On Ellen, Saoirse Ronan Beautifully Resists Pressure to Date

8 million people watched Saoirse Ronan, on Ellen, say no to dating

Posted Jan 31, 2018

On Ellen, Saoirse Ronan, the star of the movie Lady Bird, did not get to have a light-hearted, unstructured conversation with the host. Instead, Ellen had a plan: Saoirse would play the game “Who’d you rather?”, in which giant pictures of two famous men would be shown, and Saoirse would have to say, each time, which of the men she would prefer to date.

The 6-minute clip was viewed more than 8 million times in less than two weeks.

What was it about that interaction that sucked in so many people so quickly? Was it the fun of two delightfully engaging women? Was it the game itself, in which the talented and accomplished Saoirse Ronan got to choose among pairs of famous heart-throbs?

Maybe. But I’d also like to think that part of the appeal was that Saoirse showed us how to do something many people secretly (or not so secretly) long to do: Take all that relentless pressure to date, and say no thanks. And say it over and over again, in the most playful and gracious way, even as the other person just refuses to take the hint. Resist, resist, resist the stale heteronormative romantic script, even when the person applying the pressure is someone like Ellen, who should know about the oppressiveness of getting badgered to pretend to be something you are not.

I first saw the clip when Shova Smith posted it to the Community of Single People (CoSP) on Facebook. Here’s my imperfect transcript of the parts that seemed most telling. Think about it (or watch the whole thing, if you’d like), then I’ll share my reactions and some great insights from CoSP members.

Ellen: You’re not dating anyone right now.

Saoirse: I don’t know how to date.

Ellen: How old are you?

Saoirse: 23, almost 24

Ellen: and you haven’t really dated yet.

Saoirse: That makes me sound like I’ve never…

Ellen: Well have you?

Saoirse: I don’t date…I don’t even know how to talk about it. I wouldn’t know what to do.

Ellen: Let’s find you someone. Because at some point you are going to have to date. You are beautiful and you’re funny and you’re smart.

(Ellen enlists Saoirse in the game, “Who’d you rather?” Two men’s faces are shown and Saoirse has to say which one she would prefer to date. They go through several pairs, and get to a choice between Timmy and someone else.)

Saoirse: Let me stick with Timmy because even if it is just a platonic relationship, I think we can have a nice companionship together.

Ellen: You are so bad at this game. Really, you are not going to ever date.

(They get to a choice between Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter, and someone else.)

Saoirse: When I was young, I grew up with Harry Potter.

Saoirse clarifies her choice: Harry Potter specifically, not Daniel Radcliffe.

Saoirse: That’s Zack from Saved by the Bell…He can sing and dance, so he’d be a fun companion to have.

(The game goes on and on.)

Saoirse: This game is going on for so long.

Ellen: I feel like I’m talking to a 70-year-old woman.

Saoirse: That was a long game. That was very long.

(They discuss another selection Saoirse has made.)

Ellen: He’s got a girlfriend also.

Saoirse: Again, companionship is fine. Even just a friendship, I’m fine with.

Saoirse, referring to the audience reaction: They’re aw’ing me, taking pity on me in the audience.

Ellen: They’re not taking pity. They don’t understand you. The ‘aw’ was, ‘aw, who is she? What decade does she live in?’

If you watched the entire clip, perhaps you noticed a patina of friendliness and fun. There is a lot of laughing, though perhaps some of it, especially on Saoirse’s part, is nervous laughter. There is not a scintilla of hostility.

And yet, in a way, I think Ellen was being hostile. Or at least regressive, clueless, and insensitive. Saoirse is such a bright, personable, fascinating, and accomplished woman. A conversation with her could be intriguing on so many levels. But Ellen has just one agenda: Take this amazing woman and stuff her into the conventional box of conventional aspirations of oohing and aawing over hunky men and fantasizing about dating them.

When Ellen reiterated that Saoirse was almost 24 and hadn’t dated yet, I felt that she was getting close to shaming Saoirse.

Again and again, Saoirse tried to tell Ellen that she just wasn’t interested. Friendship, yes. Companionship, sure. Singing, dancing, discussing favorite books – all that sounds great to Saoirse. But not to Ellen. Ellen wants Saoirse to pine for a sexual relationship.

And how disappointing of Ellen to proclaim that at some point, Saoirse is going to HAVE TO date. Now that’s a commandment? Everyone is required to date?

As a CoSP member noted, Ellen sees Saoirse as a special kind of single person:

Ellen tells her she has to date "because you're beautiful and you're funny and you're smart." Notice how Ellen subtly divides single people into two types here. Those who could couple up but don't so deserve criticism (like Saorise) and those who can't and shouldn't try so deserve pity. That's what single people are to Ellen -- either stubborn and coldhearted or romantic rejects. Really it doesn't matter which one, they'll call you both no matter how beautiful and funny and smart you are. These are just emotional manipulation tactics to shame singles.

Another group that doesn’t fare so well in this clip is 70-year-old-women. Saoirse’s preference for friendships over sexual relationships seems to trigger Ellen’s stereotype that older women have no interest in sex.

Ellen ends by saying that she and the audience are wondering what decade Saoirse lives in. I can answer that. Saoirse lives in this decade, in the year 2018. This is a time when the interest of young people in dating and sex is at a record low. It is a time when the age at which people first marry – among those who do marry – is at a record high.

It is also a time when it is more often recognized than ever before that not everyone is interested in sex. As another CoSP member noted:

What if Saoirse Ronan is asexual and doesn't care to make that public knowledge? And you know? She doesn't even need a reason. That was really awkward and uncomfortable.

Personally, I usually like Ellen. But as still another CoSP member noted, she of all people should not be treating Saoirse and others like her the way she did:

Ellen knows what it's like to be shamed/oppressed as a lesbian & she had the courage to come out on mainstream TV. So despite the restrictions of day-time talk shows, she has enough influence & money that she should be a champion for people like Saoirse Ronan, not an oppressor.

Kudos to Saoirse for how she handled the situation. To quote one last member of the Community of Single People:

That was a lot of pressure from Ellen. I think Saoirse handled it beautifully though - she played along but did not change her mind about not dating.

Saoirse Ronan was the star of the Ellen show. When it comes to standing up for who you really are, she showed us all how it is done.