Being a Black Bachelor fan has never been easy, but the recent seasons of the massive ABC dating franchise have been especially hard to deal with. Due to an overdue reckoning, the franchise's executives have made a belated mad dash towards "progressive" content that many of their viewers have been demanding for years. And even though there are whispers of change, if the glacially slow adjustments that have been happening on The Bachelor are too little, too late for you, don't worry. There's a show that's just as juicy to sink your teeth into — and you won't even have to wonder if any of the contestants are secretly racist or whether they're even attracted to Black women. It's high time to tune into Ready to Love.
In 2017, Rachel Lindsay was cast as the season 13 lead of The Bachelorette, making show history as the first Black woman (and person of color) to take on the leading position. The decision was touted as the beginning of a brighter, more diverse future for The Bachelor, but time would soon prove that those promises were in vain; between casting bigots, failing to give Black contestants adequate airtime, and having to fire a host with an obvious beef with the "woke police," The Bachelor's issues have worsened since Rachel's historic season. So much so, unfortunately, that the reality star and podcast ultimately severed ties with the franchise completely.
Later, Matt James' chaotic run as the Bachelor brought Black Bachelor fans' frustrations to a head, bringing to light issues so troubling that it made it virtually impossible for some of us to continue watching the show in good conscience. Though the upcoming season of Bachelor in Paradise is still on my radar (I'm quitting after Ivan Hall find loves in Mexico, I swear!), I don't know that it's worth continuing to invest in a show that can't seem to get it right. Rather than hate-watching content that doesn't serve us, I propose that we spend our precious energy investing in the love stories unfolding on Ready to Love.
An OWN original series, Ready to Love follows the standard dating show formula by bringing a group of singles together to see if they can find their match. However, unlike The Bachelor or Love Island, where you can often count the number of Black contestants on one hand, Ready to Love is built on the premise of Black love. Under the sage guidance of comedian (and marriage expert, given his 20 years of wedded bliss) Thomas "Nephew Tommy" Miles, our eclectic mix of older singles date amongst themselves in the real world with fascinatingly relatable results.
This group is texting and calling each other daily, going on weekly dates and weekend getaways, meeting each other's families, and deciding whether or not they want to really commit. Each week, one contestant is eliminated regardless of their connections, and the power to eliminate people is in either the men or the women's collective hands depending on the week. So it's not solely about one person's proverbial journey — just like in the real world, the progress of each romance is affected by the world around them.
"It is a different concept," admits OWN Senior Communications Manager Joseph Williams of Ready to Love's spin on the typical dating show format. "It's a bit more real. We're casting people who are relatable, people who aren't the perfect cookie-cutter type. Our contestants have a vast array of life experiences that they bring to the show, each of which contributes to a very unique collective and individual journey."
Since its 2018 television debut, Ready to Love has shared a number of stories that aren't typical to see on modern dating competitions. In its three seasons, the most recent of which is currently airing on OWN, fans have been introduced to a bevy of personalities, each complete with their own tale to tell: widowed fathers seeking to find love again, retired hot girls looking to get out of the game and settle down, free-loving people who are ready to find love but not necessarily marriage, more conservative folks who want romance but not sex. The insistence on displaying (and subsequently validating) these varied walks of life is credit to creator Will Packer, whose filmography is almost entirely dedicated to sharing Black stories. From projects like Stomp the Yard to Being Mary Jane to Girls Trip, Packer has always centered Blackness in his work through his production company Will Packer Productions.
"The intention with Ready to Love falls in line with the type of content that Will is dedicated to creating," Williams says. "He just does a really good job of showcasing Black people — in particular, Black women — in a way that the media often doesn't allow them to appear. I don't know a Black woman in real life whose personality can fit in any one box because they're all different, and the purpose of Ready to Love is to highlight and emphasize the beauty of all of those differences."
Years of Black contestants being tokenized on dating shows have taught us that just simply being in the room and on the show isn't enough; we need to see each of these individuals embarking on their own path towards romance and, hopefully, true love. Fortunately, Ready to Love doesn't disappoint on that front either. Every week, the contestants go on dates with the object of their affections, keeping in mind a certain emotional task assigned to them by Nephew Tommy. This homework sets the intentions for each couple, either pushing them closer to establishing their connection or opening their eyes to their incompatibility. It's not all serious work — Ready to Love knows its audience well enough not to skimp on the moments that will give you butterflies or on the scenes that might get you hot and bothered — but the show is consistently delivering the type of meaningful moments that Black viewers have been asking for from dating shows. Will the couples live happily-ever-after after the cameras stop rolling? Maybe, maybe not. But at least we got to see them try.
I don't know a Black woman in real life whose personality can fit in any one box because they're all different, and the purpose of Ready to Love is to highlight and emphasize the beauty of all of those differences.
Joseph Williams, OWN SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
Williams is happy to report that Ready to Love's ability to fulfill the needs of an oft-ignored segment of television viewers is paying off; the past two seasons of the show, which were filmed during the pandemic, have seen a significant increase in viewership. That boom could be because so many of us are living vicariously through the singles on the OWN series (Have you tried dating in real life recently? Would not recommend!), but more than likely, it's also because we don't have to beg the show to give Black people a chance to be the main characters of their own love stories. The network is already doing that and has been committed to doing so for years.
"When the team sees the data that comes in after every episode, it's showing that people are really engaged in Ready to Love," shares Williams. "The OWN audience does skew a little bit older, but we're seeing Black women across age groups tune in. Our community is really endearing itself to these contestants because they're seeing a little bit of themselves in their journeys."
Whether you're personally boycotting this season of The Bachelorette or just looking for new title to do a deep dive into, Ready to Love is worth adding to your watch list if you're a fan of dating shows. It's not perfect — it's still mostly oriented towards heterosexual relationships, and in-house discussions of important cultural issues like fatphobia and colorism aren't necessarily as nuanced as they could and should be at this point — but the OWN series is doing important work nonetheless by exploring the Black dating experience, something that is pretty much impossible to find on mainstream television.
Seasons one through three of Ready to Love are currently available for streaming on OWN.com.