There are many ways to find true love and marry. But is competing for love with 25 other eligible singles, being whisked away to the most unbelievably romantic and adventurous dates known to mankind, being filmed from every angle and dissected by millions of strangers -- all in the course of a few short weeks -- the best way to do it?
Probably not. But before you call me a wet blanket, let me assure you that The Bachelorette is one of my guilty pleasures. Even though I have spent the past 25 years of my professional life applying scientific rigor to observations of hundreds of married individuals for my landmark marriage study, which is funded by the NIH and ongoing since 1986, I relish the decidedly unscientific and wrong-headed train wreck of The Bachelorette. And I don't say this out of meanness -- it's fact. Fifteen of the 18 couples (83%) from The Bachelor/ette twin series are no longer together. For comparison, the national average hovers at around 45%.
Let me start by saying that I have really grown fond of Ashley Herbet, the former beauty queen and dental student who teaches dance camp. She's smart, very sweet, athletic, outgoing, compassionate, and kind. She's also introspective, analytical, and very fun-loving and upbeat. However, Ashley appears at times quite young emotionally, and a bit on the insecure side. These qualities tend to cloud her judgment.
Like me, fans of the show may find themselves thinking about it the next day. How could Ashley, a smart dental student, fall so hard for Bentley, the classic "bad boy" who admitted on camera, but behind Ashley's back, that he didn't like her and was "playing" her? It's no surprise that this reality show is a big hit. We get to watch many of our own cringe-worthy dating mistakes -- in fast motion, and without the pain.
But back to the big question: Can love befitting a marriage develop in the hearts of men and women in just a few weeks? Doubtful. I say this because many of the factors essential to a strong and healthy relationship are simply unknowable in that short time span. Let's look at what Ashley Herbet can and can't know about her dates, due to the inherent limitations of the reality show's format. This may be of help to other singles looking for love.
She can find out how emotionally attuned he is. By asking the men smart questions (some of which have been, no doubt, coached and rehearsed), Ashley has been able to learn a great deal about their inner lives and how they are put together emotionally -- hurts, resiliency, ability to listen, vulnerability, sensitivity toward her, and so on.
She can learn about his life values. Again, carefully crafted questions on her part have helped Ashley discover whether she shares his life values, such as putting the same importance on religion or agreeing on whether children and extended family are important. This is important, because my marriage study found that sharing life values is one of the key determining factors for compatibility.
She can "feel" if there's chemistry. Ashley is very involved -- some might say too involved -- in the sexual spark, and in her prospective husband's looks and body. Unfortunately, Ashley is a tad fixated on her "type," which seems to be a large macho man with whom she feels, in her words, "safe and secure." This girlish, overemphasis on storybook romance and passion could backfire for Ashley down the road.
She can learn about him from his family. The July 18 episode, when Ashley met the final four's families, was extremely revealing. We saw, for example, that Ames's family was the prep school, horse-and-hound set, very East Coast intellectual. Ashley seemed like a fish out of water, which may have put the final nail in his candidacy coffin. We also saw that Constantine comes with a huge, boisterous extended family, like it or not. And that Ben and his super-protective sister are joined at the hip. My marriage study found that getting along with your spouse's family is a key determining factor in marital happiness.
But, she can't know whether to trust him. This is perhaps the greatest flaw in a competition show where "love" is the prize. Trust, like a foundation, is built brick by brick, over time. In my marriage study, couples named "trust -- or knowing that he or she won't betray or hurt you" -- as a leading component in happy marriages.
She can't learn how he fights, disagrees, and manages stress or conflict. This is another key factor that glues partners together or breaks them apart. Will he hold a grudge? Will he talk, or clam up? Will he be cruel, judgmental, threatening, and lose his temper? Or will he fight fairly, forgive, and then move on? Will he be on edge and grumble, or will he be able to breeze through difficult times?
She can't find out if their lifestyles mesh. Painfully, the previous show's couple, Emily and Brad, broke up precisely because they discovered that their lifestyles were incompatible. Emily was a mom with a 6-year-old daughter living in Charlotte, NC, and looking for stability and security. Brad was a fun-loving bar owner living in Austin, TX. It just wasn't possible to know how things would turn out -- until they had a chance to experience the other's lifestyle preferences and behaviors.
Nevertheless, despite the show's flaws, I wish Ashley luck and I hope she bucks the odds. My choice for her, based on my professional experience, coupled with their shared marriage compatibility factors as far as I can tell, is that the man best suited for Ashley is... .JP. There, I said it.