After a weekend of shuttling a diaper bag between destinations soundtracked by the frequent tantrums of our 23-month-old son, Mondays can be a bit brutal for me and my wife. We’re tired. The work week is bearing down upon us. But we have a light guiding us to temporary salvation, a ritual that helps us de-stress and stay connected. After our truck and “choo-choo” obsessed toddler has, at long last, decided he’s ready to get in bed, my wife will pat the couch cushion and give me those come hither eyes. This is our time. This is when we watch The Bachelor.
The Bachelor is our constant. In the nine years my wife and I have been together, we’ve watched with equal parts hope and concern as these gym-toned, attention-seeking singles smile and laugh and bitch and bicker and kiss and cry all in search of a desired partner.
We’ve watched as Pantsapreneurs and Erectile Dysfunction Specialists, Aspiring Dolphin Trainers and “Free Spirits” descend upon mansions in L.A. (and then later commence globetrotting) as they’ve vied for the love of a reformed-virgin insurance agent (Season 17’s Sean Lowe), a real estate developer (Season 12’s JoJo Fletcher), a washed-up professional soccer player (Season 18’s Juan Pablo Galavis), or a Canadian interior designer (Season 5’s Jillian Harris).
We’ve watched as the human cinder block Chad Johnson spent the majority of his time eating deli meat instead of searching for love and we’ve seen Courtney Robertson go skinny-dipping with Bachelor Ben Flajnik because, well, she wanted to “keep things real.” And of course, we’ve played witness to more goofy group dates (Zombie paintball, dancing with The Backstreet Boys) and “shocking” rose ceremonies that we can count.
On the surface, the 16-year running reality franchise is frivolous and patently absurd. What could possibly be redeemable, you might say, for a show that pits attractive singles against each other and whose contestants by and large are all seemingly charmed by the potential for unrealistic fairy-tale romance and rom-com style love, not to mention an uptick in their Instagram following?
I cannot defend the show’s participants nor its creators. But what I do know is it allows my wife and me to connect — sometimes by reminiscing on our own relationship and others by laughing at the moronic behavior of the show’s contestants — in a way that few other activities allow. Undoubtedly, nothing can replace sincere one-on-one conversation, but when that seems like too much of a chore, The Bachelor, as well as its spinoffs The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, do the trick. To us, it’s therapy.
There’s a reason the contestants on The Bachelor fall in love so quickly with that season’s rose-giver/object of desire. Fame, yes, but also those one-on-one dates. The dates, typically had in a no-Insta-filter-needed romantic locale, facilitate conversation and romance. The onscreen couple has no choice but to probe each other for their innermost emotions in search of a connection.
For my wife and I, these back-and-forths drum up memories of some of our earliest dates, that bygone time when our lives were far simpler and our near-entire focus was on each other.
No, my wife and I don’t find it especially riveting to know where another personal trainer sees him or herself in 10 years. Or when a contestant offers an incredibly vapid commentary (“I’m, like, super into situations I’ve never been in before,” Season 20 Bachelor Ben Higgins’ fiance Lauren B tells him on their first one-on-one date).
But, in their best moments, these interactions can also often play out like a therapy session: the contestants frequently open up to the Bachelor (or -ette) about their family history and personal struggles, if only because it might be the only time the pair get to learn about each other. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to watch, but there’s something therapeutic about seeing, say, future Bachelorette Becca Kufrin open up to Arie Luyendyk Jr. about her father’s passing, or Dean Unglert telling Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay about becoming estranged from his father after his mother’s death that feels truthful and confessional in a way that the best relationships — mine and my wife’s, included — can best facilitate.
“Remember when you used to like me that much?” my wife might say, leaning in towards me with a smile as we watch two beautiful singles like former NFL quarterback Jordan Rodgers and Bachelorette JoJo embrace in life jackets as they swim with dolphins in Uruguay. “Yes. Yes, I do,” I reply before returning my gaze to a cruising yacht in an ocean, the two potential lovebirds splayed on the bow, longingly gazing at each other with HD-accented eyes.
This, of course, is only a small part of what connects my wife and me around The Bachelor. What we truly bond over is the fact that, despite all our perceived shortcomings as a couple, we can collectively unite around one truth: Surely, we aren’t as f-ed up as the people on the show, right? And, man, it makes us feel better.
How could we not feel better about ourselves as we watched our all-time favorite contestant, Ashley S from Chris Soules’ season prowl the Bachelor mansion grounds looking like a Children of the Corn extra, only to later state, “I feel like every person you meet is like an onion. You cut them, but when you cut them, you peel them back and what you do is you peel them”? How could we not bond over the awkward hilarity of Kasey Kahl telling Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky he was “here to guard and protect your heart” and break into song hours after getting a six-inch tattoo to prove his love to her before being sent home after one week?
Watching cast members on the show declare how they can “see themselves falling in love” with someone minutes after meeting them makes us feel quite normal and sane in that our love developed over time and with patience and nuance. And seeing unsuccessful singles sent home and almost universally break down in some version of an ugly cry is the lathe to me and my wife’s love. “If only they knew how a real relationship developed,” we silently explain to one another as John Krasinski look-alike Derek Peth sobs uncontrollably in a limo after being sent home by JoJo.
I must admit, at first I dismissed The Bachelor, and believed it perpetuated an unrealistic standard for romance as well as made celebrities out of undeserving dimwits. This all may still be true. But for my wife and I, who watch The Bachelor each week in order to gain perspective on our own relationship, the show is an essential Krazy Glue that bonds us in perpetuity. We do accept this rose.