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]