There's no better recipe for disaster than 20-something 20-somethings competing for the affection of one man. And that's exactly the reality TV recipe that "The Bachelor" has perfected.
I found an interesting take on the show in today's Huffington Post. Emma Gray says smart women enjoy watching the show because 1) everyone likes to watch a trainwreck 2) it's a good time to unwind, make fun of the characters, and bond with girlfriends on a Monday night and 3) "'Bachelor' Love Is So Fake (And Warped) That It Makes Us Grateful For The (Oft-Painful) Real Thing"
I agree with Gray on the first two. Sad but true, there's something selfishly gratifying about watching other people be humiliated on TV. That's been the premise of a lot of reality TV shows. It's as if, when we watch other people screw up on TV, we somehow feel better about ourselves. ("At least I'm not like THAT girl, drunk, unloved, and crying on TV.")
Gray also posits that "The Bachelor" is entertaining because it's so different from how real, mature people practice dating. True. But we should be careful here. Although "The Bachelor" presents a skewed version of today's dating market, I'm afraid that there are some sad similarities:
Mancession, and Resulting Skewed Supply and Demand: This season's bachelor Ben was presented with 25 good-looking, employed (or studying) women to choose from. Although bachelors in the real world don't have 25 beauty queens competing for their attention, consider this: Women generally don't like the idea of marrying unemployed men. And unemployment rates are worse among men, making high achievers hard to find, especially in the working class or in low-income communities. Again, the ratio isn't 25:1, but it's not 1:1 either. Competition can bring out the worst in people, especially women, who, as we've seen on "The Bachelor" already this season, sometimes resort to lowering their standards in desperation.
Consumer-Mentality: Numbers aside, there's no doubt bachelor Ben goes into each date thinking "What does this woman have to offer?" We do that too, in the dating world, and to a certain extent that's how it's supposed to be. But too much focus on "What can I get out of this" means singles focus less on "What can I offer." Singlehood can be a great opportunity for personal development, but instead I fear my peers too often go on each date as if each new person were a contestant.
The Mysterious "Connection" This is probably the worst bad idea that has crept into today's dating culture. Too many of the competing girls on the Bachelor claim that their interest in Ben is based on the "connection" they feel when they are with him. I'm not knocking butterflies; of course it's good to feel special around the person you love. But marriage is built on much more than an indescribable love "connection." Relationships that last are built on compatibility, similar values and priorities, and the determination to work things out even when the butterflies aren't swarming. If someone makes you feel all tingly inside – that's great! – but you should probably try to articulate why you'll make a good couple in the long run… warm fuzzies aside.
Unreasonable Timelines: Gray pointed out that after nine years of matchmaking, "The Bachelor" (and "The Bachelorette") has produced only three couples that are still together. Not a high success rate. Part of this is due to the quick courtship timetable that is imposed on the lucky guy (or gal). But don't we have friends who do this too, if we aren't guilty ourselves? We might not feel rushed to get engaged after a couple of months (like the show works), but few people can completely ignore their age, professional goals, or preferences in the timeline department. We shouldn't completely ignore time, either, but we should realize that some sacrifices will be made if we're going to fit everything in… and you can't hurry love.
So there may be more "reality" in this trash TV show than we'd like to admit. We can't change the show or its outcome, but luckily we can learn from some of its bad ideas, and try to avoid them in our own pursuits.