I don’t know why I do it to myself. Every year, without fail, I find myself drawn to one of The Bachelor franchises’ soap opera-cum-train crash, you know the culprits: The Bachelor, The Bachelorette or Bachelor in Paradise. This year, it’s Jimmy’s season of The Bachelor that I’ve found myself fall prey to. I tell people that I only watch them so I can really immerse myself in the hilarity of the parody commentaries of the episodes the next day. That’s right, in the light of day, I simply can’t justify watching these TV shows any other way.
So why do I watch them? What lures me in, and keeps me there, what makes me go the distance with this cast of strangers and their extremely dysfunctional beliefs about love and relationships? It’s only dawning on me, at 33, after over a decade of tuning in religiously every year, that I share something with these people and thus am invested in their fate. I’ve always known that the ones who sign up for love under completely unrealistic, and often toxic, circumstances on these shows are unhealthy on some level (often multiple levels) and I’ve often looked on with pity, thinking my interest in the show came from a rather perverted sense of schadenfreude. But I know now that the weird sense of comfort I get from watching these men and women enact their odd courting routines is born out of an identification with the deeply problematic beliefs they have about themselves and relationships. I refer mainly to The Bachelor, rather than the other two TV shows on rotation, because there is a special kind of unhealthy that’s reserved for women throwing themselves at a man that the bunch of men on The Bachelorette just don’t mirror.
Watching on when you believe yourself to be above these women is cringeworthy, but watching on when you’ve realised that these poor women share the same issues with problematic core beliefs, histories of trauma or identity formation in response to patriarchal values is tragic. Oh, the amount of times I’ve winced!
When did this shift happen for me? When did I transition from smug to empathetic? When I recognised that the same beliefs that motivate women to apply for, covet the opportunity to get and do their utmost to make the most of, a position on 'The Bachelor', are the very same beliefs that motivate how I date.
The first really unhealthy belief that I share with these contestants is the scarcity myth: the idea that there are just no good men out there, which motivates urgency to find one and ultimately disappointment because impatience is never a good dating strategy. Underlying this is also the undertone of insidious patriarchy: because ‘good’ men are scarce, we should compete for their attention with other women, at all costs. Women are often the ultimate enforcers of patriarchy if they subscribe to these beliefs, and they tear down other women’s appearances, reputations and intentions (usually with insults or actions that align with patriarchal ideals, for example, this week on The Bachelor, a rumour was spread that one contestant didn’t want kids, and didn't drama ensue!) to elevate themselves in the esteem of the bachelor. The scarcity myth is peddled from the beginning of every season of The Bachelor: There’s just no nice men left out there, so I’ve had to come on a national TV show to find one! Every contestant says it at one point or another in the series, usually in the video diary that accompanies their entrance, and the voiceover that introduces the bachelor himself definitely implies it: he’s the last good one left! Women go into this thinking it’s their last shot at love, trusting that the bachelor has been in some way ‘verified’ and therefore is safe because they don’t have to trust their own (historically very poor) judgement.
This is definitely the way I see the world: dating is terrifying, and there’s just so many rotten apples out there to navigate, it becomes too hard and too deflating. You start to believe there are no good men left. Just like in The Bachelor, you look for externally ‘verified’ and ‘found’ people, because you don’t trust your own judgement. These are so few and far between that you have two options: apply for The Bachelor, or accept that men who can meet your needs are just too scarce and, therefore, you either settle for someone less than you deserve, or you give up.
The second unhealthy mindset that The Bachelor promotes and I, unfortunately, have believed was conducive to a good relationship, is the development of a relationship in isolation from everything: your support network, your environments, a normal routine and schedule, real world conflicts. The Bachelor is predicated on women converging on one site for an extended period. They leave their jobs, home towns, friends, family, pets and hobbies behind and are squished into a mansion with twenty-something other women. If they are lucky, they get one-on-one time with the man in demand, during which they form ‘a connection’. Without fail, every season I have watched, there are women who are contemplating the ‘L’ word after only two or three dates with the bachelor. That’s a maximum of fifteen hours spent alone with a man (well, not really alone, you’re with the whole of Australia), not having seen if he fits into your life in any way, and you not seeing whether you fit into his. There is no possible way you can know whether you’d be a good fit for each other in the real world using this scenario, and that’s probably why the success rate of couples post-filming is not high on any of The Bachelor’s franchises.
The same can be said of my online dating, especially when it’s been over a distance; you exist in a bubble with each other, your friends aren’t observing you and telling you you’re different around them, if you miss the red flags there’s no one else to pick them up and you can’t ascertain whether you fit into each others’ lives without a sizeable commitment by at least one party. And once you’ve made that commitment, you might feel like it’s too late. I guarantee all of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette final couples who have split up have each hesitated and wondered whether they should stay together because they were ‘chosen’ or because they needed to stand by their choice.
So, what to do? Stop watching and make myself less uncomfortable? Stop taking it all so seriously when it’s just TV? Whilst watching The Bachelor might have made me aware of some things about myself, the answers to the issues with my own relationship behaviour won’t be found on reality TV. I think I’ll take a break from Jimmy and his coquetries for a while and take a good, hard look at myself.