Love or Seduction?

A lot of people ask me if I went on The Bachelor as a psychology experiment. The women are clearly crazy (who would do such a thing as fight for one man on reality TV?!) and so I must have sat back with a notepad and a pipe and documented the safari from a safe distance. I’ll admit I did go on for the fascination of it all, but not to pathologize the fairly normal women; it turned out that I was both the analyst and the woman on the couch. I learned a lot… particularly about love. I’d like to share my thoughts, as recollecting my time on The Bachelor has been one of the more intellectually lively periods of my life.

The most obvious place to start when cracking open the psyche of The Bachelor world is the end: how do we wind up in love with a near-stranger at the end of a two month period? I had my theories going in, and I couldn’t decide whether the greater psychological challenge would be to let myself fall in love or to resist. But what’s really going on in The Bachelor isn’t love- it’s seduction. I hear the complaint constantly that you can’t really fall in love in two months, and that the show is fake and the betrothals are destined to fail. But I’d like to challenge the idea that a large-scale seduction can’t lead to real love. I think seduction might even be an essential art we’re in danger of losing in our commitment-cautious “Netflix and chill” society, and the popularity of The Bachelor is evidence that well-intentioned seduction is what we long for.

First of all, I’d like to dispel the notion that production eliminates the possibility of genuine connection. The show is not scripted; my experience was very organic and my feelings were real. We certainly tried to put our best foot forward with the lead, but were generally encouraged to be ourselves- the things that often cut women, though, are excessive tears, drama, exhausting emotionality, etc, which is sort of funny because these are the realistic ‘vulnerable’ moments that the lead always pretends to encourage. This kind of vulnerability, though, is decidedly un-seductive. In Bachelor world, acceptable vulnerability means explaining existing walls by way of traumatizing backstory, or prematurely telling the lead they’re in love.

The Bachelor manages to make multiple people consistently fall in love with the lead, without even needing the lead to be all that amazing. In fact, the lead is usually the blank slate, whereas the contestants are a series of colorful archetypes. Everyone wants to win The Bachelor, so the bachelor doesn’t have to be anyone at all. He just has to choose which archetype he wants- the ‘it’ girl Lauren B, the ‘solid’ Becca, the ‘bookish’ Jacqueline, ‘quirky’ Kendall, etc. I think The Bachelor is more about who WE want to be, and less about who we want to be with. There’s no time to fall in love with the reality of another person, but two months is plenty of time to fall in love with a version of yourself you see reflected back to you in the eyes of an adoring girl/arbitrary celebrity that you’ve been assured is the cream of the crop. And then you wake up and realize you’ve just proposed to a totally normal (though probably very toned) person.

But then sometimes that works. The whole show is a catalyst, because we all idealize in the beginning, and for some of us the idealization fades to reality but retains enough of its initial sparkle. It carries us through the devaluation/ indecision phase and leads to a lasting, real connection. Because if someone makes us fall in love with ourselves, it’s easy to fall in love with them right back. So are we supposed to be ourselves, or do we smooth the rough edges and present our idealized forms until the other person is trapped into accepting reality? :)