Full confession: I love The Bachelor. As a devotee of the show, I couldn't believe my eyes when my husband and I saw a former Bachelor at a charity event. Gone was the requisite six-pack, but there he was: a pudgier, smugger version of the bright-eyed Lothario that once was. With prodding from my husband, we casually approached him and said we loved the show, which served as a frothy escape from reality for us. Instead of the winning, overly bleached grin he used to flash so liberally at the ladies, we were met with a scowl: "I met her on The Bachelor," he said sardonically as he grabbed his date, who was obviously not the woman he chose on the show. With that he turned his back to us and downed a vodka tonic.
The guy had a chewed-up and spit-out quality about him that was unsettling. After the encounter I asked myself, did The Bachelor create jaded love-cynics, or was there something redeeming in the show's formula -- a short period of intense, up-front dating with a stated end goal of marriage -- that could actually facilitate lasting love?
The newest series has begun with sunny Ali Fedotowsky as the ring-leader of the boy toy brigade. All the usual suspects -- the Latin lover, the Southern crooner, the anxious tattle-tale (in the form of a perky weatherman) and yes, even a greased-up, professional wrestler -- have begun the tango of opportunism, fervently swaying their hips to the beat of Us Magazine covers and oily photo ops.
In the post-Trista and Ryan era, many have lost faith in the legitimacy of the show. It's difficult to believe the boys are "in it for love," as they incessantly declare, when they down tequila shots and attempt to grope the bachelorette's breasts during their "one-on-one time", later claiming they were only trying to fix her shirt, a situation Jillian Harris faced on season five. This level of striking immaturity is the norm for the contestants, most of whom are in their twenties and provide irrefutable proof of what scholars are calling "extended adolescence."
"A new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults," said Frank F. Furstenberg in a June 13 New York Times article. Taking that into account, how can we take seriously the romantic soliloquies of a bunch of emotional pre-teens?
It is safe to say the purposeful quest for a monogamous relationship may be far from the goal of most participants, but taken at face value the show provides some valuable tips for well-intentioned daters. Here are some aspects of The Bachelorette's framework that may lead to love:
Minimal input from friends: We all need our crew of girlfriends, but sometimes when it comes to relationships they can do more harm than good. Groups of gal-pals tend to over-analyze every detail and pick the date apart. The end product is either an overly glorified or substantially diminished date, which almost always leads to disappointment.
In worse case scenarios, jealousy can rear its ugly head in the group dynamic, causing friends to cut down or even hit on your potential boyfriend. Friends are largely absent from the show, which forces Ali, the current bachelorette, to rely entirely on her own instincts. It's best to make dating decisions without your friends' input because ultimately, it's your future you're planning and the adult thing to do is to own it.
A prominent role for the opinion of parents: The caveat to the above rule is the prominent role for parental guidance in the show. Despite your most vehement objections, your parents do know you best. They have been observing your personality since you were born and sometimes know who you are at core better than you do as a young adult. Their opinion matters, as does having your mate fit in well with your family.
Lack of technology: Sorry all you social-networkers, but "sexting" and Facebook flirting are not genuinely effective ways to get to know a person at their core. As writer Rita Mae Brown said, "Computer dating is fine as long as you're a computer."
The best thing about The Bachelorette is that everything -- from the initial awkward introductions to sad break-ups -- is done in person. Not only does this infuse accountability into the atmosphere, but it also eliminates the nagging distractions that cellphones, MySpace and Twitter provide. Instead of wasting hours tweaking your Match.com profile or typing out flirty smiley faces, join a nature biking group and flash those pearly whites in person. It may make all the difference.
Marriage is made a priority: For generations X and Y, "marriage and parenthood -- once seen as prerequisites for adulthood -- are now viewed as lifestyle choices," according to the New York Times article citing a new report released by Princeton University and Brookings Institution. Dating has become a pastime of the party culture, to the detriment of women who wake up from the hangover of their twenties and realize they only have a few more viable years left to have a baby.
If family and marriage is your end goal, then it is necessary to put as much energy into finding a mate as you do your career, education or social life. By putting everything aside to pursue love, The Bachelorette gives relationships the focus and weight they need to grow.
A set time limit: The framework of the show forces the participants to be forthright about their long-term needs and goals. They express whether they want children, what their career demands are and how they view marriage very early on. Each person in the room knows that they don't have an eternity to get to know each other, so the usual mind games and twisted dating "rules" like playing hard-to-get or keeping your options open are discarded. By cutting to the chase, you minimize the chance of becoming the woman who has given her "best years" to a man that won't marry her in the end.
Obviously, The Bachelorette is not a paradigm for genuine love. Competitiveness and opportunism, and sometimes delusion and obsession, not sincerity, fuel the men to endlessly flex their waxed pec muscles and compose cringe-worthy love songs to woo Ali. But if we look at the show as a social experiment with sincerity taken as a control, then there are teachable moments for the modern dater.
These days, it is too easy to get stuck in a dating rut by dating only the people in your social or professional clique, going to the same bars or continuously seeking out the same type of man. The interesting thing about The Bachelorette is that the framework of the show forces her to do something unconventional, and by doing so she may learn more about herself and the type of mate she is compatible with.
Whether it's dating someone of a different race or religion, or pursuing a meaningful long-distance relationship with the man you talked to for less than an hour on vacation, like I did, dating outside your comfort zone and taking a risk for a relationship can lead to the show's enduring goal of finding a partner.