When I started my "Life Lessons from The Bachelor" series last year, I planned to do it for only one season. Let’s be real — every season is basically the same. I felt I could, in one fell swoop, make my point about the universal relatability of the franchise. But as I caught up on the new Bachelorette premiere last week, I saw too many potential Universal Truths to keep my little blogging self quiet. (Here's the series intro if you need background.)
I again saw myself on the screen — bits of me in Kaitlyn and Britt and the guys. And I thought, This is why I watch the show … and this is what had compelled me to write about it. It’s so dang relatable. That, to me, is the redemptive aspect of the admittedly ridiculous premise. As I explained then, I don’t watch primarily to make fun of the contestants. I watch because, in them, I see myself. [In fact, since writing those posts, I’ve repeatedly watched myself fall prey to some of the same Universal Truths I pointed out about the contestants. (Hello, number two.)] All that to say, I just couldn’t not comment on this premiere, so … I’m back. I can’t commit to recap every episode, but I may pop up here and there with a new Universal Truth of the Week. (Or, you know, the Month. Flex with me here.) Sometimes the relatability is too good to pass up.
The premiere of this season began with Chris Harrison explaining its new twist, which we all already knew about: TWO POTENTIAL BACHELORETTES.
Kaitlyn — the second runner-up and audience favorite from last season — should, according to every precedent, have been the Bachelorette. During any normal premiere, she would have dolled up, met her suitors, and then begun the “journey to find love,” by which I mean the journey of dating 25 guys simultaneously.
But, no, this season the should-be Bachelorette would be pitted against another girl for the title. Kaitlyn would face off against Britt the Beautiful. It must be stated that this was basically Britt’s entire claim to fame: her face. Also her Disney princess hair. Sure, she had cried a lot last season and acted as though she and the Bachelor were meant to be, but so had 99 percent of the other girls who’ve ever been on the show. The only reason Britt is memorable as a contestant at all is because she is gorgeous — like a blonder, dewier Angelina Jolie.
This season Kaitlyn and Britt would meet the 25 guys together, and then the guys would cast their votes for the girl they wanted to stay. (They did this by slipping away to a separate candlelit room of the Bachelor Mansion and dropping roses into rose-shaped slots carved into wooden boxes placed under framed photos of each girl. It was not melodramatic at all.)
“Will this be awkward and probably a bit painful?” Chris Harrison asked as he explained the new twist before the first night. (Coincidentally this is the same question I ask myself in the mirror before I go on first dates.) “Sure!” He said. “But hopefully it will lead to a better chance for true love to blossom.”
Chris said, of course, that the producers had decided to let the guys choose the Bachelorette because the guys who’d auditioned were “truly divided” about whom they wanted a chance to date. This is total bull. Clearly the producers pitted the girls against each other because it added another level of drama and tension. Interestingly for us, however, it also added another painful level of relatability.
We had to watch Kaitlyn (already the protagonist to me — and to most viewers, I would imagine) endure the typical meeting of the men while standing next to Britt. Normally the guys would’ve had all eyes on Kaitlyn. They would’ve stepped out of the limos, straightened their suits, walked her way, and then — with some cheesy or sweet or stupid statement — expressed their excitement to get to know her.
As it was, however, their attention was divided. With two women in the running, the first night would not be about getting to know Kaitlyn. It would be about evaluating Kaitlyn in light of Britt and vice versa.
There was something disturbingly familiar to me about watching the guys compare the girls. It felt a little too real-life for my liking. In real life there’s never just one girl. There are always others to whom a guy can compare a girl and to whom a girl can compare herself.
“I feel like I’m at a seventh grade dance,” said Brady as he stepped out of the limo and surveyed his female options.
“We feel the same way,” said Kaitlyn. She seemed noticeably more nervous than Britt, repeatedly telling the cameras she felt sick to her stomach.
“I just hope the guys will give me the opportunity to prove to them that I deserve this chance,” she said during one aside.
Everything about that sentence pains me. (No wonder Kaitlyn told the cameras the night was “excruciating.”) I can think of few things more painful and futile than trying to prove your worthiness to a guy, let alone a guy who’s actively comparing you to someone else, whether another real person or an imaginary standard.
And that was how Britt seemed to me — imaginary. Unlike Kaitlyn, whose personality was her selling point, Britt had been a two-dimensional character last season. Now just a blank slate with a pretty face, Britt could become whoever the guys wanted her to be. That’s how she’d won Bachelor Chris’s affections — he sent her home only after learning she’d lied to him about wanting to live in Snoozeville, Iowa — and it was the tactic she took again this go-round.
She used every detail any guy shared with her as an opportunity to position herself as his type. She told Ben H., who brought up his sponsor child, that her sponsor child was the most important thing to her; she told Brady, who mentioned praying, that her faith was the most important thing to her; she told J.J., who lauded her mention of relationships, that relationships were the most important thing to her.
Britt’s plasticity demonstrated that even she — a girl to whom no other girl on the planet would want to be compared — was feeling the impossible weight of comparison and evaluation. “I almost feel like I have to go and in 30 seconds prove myself as wife material so they put a rose in my box,” she told the cameras.
I have to prove myself as wife material. What an ironic confession — one that sums up the dysfunction of this season’s setup. By pitting the girls against each other, each was forced to prove why she could be worthy of the guys’ love. Each was asked to earn what, by definition, cannot be earned. This leads us to our UTOTW.
Universal Truth of the Week: If you have to earn it, it isn't love.
This is the irony not only of this show but also of much of modern dating. If love is what the contestants are after and love operates outside the earning/deserving system, then it cannot be reached by either party proving him- or herself to the other. But that's exactly what we try to do. We try to prove ourselves — by what we say, by what we wear, by what we ask, by whom we know. We try to be enough. (And on the flip side, we often act as though others must prove themselves to us. Being discerning in dating is one thing. Insisting someone deserve your attention is another.)
Even the guys on the show — who, pre-vote, weren’t even in the hot seat yet — admitted that they felt the pressure to compare and compete to impress the girls.
“You walk in [to the Bachelor Mansion], and it’s like, wow, every single guy is better-looking … taller,” said J.J. “There’s just insecurity that just takes over.”
Is this, then, a fatal flaw in the original premise of The Bachelor (with or without this season’s twist)? Isn’t competition for love the whole point? Well, yes and no. Insofar as the show’s setup enables people to actually get to know each other, I think it could also produce real love (its purported goal). This doesn’t seem to happen often, but it has happened on occasion — later in the season, that is, after the Bachelor or Bachelorette has actually gotten to know the contestants, after they’ve become 3D people instead of pros and cons on paper.
[Fun fact for the record and/or the haters, the Bachelor franchise has a 100 percent marriage success rate at this point. All six couples (out of 30 seasons!) who married are still married. The engagement success rate is obviously far lower, but I do not believe in the sanctity of engagement, so I don't actually care.]
I don’t think, though, that most rational viewers watch the show to see the people fall in love. We watch the show to see people be people, to watch their conversations and their decision-making, to see our own tendencies played out on-screen by others. We, too, are comparing ourselves to the people comparing themselves to people.
This is getting super meta.
ANYWAY, though things seemed to be going in Britt’s favor for the first half of the premiere — TWO-WEEK OLD SPOILER ALERT — the guys eventually ended up voting for Kaitlyn. I never doubted that this would be the case considering the producers knew viewers wanted Kaitlyn.
Today, three episodes later, we know that, though many of the guys who were Team Britt stuck it out for a chance with Kaitlyn, a couple (Brady and Tony the Healer — who is reality television GOLD, by the way) have already peaced out of their own accord.
On any normal season, the Bachelorette is the only option, so everybody wants her. Hashtag scarcity bias. This season, however, the guys glimpsed another option and, as a result, are noticeably less convinced that Kaitlyn is their ultimate fairytale dream woman. A few of the guys — specifically Clint and Kupah, or as I like to call him, “The Worst” — have taken an unprecedented backseat approach to dating Kaitlyn. They’ve developed an if-she’s-interested-she-can-find-me attitude, as if it’s still the first night and still her job to come after them instead of the other way around. (For the record, male readers, this is super off-putting in a guy.) I will be quite curious to see how the original Kaitlyn vs. Britt twist affects the rest of the season, and I hope to high heaven that Kaitlyn chooses one of the guys who wanted only her from the get-go.