTALK)

But just on Internet dating, which Mr. Ancient here, Mr. Paleo finds so objectionable, if -- aside from, you know, the obvious; it's Charles Manson or something like that -- once you get pass that, how is this different from socials or cigar bars or the kind of weird ways that people have been forced to meet each other, which are even more awkward because you don't take the time -- that doesn't provide an opportunity to do what you do on the Internet, which is have some intimate communication?

IRELAND: Well, I think that's a good thing to have the communication. I think the problem is that communication comes from a lot other than words. It's why we're on television instead of radio or in print. The visuals, the inflection of your voice, the body language, are your eyes shifty, you know, there's lots of things that come across when you talk in person. So I would certainly not marry someone that you met online. But again, I agree: Women should have their choice. I do also think that feminism -- We ought to be able to have opinions, just because we disagree. I guess the good news or the news would be if all the feminists agreed.

MATALIN: There would be...

IRELAND: That would be real news.

FEIN: You know, I remember...

PRESS: Go ahead, Ellen.

FEIN: I remember when "The Rules" came out -- I remember the girl that taught me "The Rules," what is it, 20, 15 years ago. We -- She made me lie for a while. She met actually the guy that she married by putting an ad in "New York" magazine. And for a while, it was so -- back then, it was so, you know, embarrassing that she made me tell everybody it was a blind date. She told everybody it was a blind date. Then it became in.

PRESS: I want to ask you about another thing which first caught my attention to this...

FEIN: Now I bet online's going to be like that, too.

PRESS: OK.

FEIN: It's new, it's starting out, yeah.

PRESS: Ellen, very quickly. A couple of weeks ago in "The New York Times," I saw this article about -- It's happening in a Jewish community center, upper west side New York. It's also happening in about 15 cities around the country. It's called speed dating. Men and women. The women sit at the tables, men walk up, and they get to talking. And eight minutes, the bell rings. All the men get up, the women stay seated. The men run to the next table, and they keep going until everybody has met everybody. I mean, isn't this sort of like cooking a hard-boiled egg? Eight minutes. Is that enough?

FEIN: Oh, it sounds like a social from the 1950s. It sounds like it's all in fun. Nobody's getting hurt. Girls are meeting men. Men are meeting women. I mean, it just sounds like it's fun. I don't think we should all get so deep about it. Nobody's getting married from these things. Even that TV show was not a real marriage. Just bring a little spirit of fun into the whole thing. Everybody was meeting a lot of men that night. And maybe women that would have normally sat home on a Friday night or Saturday night and hung out with their cat got to meet 50 men and got to talk to 50 men.

IRELAND: I think the problem that I'm seeing is that marriage is declining. It's down something like 43 percent from the 1960s. And a lot of young women -- There's some evidence that they are wary of getting married in part because they are financially independent, they want or have high expectations for greater intimacy, for shared responsibility. And that sort of limits the field.

And I don't know whether musical chairs at this social that we're talking about is an answer, but I do think we have to look seriously at how we stabilize our communities, how do we raise kids, how do we take care of the very elderly.

MATALIN: All right, can't answer that all tonight, but we'll all agree that if you put up a million dollars, you'll at least get some (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PRESS: A telephone call.

MATALIN: Ellen, thank you in New York. We love "The Rules." I love "The Rules."

Patricia Ireland, as always, wonderful to have you.

IRELAND: Nice to see you again.

MATALIN: Bill and I will be right back with our own rules on how you can find your mate. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: You know, Bill, the feminists were saying -- Patricia didn't deny it and I really like her, but this show was about the denigration of marriage. You know what's the denigration of marriage? The old feminist who said a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bike, who passed out condoms in school, who pooh-poohed abstinence programs which denigrated marriage and encouraged sex long before even a meaningful relationship, and who championed "Murphy Brown" to have a kid by herself. That's a lot more serious when people who think like that get in policymaking positions and these whacky shows.

PRESS: Let me just tell you something. Number one, I do, I do plead guilty to being a paleo man, as you called me, if that means I want to meet someone and look them in the eye before I date them let alone marry them.

Number two, I want to make it clear. I don't like this passive baloney. I like assertive women. I like aggressive women. I like women who make a lot of money and make a lot of decisions and tell me what restaurants to go to.

MATALIN: And keep you? You want to be a kept man?

PRESS: If your daughter came home one day and said, "I want to marry a guy I met on a billboard," you'd freak and you know it.

MATALIN: I don't have any concerns about my daughter's assertiveness, neither one of them.

PRESS: One the left, I'm Bill Press. Have a good weekend. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Happy St. Patrick's Day. Join us again next week for more CROSSFIRE.

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