What I learned About Dating from The Bachelorette

I try to be a cool Portland hipster, but I have one problem: I adore mainstream pop culture. I love the terrible catchy songs on the radio, the over-the-top explosions in summer blockbuster movies, and the fascinating anthropological studies in Reality Television.

Two of the shows that fascinate me are The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Well, really it’s just one show, with different gender proportions. The concept is simple: thirty people compete for the affection of one, ostensibly for the prize of true, lasting love.

This season, the Bachelorette and I share one important thing in common. Our name. That’s right. When People magazine has my name plastered across the cover; and the top headline on a personal Google search proclaims “Emily Maynard Ends Up Alone,” you’d better believe I’m more invested than usual.

I started watching for a lark (and maybe for joke material for Twitter), but discovered by happy accident that I was actually gaining valuable insight into my generation and relationships.

Don’t throw things, but I propose there is wisdom to be gained from Reality Television. It’s just like those Magic Eye prints from the 1990s. You may have to un-focus your brain a bit to see it.

The Bachelorette has made me better at dating. Here’s how:

First of all, The Bachelorette assures me that the dating pool is a lot bigger than I think.

I’ve spent too much time whining to my girl friends that there aren’t any good guys out there and I was wrong. Based on my research, there are at least thirty dudes alive in my age range who are attractive and interesting enough for the producers to put on this show. The star only gets to choose one, so there are definitely twenty-nine left!

I’m being a bit facetious, but The Bachelorette does remind me that I don’t have to race to secure a spouse before everyone else does. Dating from a panicked place is never a good idea. So stop worrying about there not being anyone left and ask someone out. Just because you haven’t found your lifetime love doesn’t mean there aren’t great people out there to learn from, grow with, and enjoy fun adventures alongside. You may never end up in the Fantasy Suite together, but good people still exist. Chill out about the lack and get to know them.

Secondly, I’ve realized it’s really easy to habitually use people to fulfill you.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have needs or that people shouldn’t be part of the solution. Humans are built to need and be useful, but no person will be enough to complete you.

We can’t do that for each other, even if we try.

The advantage of being on a reality television dating show is that you have a number of attentive parties constantly available to you. I noticed that when one of the bachelors didn’t meet the star’s immediate needs, she moved on to the next. She never had to take responsibility for herself, at least on camera. When in real reality, sometimes you have to sit with your needs unmet, listening for the voice of God. We need to learn to fully engage with ourselves and unmet desires, while still being involved in relationships.

As silly as it sounds, The Bachelorette gave me a mirror for this bad habit in my own life. When I’m sad or lonely, the first thing I usually to do is contact a friend or someone I’m dating and expect them to soothe me. And ultimately, that won’t help me. I’m learning that while community and affection are vital, I need to pause with my empty spaces rather than just running to the next person who will distract me.

Lastly, I’m remembering to hope.

One of the biggest struggles in my largely struggle-free life is an unrelenting cynicism about love. I don’t think I’m alone, either. It is scary to admit that we want something we don’t have and can’t control or create from thin air. It is painful to say we want to be married, but we’re not. It is difficult to trust another new person after we’ve experienced loss, so instead we give in to cynicism. We shut down.

Frankly, I think all the contestants of The Bachelorette could use a good dose of counseling and some alone time on that tropical island for self-examination, but there they are, week after week, making proclamations of hope that I can hardly muster. Even if it is exaggerated for dramatic effect, these people genuinely want a long-term partnership and are willing to go on television to act on their hope.

I have to ask myself: am I being that brave?

I could note that there is only one couple from all of the Bachelor/ette shows that are currently married, and use that to fuel my cynicism. But in a strange way, I find it hopeful that our generation is still trying, despite the lack of successful numbers. We’re still interested in long-term relationships, even if we flounder in creating them. Our marriage statistics may be poor and our expectations of relationships unrealistic, but we somehow still believe in lasting love.

If the people on these shows can keep trying, well, maybe I can, too.


Speak up! Will you admit that you watch reality dating shows on television? What have you learned by watching? Remember those Magic Eye prints?

[photo: A. Jordan Pryor]

  • Christina

    LOL! This post immediately caught my eye with your first sentence, your writing style is so fun :) Like you I too must admit that I love silly pop culture tv…anything from girly shows to random show about life in swamps or mountains. And even though some people find it pointless, there is a lot to be learned from how different people choose to live their lives, good and bad :)
    I have watched a few dating shows but because I think some of it is rigged I don’t watch to much :)

    • Emily_Maynard

      Hi Christina,
      Thank you so much for commenting! I’m glad I could cheer up your day. Sometimes they do seem sort of rigged for maximum entertainment value, but I agree that there’s a lot to learn from observing people, even if you decide to make different choices!

  • Leslie

    I vividly remember getting fed up with dating, deciding to take a break, and telling God that if he wanted me to be married, he would have to provide the groom. Well, he did. I’ve been married to that guy for 33 years now, and we’re still in love. Be encouraged! 8-)

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks for sharing, Leslie! Congrats to you and your man. :)

  • Trevor C

    Good article, Emily! Insightful and also entertaining!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks for reading, Trev! I definitely shoot for entertaining. And occasionally insightful. :)

  • http://www.cross-platform.org John Hanan

    Honestly, I’ve been struggling with the hope/cynicism bit for a while now. For the longest time I wanted to have someone to share my life with, start a family with. I’ve tried “waiting on God” – though you could argue I simply didn’t wait long enough. I’ve tried to make something happen on my own – and you could argue that I’ve just given up too soon. It’s frustrating when I think maybe I’ve accepted singleness as God’s plan for my life, and then find myself wondering about the character of “the one” and how am I going to possibly be the kind of man she deserves. It can get a little depressing.

    I think I shall stop thinking.

    • Emily_Maynard

      I’m glad you found the courage to share your frustration. I think there are many Prodigals who understand! I want to encourage you that dating, like most of life, is found in the middle spaces between inaction (sometimes Christians call that ‘waiting on God” and control (ie: taking things into our own hands). I would encourage you to surround yourself with people who offer you a realistic hope. My married friends make me occasionally grateful I’m single, while reminding me that there is tremendous value in lifelong commitment. My single friends remind me that I am not forgotten or alone in unmet desires.

      Also, others may have vastly different opinions, but this girl can tell you that she’s not looking for a man who “deserves” her as much as she is a man who is learning to be fully himself before God and others. And doesn’t mind that she refers to herself in third person occasionally. Practice being yourself, pray, AND ask girls out and see what happens!
      And then share your story on Prodigal. :)

      • Julia Marinozzi

        Oh I so understand this — the fine balance between exercising free will by taking action, and waiting on the Lord. It is hard sometimes because I do want to be married, but I don’t want to marry for the wrong reasons (to ‘cure’ loneliness, to ‘complete’ me, etc). I know that only God is capable of satisfying my deepest desires. The hardest thing about my dating life has been meeting guys who are wonderful, yet don’t have an incredible passion for God. I don’t want a relationship that is superficial, I want something Christ-centered, and discovering someone who truly desires this has been a challenge. John and Emily, I just want to reiterate — don’t give up hope and don’t settle. :) I have to remind myself of this every day.

  • Abby M

    Great article Em! I always love your writing :)
    As a Bachelor/ette fan myself, I find their hope interesting. Is it a lack of reality or blind faith in “the process” (as they put it). Are we to go along in life, hoping that every guy that smiles our way is “the one”? Should we spill all our secrets on the first one on one date, or do we stay a little more guarded? I’ve promised my family I would never go on the show, but I’m glad these guys and gals did so we can learn from them.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Hahaha, Abby, why’d you promise your family never to go on the show? Apparently you get to wear sparkly dresses every single day! :)

      • Abby M

        I actually looked for a like button on that comment :) Yes, sparkly dresses are the plus, but I could also wear those as a model on the price is right!

  • http://twitter.com/Goolahgirl Sarah Faith

    Haha, I love the Bachelorette… And I learned some similar things too. Thanks for the post!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks for reading, Sarah!

  • Lauren

    Great article! I will refer to this when defending my love for the show from now on :)
    One little note… there are actually TWO couples from the show that are married. Trista and Ryan Sutter and Jason and Molly Mesnick.

  • Ashleigh

    You are awesome Emily! Thank you for sharing the truth so clearly and for being transparent with us!!