The Bachelor is one of the longest running and popular reality shows. Even though it is supposed to be about helping people find love, I actually think it distorts it.
As a husband and father of three, I think I’m pretty invested in our cultural understanding of love. So when The Bachelor recently came back for another season, I paid attention.
My limited experience watching The Bachelor has led me to believe that people who care about love shouldn’t take the messages the show promotes about relationships seriously. It’s a fantasy; that’s why people tune in. Yet even if we keep in mind that this reality show doesn’t reflect real life, these shows will subtly affect the ways we think about love.
Here are three things that I think the show misses about love…and what we can do about it.
- The Search for Love Isn’t a Search for the ‘Perfect’ Person
Contestants have little time to prove they are ‘The One,’ or at least keep the man’s interest long enough to stay on the show. While the competition might make for good TV, it’s a terrible method for finding love.
I remember feeling the pressure as a single man to find the one for me, just like many of my siblings and friends. But I’ve learned the reality is this: Nobody’s perfect, so there is no one that is perfect for you. Finding love is more about developing the character to learn to love an imperfect person the way they deserve. It takes time. Love is about cultivating the right attitudes and habits in your own heart so you have the eyes to recognize the right person when you meet them.
- True Love isn’t just an emotion
The Bachelor gives the impression that the foundation of any healthy relationship is based on an emotional attraction that is cultivated in cocktail parties, extravagant dates and finally in the “fantasy suite.” That’s something that’s quick to cultivate, a lifelong bond is not.
Emotional attraction is a good and healthy part of any relationship, but that’s the icing on the cake, the powerful and welcome addition to love, not love itself. Ask any couple that has been in a successful relationship for more than, say, one season of The Bachelor, and they’ll tell you that a healthy relationship is built on a decision to love the other person even when it’s not easy. Getting up at three a.m. to sit with a sick child so my wife Kara can get some rest isn’t romantic, it doesn’t give me butterflies in my stomach. But that doesn’t mean it’s not love.
There have been days where I haven’t felt like loving Kara, but that’s not really what love is about. Real love isn’t built on emotions, it’s built on a choice.
- True Love isn’t Dependent on Physical Beauty
I recently read an article written by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar where he criticized The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchise for creating unrealistic expectations about love, beauty and relationships.
I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but this quote struck me:
“These shows promote the scorched-earth effects of raising females to be continually judged physically above all other attributes and then measured against impossibly physical standards that has marginalized a majority of girls and women.”
As entertaining as shows like the Bachelor can be, I think of my two daughters, aged 3 and 10 months, and I never want them to feel inadequate because they might not grow up to look like supermodels. What message do we send women where it seems like one of the basic requirements for the show appears to be how good they look in a skimpy swimsuit? There is nothing wrong with physical beauty. It’s just that love is realized when we are more focused on a person’s inner beauty.
The Bachelor is popular, but I think it’s ultimately unsatisfying. Love isn’t a competition, it’s a choice. I choose not to watch as an act of love for those involved with this show. These are real people on this show who really suffer because of the false impressions of love that they, knowingly or not, promote in our culture.
I’m convinced setting aside fantasies like The Bachelor frees our hearts and minds to become more attentive to the real love stories. That’s why I write for I Believe in Love- because I believe some of the most heroic and romantic relationships are those we can encounter every day. By paying attention to reality rather than reality tv shows, we can help create an inspiring and captivating vision of love that we can pass on to our kids with confidence.