I don’t watch much TV and certainly not much reality TV. But still, I find The Bachelor and The Bachelorette on ABC have their fascination.
You probably know the drill: twenty-five competitors for the affection of a single member of the opposite sex. The “star” gradually winnows the field over the course of the series, until only two remain for some sort of romantic, cliff-hanging showdown. All this is orchestrated around activities that have a Fantasy-Land, once-in-a-lifetime quality; and done in places of exotic beauty that would make virtually any honeymoon seem shabby by comparison.
Yet, cast out of paradise, the couples rarely if ever last. The undying love dies. The bloom comes off the rose.
Here are some reasons:
1. Who are these people?
We are offered competitors who are uniformly very attractive, some sensationally so. Why are they single?
As they are generally in their 20s or early 30s, is it really possible that they have exhausted the more conventional ways of finding love? Many complain of previous romantic disappointments. Do they believe that their chances will be better with 24 rivals than they were in their past history of dating? Isn’t their judgment here a little suspect? A move to Antarctica might actually improve their chances; at least if 24 other beautiful people didn’t make the same trip.
Some have resigned from jobs or left small children behind to take a flyer on a stranger who might have only been seen by them on the past season’s edition of the Bachelor/Bachelorette enterprise, where he lost the race they now hope to enter themselves. Again, what part of the decision to come on the show should make us think that this will end well?
Wine appears to be the omnipresent social lubricant during the filming. It is well-known to disinhibit people, making for more drama. But it tends to add to whatever relationship problems might exist, if not create them. Nor will romance conducted while buzzed necessarily predict a successful daily life while sober. Solid relationships tend to begin with poetry, but must survive in prose. Just so, they can start with a toast, but are sustained in moderation lest they become toast.
3. Mistaking Intensity For Love
Since the contestants are not movie stars, the idea of being a TV celebrity must be a pretty heady experience. Indeed, there is no shortage of cinematic emotion on these shows, partly because of the enchanting surroundings and dazzling events. Everyone appears stressed by the competition, sometimes by a lack of sleep, the nearly total absence of privacy; and the guillotine-like quality of each “rose ceremony,” which some of the contestants approach as they would if a real headsman were about to execute them and not simply let them go. All the internal stirring that comes from these circumstances can mistakenly get attached to the single object of everyone’s affection. Will “Mr. Wonderful” be nearly so exciting when he comes home to share a TV dinner instead of a dinner on TV?
Is there any bona fide attempt to choose 25 contestants who might actually be compatible with the bachelor or bachelorette; that is, beyond obvious physical attraction? My guess is that the producers are looking for people who are outgoing, quirky, and sometimes perhaps even brash or off-balance, all the more to make for watchable relationship dynamics. Not much room for the sedate or the shy. This is, after all, a real-life soap opera.
But, if compatibility were crucial, wouldn’t you want to choose people based on similar interests, well-matched personalities, geographical comfort zones, and the like? Once the final couple leaves the Disney-like surroundings, what are they going to talk about, where will they live, what will be the emotional and financial or career costs of relocation, and what kinds of activities will they share?
Are all 26 people, including the star, there for what are called “the right reasons?” Surely, some come for the bells and whistles, the self-display, the adventure, or the idea of having their 15 minutes of fame. Others may see it as a means of self-promotion, increasing their chances for personal career success or for the advancement of their business.
One repeatedly hears the suitors moaning about not having enough time with their romantic target. And, of course, the time they do get is being video recorded, creating a distinctly artificial analogue to the way the participants would be in “real-time” and real life. Even beyond that, the show is apparently filmed, start to finish, in about six weeks. While I’ve known brief courtships to lead to long-term romance, they are usually time-intensive and exclusive, cramming a lot of experience into the space of a few months. Does serial dating of multiple partners for a very few weeks favor long-term survival of the match between any two (still) strangers?
7. Supply and Demand
Consider the set up:
- Everyone around you thinks the star is terrific.
- You have nothing else to do other than talk with your dorm-mates and drink.
- There is only one available member of the opposite sex.
The scarcity of options alone suggests that his value is likely to go up, at least while those conditions prevail. Put more crudely, if you know there is going to be a food shortage, lots of people are going to knock themselves out to get to the meat counter first and stock-up; even vegetarians. But would you really care about that particular grocery item nearly as much, if the stores shelves and freezers were full of other possibilities and no scarcities were anticipated?
From what I’ve seen of these shows, there is much sadness and heartbreak on all sides. Yet the new contestants come “looking for love” with Pollyanna-like optimism, somehow thinking that their experience will be different. A few, from what they say, may already be smitten with the star, who they’ve seen get hurt in a previous edition of the show.
All are smart enough to know that even if they “win” the romantic prize, their relationship is almost certain to break down once midnight strikes and the carriage turns back into a pumpkin; where real life intrudes on dreams and a pie in the sky crashes to earth, leaving an inedible mess.
Yet they do still come.
In the course of the show, and in reflecting on it later, many appear to learn something about being open to experience, not closed off to what life may yet offer. Surely some grow, profiting from the pain and disappointment, not to mention the chance to see how they behaved when the program finally airs. In this way, each contestant is offered the rare opportunity to view himself or herself not in the mirror, but in the actual lived experience that the camera records.
I expect running the show’s gauntlet itself has the value of adding to each person’s life story — the story that they tell themselves about their lives. To have tried some things, even if you fail, is better than to be a back-bencher, rarely getting into the game. As war veterans say, nothing in their life after war compares to the intensity of the time in battle, even though that time was frequently awful; indeed, because of the nature of the awfulness.
I don’t wish to be too cynical here. I am convinced that many of the potential lovers come for exactly what they say they want, that “Thing Called Love.”
In spite of everything. In spite of the terrible odds. In spite of the likely humiliation and defeat.
In spite of the heartache.
We do so want to be loved, don’t we.
As the old song goes, “I’d Do Anything For Love.”
The Moment of Happiness at the top is the work of Claire mono from Taiwan. The photo that follows is called The Kiss by Bleiglass. Finally, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.