Television and/or True Love

Kati Heng


It’s a new year, and along with it comes a new season of mid-season television pick-ups and renewals. While my “official” cool-girl persona says she is most excited for the return of NBC’s Community and the oh-so-ironic side of me is gearing up for the new season of TBS’s Cougar Town, I’m honestly most excited for this season of ABC’s The Bachelor.

I KNOW. The show has the same guilty-pleasure rating as a vibrator and is basically marketed to the same demographic. It’s a single ladies way of living vicariously, imagining true soul mates can meet, fall in love and get married in front of a pre-selected set of cameramen and studio audiences, and then following the lives of the lovers and even some of the rejected in further details through the rags choking the grocery store checkout line. Again: I know. Instead of devoting each Monday night to the show, I should just adopt a couple of cats, give them paternal-kitty sounding names and start watching Cougar Town for advice rather than ironic effect, because if I keep following this path of Bachelor adoration, I will die alone because of inflated expectations for first dates, what men look like without a shirt and the time limit in which two lovers can squeeze in a heart-to-heart.

I would totally agree with all that if only The Bachelor was not so amazing. My addiction to the show is the same as my addiction to the 3 lb. bag of gummy bears I keep concealed in my desk drawer at work–probably not the best for my health, not something I proudly tell everyone about, but it’s so sugar-sweet I’m not giving it up anytime soon.

In junior high, my best friend and I loved watching the finale episodes of the show. I don’t remember why we watched just the finales–her parents were more strict with the television she consumed, so maybe the idea of a man getting a key to a fantasy suite three nights in a row and inviting three different girls to join him for a camera-free night didn’t quite jive with the morals they wanted instilled in their impressionable 13-year-old, or maybe it was just that we didn’t have the attention span to watch an entire season of a reality show. But we loved watching two girls put on the most elegant of gowns, put on their painted faces (in this order: a girl MUST put on her dress then wear a satin robe over it so that she doesn’t spill makeup on the dress or accidentally touch the fabric to her face while putting the dress on AFTER doing eyeliner. It’s like the rules of the universe. Satin make-up spill robes are basically a scientific law), get in a limo, drive to some gazebo in the middle of god knows where so that her true love could ask for her hand in marriage. OR, so that her true love could dump her without a moment’s notice that something was wrong in the relationship, sending her into a crushing depression that magazines could capitalize on for months.  Greatest season finale ever, right?

It was during college that I committed to watching entire seasons with my ladies. This way, we not only got to see the finalists, we got to see the crazies—the girls who share way too much at the first cocktail party and that one girl the crews select every season who does not get along with a single other girl but swears its just because those bitches are jealous. I started mining season-to-season data and was soon enough able to identify the parts of the show’s pattern, from which date would come next (the hometown visits? The charity-related group date/swimsuit calendar? The dreaded two-on-ones?) to being able to follow the life story of the fan-favorite girl who’d be selected as The Bachelorette for summer programming. I did all this while being like, “Oh, but the show’s so dumb, I totally just watch it ironically, ha ha ha! The girls are so dumb, I’m totally not imagining the first thing I would say to Sean when I stepped out of the limo!”

The main group I watched both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette with was about half kids who were too cool to be really into the show and half quiet girls who didn’t want to actually point out that they kind of liked it for real. I mean, in reality, we were all the ones too quiet to say we liked it, because if we were really so annoyed by everything on-screen, why would we continue to watch? Instead, we’d bring a mess of desserts and Doritos and bash the fakeness and stupidity of the Bachelorette and her potential husbands. How could she NOT know that he only came on the show to promote his website? And who falls for beefy guys that cry? And what kind of man wears salmon shorts while trying to prove he’s not a bro?

I’m older now, and more confident, and I’m ready to admit: I don’t watch The Bachelor because it’s funny. I mean, yes, the show is funny (especially when the date is soooo awkward and the couple figures out they have nothing to say to each other yet have plenty to say about not having anything to say, or when they make the obligatorily corny metaphor about how love is like whatever adventure date they’re on [“love is like rappelling down a 60 story building!” or “love is like white water rafting!” or “love is like doing a scavenger hunt through the streets of Germany!”]), but God, I love those cheesy metaphors. Amy Poehler explained it best during a 2011 interview when she talked about how no one watches TV entirely ironically, how there’s always something that draws you back to watch the show.

The reasons I’m addicted to The Bachelor? I’ve narrowed it down to two things, both having to do with insecurities: (1) my desire to believe that true love can exist, that people can meet, fall in love, and their relationships can last forever, on ABC and otherwise and (2) my desire to receive confirmation that even if I’m not the prettiest girl in the room, and even if my boobs don’t get any bigger, personality can still attract hot boys.

Stuff regarding the first point stands out clearly as soon as I scratch the surface: the seasons during which I’m most invested in the show have coincided with the times I’m single or in terrible relationships (also, these times are when I’ve followed the relationships of the couples after the final rose to see if they stuck it out). If I can watch love come alive between people I feel like I know (I have seen basically their ENTIRE relationship, from meeting to proposal), it gives me some confidence that maybe some’ll come my way, too, eventually. I know it’s not great to look to The Bachelor for instances of lasting monogamy—the marriage rate for winners is 2 out of 17 for the guys and 2 out of 9 for the bachelorettes—but at least these are (mostly) real people, so it’s at least a little better than looking to sitcom romances or Grey’s Anatomy for some love lesson.

On the second point: I pick a “Favorite” girl quickly, as most viewers do. It’s always the girl with whom I most identify, which woman never ends up being the sweet one who becomes the next Bachelorette. I’ve already got my girl picked out for this season, thanks to the mini bios provided by ABC, and I’m totally rooting for Sharleen, because despite having a weird name, she’s a freaking Opera Singer whose favorite author is HARUKI MURAKAMI and three favorite films are The Royal Tenenbaums, Spirited Away and Match Point. She could be my best friend in real life! Granted, I haven’t seen her on the show yet (I’m writing this before the Jan. 6 premiere), but she sounds so smart and awesome, I’m sure she won’t be that girl that gets needlessly drunk on the first night. I can’t help but feel like if the bachelor would chose a girl I identify with, maybe a hot guy would chose me and be able to love me, too. But, if Sharleen goes unnoticed, it’ll just confirm in my mind that hot boys don’t notice girls because they love Murakami and can talk about Woody Allen films. So, YOU GO SHARLEEN. BEAT THEM OTHER BITCHES FOR ALL OF US.

(It’s worth addressing the obvious question: Is the show anti-feminist, pitting women against one another for the ultimate prize—a man’s approval? Are these women seen as toys the lucky bachelor gets to choose between? Should these ladies with jobs like “Lingerie Model,” “Jumbotron Operator,” and this season, I kid you not, “Free Spirit,” be considered the most eligible ladies in America? I don’t know how to answer all these questions, but, since there is The Bachelorette, where a girl gets to make men box each other for her affections, I’m at least saying, hey, it evens out come summer.)

I am unabashedly excited for this season of The Bachelor. Sure, Juan Pablo has that Space-Cadety, too-good-to-be-true quality about him, but you know who else has that quality? Freaking Astronaut Mike Dexter. Maybe he can’t really be the suave gentleman, perfect father, flawless soccer-playing set of abs he appears on screen, but what would he be, then? Like, human? Capable of loving a messy girl like me? Or, if not me, a beautiful Opera Singer named Sharleen?

Guys. Love is due for a comeback. Monday nights at 7 CST.