I have a guilty pleasure… I watch the Bachelorette. No, that’s too tame. I watch the Bachelorette and I like it. I know I’m not alone in this, but as someone who prides herself on being an intellectual, feminist-leaning, Christian woman, it seems to be an oxymoron that I’m also a Bachelorette/Bachelor fan. And to be honest, while I watch it, I spend almost every other minute engulfed in the following thoughts:
“Do people really say these things? Who are these people and why are they doing this on T.V? Don’t they care that their mom might see?? Why am I watching this??”
“This is literally the worst thing to ever be on T.V and probably signals the West’s cultural demise. Why am I watching this??”
All in all, I really think what intrigues me is that it not only piques my romantic nature (who wouldn’t want to explore the ruins of a beautiful Irish castle with good-lookin’ Ben H, right??), but that it does provide me with some social commentary. Because though at times it’s dubiously portraying real life, I do think that it reflects some of our current social constructs on romance, gender roles, and relationships. I mean, it wouldn’t be such a popular show if it didn’t speak to some commonality we all share. So if that is true, this season has left me with some serious questions for Bachelorette Kaitlyn. I thought I’d ask some of those questions, but frame them not just to her, but really to our current society.
1. Why is the physical aspect of a relationship so important?
Though it’s always a part of the show, this season in particular has focused on physical intimacy, with the Bachelorette often saying how important it is to her, and well, she did sleep with one of the guys pretty early on. (The irony, of course, was that she was called out for this, while the whole show builds up to “Fantasy Suite” dates where she can literally sleep with three guys one right after the other. Hmm…)
Though I believe she is certainly entitled to her opinions, I wonder why physical intimacy is seen as being so foundational to a relationship’s success, that it has to be explored without question early on? I’ve known other women with the same perspective, and it certainly seems to be the norm in movies and T.V shows today.
One study by a Cornell University researcher came to a different conclusion. This was that women who waited longer to have sex in a dating relationship, had a more satisfying relationship. This could have been due in part to women “paying attention to other factors that would ultimately improve the relationship such as commitment and emotional intimacy.” Additionally, according to the study men and women viewed sex differently. “[F]or women, but not men, having sex early in the scheme of things signified to them that their partner was committed to the relationship. For men, having sex early in the dating period didn’t actually have that same meaning.”
Certainly this study doesn’t speak for everyone, but it may point to a disconcerting reality for many. Women can misinterpret sex to automatically lead to a long-term relationship, and thus they have it early on in that relationship. What really makes a relationship great is certainly commitment, loyalty, common interests, similar goals and passions, but you won’t find these things solely in sex. In fact, the physical side of the relationship can cloud your judgement of your significant other in the really important areas, such as his character.
Additionally, women (and men) can think it will be like this forever-that the passion and romance will never change. But that’s a trick of your emotions in the moment; give yourself a few kids, a house mortgage, long working hours, and changing bodies, and it’s definitely not a guarantee.
2. Why do we “follow our hearts” in making decisions? Should we?
Is it because love is a “matter of the heart”? Do we relegate relationships to being purely emotional, and leave out the logical sides of ourselves completely? Isn’t that setting yourself up for failure? Our hearts sometimes really want cheesy garlic bread even though we already ate an entire pizza. How can we trust that just because we “feel” something, that it means we need to follow that impulse? In fact, knowing that what we call the feelings of love can be chalked up in large part to brain chemicals, we may not want to make a life-long commitment (or even a short-term one) based on them.
3. Why do we not involve our families more?
I’m pretty sure most people would call the decision to marry someone one of the most important decisions they’ll make in their life. But on the Bachelorette, the “hometown” dates don’t happen until the last few weeks of the show, and the actual Bachelor/Bachelorette goes last, making their family’s introduction to the person that could potentially be their future son or daughter-in-law…happen about 1-2 weeks before that major moment. In our individualistic American society, we tend to value independence over community, and children can establish lives very far removed from that of their parents once they move out at 18.
I understand that not all families are great, and relationships can be strained. But I think that all of us can find people in our lives who care about us and whose opinion we value. Having the counsel of those who are older and mature, and who have successfully navigated from dating into marriage, probably are the ones we should go to for advice, not just our girlfriends.
Even with these questions, I’ll probably keep watching the show. Maybe “mind-numbing” T.V entertainment can serve a purpose after all?
1. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, “Take It Slow If You Want Your Relationship To Last,” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201208/take-it-slow-if-you-want-your-relationship-last.
Research study referenced by Whitbourne: Sassler, S., Addo, F. R., & Lichter, D. T. (2012). The tempo of sexual activity and later relationship quality. Journal Of Marriage And Family, 74(4), 708-725