I’ve been a Bachelor viewer since season 1. I can barely believe that I’ve dedicated 14 years' worth of Monday nights to watching women come and go, men cry, upwards of 500 repetitions of the question "Will you accept this rose?", and more emotional breakdowns than I can count. It's been an entertaining ride — but also a more insidious one than I would have believed as I sat rapturously watching the first season as a college freshman. At that age, I thought the show seemed like the ultimate way to get a guy who was an attractive family man and who also had a great career — an "out-of-your-league" dreamboat that my younger self thought the dating world would provide me. The set-up seemed so dreamy: The lucky women chosen to be on the show met a hunk and then travelled the world with him in an experience of a lifetime. I didn't know then that my devotion to the show would reinforce my illusion that anyone I dated should give me butterflies each time we interacted. When my real-life relationships fell short of that standard, I couldn't help but feel disappointed. Love was supposed to be all-consuming — and so when my boyfriend wanted to spend his time alone or with other people without me, I figured, well, he just wasn't that into me. Or when the moments we shared weren't perfect, it meant we weren't right for each other. Talk about emotional energy wasted.
As the years went by, though, my perspective changed. I had more relationships, with both highs and lows, traveled to some pretty cool places without being on a TV show, and developed my career. I kept watching The Bachelor, but I was able to separate true reality from TV reality, in this case romance manufactured in a rented L.A. mansion. A show that once encompassed all the ideals of a romantic fairy tale began to change for me, and I was able to give a name to the magical force I had thought was love. It wasn't love: It was infatuation, and it was guided primarily by physical attraction. I was learning that intimacy is the foundation for true love, and that intimacy is built, not delivered from on high like a lightning bolt. I cringe now thinking about my starry-eyed college self watching the show week after week, and if I could give advice to her, I would tell her that the "love" on The Bachelor is more like lust (including lust for fame and victory). Only two out of 19 bachelors have married the person who received the final rose; almost every single relationship that's started on the show ended only a few months after filming wrapped. Those couples never built a solid foundation to rely on when times got tough. You find love through real conversations. Through vulnerability (The Bachelor loves to cite vulnerability, but the word is meaningless on the show now). Through adverse situations. Through commitment. By knowing yourself and accepting others for who they are. And by building intimacy. It's a miracle if you can find the person you wish to marry while that person is also dating 24 other people (on national TV, no less). So many women on the show get caught up in the idea of whoever is the Bachelor, rather than the man himself. I'm not advocating for a Bachelor boycott: I've watched the show for 14 years, and I'll keep watching. If The Bachelor is your poison of choice, well then, join me in the delight of escapism while also knowing that the producers do everything they can to manipulate the show's subjects, jam-packing every episode full of drama to keep your eyes glued to the TV. As it turns out, drama is much better for Monday nights than real relationships, and if romance looks too good to be true, it probably is.