On Monday night, an old friend sent me a message asking if I'd watched the finale of The Bachelor and to find out what I thought about this season's star, Brad Womack, not choosing either woman in the end. To be honest, I haven't really kept up with the show (I was on The Bachelor in 2003 and was The Bachelorette in 2005) but I knew little things about Brad from reading magazines and seeing commercials (he was hyped as the "millionaire" Bachelor). But given that the show has almost always ended with some kind of relationship -- the one exception: when I turned down two proposals on The Bachelorette -- I was surprised to hear he had walked away a single man. And I was even more surprised by the fallout . . . or lack thereof.
In the two days after the finale, there haven't been many major headlines about the show. An MSNBC.com article critiqued the outcome, EW.com interviewed the show's creator (he's not happy), and the New York Daily News focused on how viewers felt they were duped by ABC, who promoted the finale as if Brad found his wife. However, the overall coverage has been nothing compared to the negative press I personally received after announcing I didn't want to be with any of the guys I met on the show. Brad faced some criticism from the female participants and host Chris Harrison on the "After the Final Rose" show on Tuesday night, but as of yet, I haven't seen much denouncing him as a jerk (or whatever the male equivalent of a bitch is) or proclaiming he made the biggest mistake of his life and that he'd be single forever. In other words, he's been treated a lot differently than I was when I decided to leave the show a single woman.
I'm not here to say "poor me." What I'd rather point out is how, when it comes to relationships and breakups, society treats women and men very differently. Look at celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson: When they split with their husbands, they received the majority of the negative publicity. People asked what kind of fool was Jennifer that she'd let Brad Pitt go. Critics claimed she was selfish and career-driven and wouldn't give him the kids he wanted, and reasoned it was no wonder he dumped her. As for Jessica, she was deemed too bratty and too wild and other adjectives that explained why it "made sense" that Nick Lachey could no longer live with her. For the most part, the guys were blameless (even Pitt, whose close relationship with Angelina Jolie called his fidelity into question). Brad and Nick walked away from their marriages with their reputations in tact. In the public eye, they've been forgiven for whatever role they played in the breakups. The women, on the other hand, have been portrayed as "needy" or "pathetic." The public worries they'll be single forever -- as if that's worse than being stuck in an unhappy marriage.
Die-hard Bachelor fans (not to mention ABC) may be mad at Brad Womack for wasting their time and not delivering a happy ending, but I can bet he won't be walking around with a stigma of being "too hard to please." That's what people think when a woman chooses not to be with a "perfect" guy -- as if good looks and money are all she needs. For some reason, it's more acceptable for a man to turn down a woman than it is for a woman to reject a man. There's a fear that she may never meet anyone again -- and then what will become of the poor thing?
No one seems to be concerned about Brad's future -- except, maybe, the women he didn't choose. On the Tuesday night show, they were still complaining that he didn't give them a chance, that they could have been happy together, and that his actions were unfair. What would have been more unfair is if Brad wasn't honest with himself - or them - and continued a relationship (let alone proposed) when he felt it wasn't right.
After 11 seasons of The Bachelor and three seasons of The Bachelorette, only two couples are still together. Maybe there hasn't been so much public backlash against Brad because, at this point, viewers have come to expect these romances will fail. But I give Brad a lot of credit for not playing into the fantasy the show creates. What's funny -- and what I learned the hard way -- is that it's difficult for people (and especially Bachelor viewers) to buy the idea that men and women don't always like each other. It's entirely possible to meet 25 beautiful women (or 25 handsome men) and not fall in love with any of them . . . in a matter of six weeks . . . in isolation . . . with cameras all around. It doesn't mean the person is too picky (nor does it mean they are gay -- a rumor Brad has had to shoot down), it just means they would rather be on their own than in a relationship with the wrong person. A sentiment I completely agree with.
So to answer my friend's question: When I wrote my book, Better Single Than Sorry, last year, my message was that women need to stand up for themselves - and each other - and tell the world that it's better to be single than in an unfulfilling relationship. I still believe that, and Brad showed us that notion applies to men, too. If we could truly started living this vision, maybe then society will realize there is nothing foolish about wanting to wait for the right person rather than making something work for the sake of being in a relationship. Or worse, for the sake of a TV show.