I watched most of this past season of The Bachelor because I knew my daughters were watching and would want to talk about it and because my clients refer to it often. Although I've been a family therapist for over twenty-five years, surprisingly, I had a huge revelation last night.
I'd always assumed that most women view relationships with a healthy dose of reality—that there is no Prince Charming and that there is no such thing as a perfect love. But watching the finale and the reactions of the women across America, like Sleeping Beauty, I woke up. That fantasy of "true love", being rescued by the handsome prince, being recognized as the perfect one out of a group of competitors, is alive, well and safely stowed in the hearts of an awful lot of women .
The Bachelor is an adult fairy tale but one that many real women actively dream about when they are in bed trying to fall asleep. I'm thinking about single women clients who have very slim criteria for the men they are willing to date, even if they are over 40 and hoping one day to raise a family. "He must have dark hair, he must be taller than me, he must be older than me, he must . . . he must . . . he must . . ." as though there is a perfect specimen out there as yet undetected and if she waits long enough, he will appear with a red rose to lift her out of her humdrum life.
I suppose, like many people, it was chilling to hear the contestants proclaim to Ben that they only wanted him to be happy and they would devote their lives to making that happen. It's a good advertising pitch, when there are twenty other vendors neck-and-neck, marketing to the same potential customer. But the fear is that that sentiment represents the attitude of many women on the quest for true love. On the one hand, they give the guy tremendous power over their own happiness. On the other hand, they hold him to a very stringent set of selection criteria.
I’m a family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal and My Sister, My Self: Understanding the Sibling Relationship that Shapes Our Lives, Our Loves and Ourselves.