What "The Bachelor" Teaches Us Not to Do in a New Relationship

Challenging the assumptions and unrealistic expectations

Posted Jan 24, 2021

Gita Kulinitch Studio/Shutterstock
Source: Gita Kulinitch Studio/Shutterstock

I have been watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette since college and I am not necessarily proud of this. Time and time again, I have vowed that I would stop watching. Yet here we are. The feminist in me believes that this show continues to perpetuate the objectification of women and extremely outdated gender roles and constructs. However, the Millennial in me continues to gravitate towards this very bizarre social experiment and genre of television that we call “reality TV” as it is entertaining and psychologically intriguing. But I digress. While I have conflicting feelings about this show and Bachelor Nation as a franchise, there are some takeaways, including what NOT to do, in this era of modern dating.

1. Do not drop EVERYTHING for a partner or relationship.

The bachelor requires 20-30 singles to drop or “sacrifice everything” in the name of love. They are sequestered and devote 6 weeks of their life to this bachelor bubble. While I am sure a lot of us would love a 6 week break from life, most of us will never have the privilege to do so. And even if we did have this privilege, in actual reality, relationships and dating do not exist in a vacuum. In the real world, we have jobs and personal lives outside of dating and our relationships. We have bills to pay, appointments to schedule and attend, work, a social life and family events and obligations. Sometimes we have children that we share custody of or have to co-parent, or medical issues to tend to. OR a global pandemic that we (like everyone else) are having to navigate and cope with. In reality, we have a lot going on and a lot of things that need our attention. So, it would be pretty unfair and unrealistic for us (or anyone for that matter) to be required to drop everything to date a new person or pursue a new relationship. 

 Unfortunately, this happens all too often (maybe not to this extreme) that a person finds themselves in a new relationship or situation that takes up all of their time, energy, and emotion. And this typically does not end well. When you consume yourself entirely with a relationship it can become incredibly easy to neglect other needs or aspects of your life. I have seen so many individuals, time and time again, lose themselves in a relationship or find themselves completely isolated.  In a healthy relationship you will have more balance. You will have an identity both as an individual and as a partner. You will be able to be present and intentional with the time you do spend with a prospective or new partner, while also tending to things that need tending to and taking care of your own needs and the things that matter most to you.

2.  Do not chase or compete for a prospective partner.

We should never have to “prove” our worthiness to anyone. But this is the entire premise of The Bachelor/Bachelorette and it is normalized by suggesting that this is just part of “the journey.” Our culture also continues to perpetuate the need to “win” and “achieve.” For a lot of singles, if its “too easy” there tends to be an assumption that something must be wrong or results in an immediate loss of interest. And think about it—all of the classic sitcoms and romantic comedies have that “will they, won't they” back and forth. If a relationship is too easy or happens without much effort, it can feel less exciting and lose its appeal.

But games don’t tend to result in long-term, successful relationships (which can explain why the “success” rate of The Bachelor/Bachelorette ranges somewhere between 11 and 30 percent).  Games often cause anxiety, insecurities, distrust and feelings of uncertainty. Relationships require trust and how can that be truly established when it is one-sided or has resulted from the outcome of a game. In a healthy relationship, both individuals will put in equal effort. A relationship should never be “won” over but mutually decided and agreed upon. 

3. Do not mistake lust and intimacy for love.

How many hot tub and make-out scenes do we see on this show?? A LOT. And usually, it is followed by either or both individuals, flushed and gushing about the connection and how they are “falling in love” with the other person. I am not saying that this is completely impossible but let’s break this down in terms of physical intimacy and science. When we are intimate with another person (and this can be holding, hugging, making out, having sex) our brain produces this chemical, oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone.” It literally is a chemical that makes us feel connected and bonded to another person. So, while it may feel like love, there is definitely the possibility that oxytocin is playing a huge part. 

In addition to the frequent and intense physical contact, there is also emotional intimacy that is established early on. This usually takes place during the very first “one-on-one” date when one of the prospective partners of the lead divulges very “personal” information in an attempt to be “vulnerable.” This information could be a childhood trauma, a loss of a loved one, a past failed relationship or marriage or one’s struggle with their mental health. And oftentimes the individual that is sharing the information is emotional and expresses how challenging it is to open up (rightfully so on a first date or with a person you have met 15 minutes ago). So, this sharing of information creates a sense of closeness because one feels seen and understood, even if it has not been reciprocated.

While self-disclosure and being vulnerable is so incredibly important within a relationship or partnership, this typically happens over time and when one feels safe to do. Brené Brown, a well-known researcher who has extensively studied and written about the impacts of vulnerability, insists that “you share with people who've earned the right to hear your story.” This makes complete sense, as vulnerability requires courage and sometimes poses some emotional risk. 

Basically, a strong and healthy relationship often takes time and falling in love can also take time. You don’t have to rush into anything.  Let things happen naturally. Consider the pace and your level of comfort, as well as check-in with yourself. Ask yourself, “is this love or lust?” Or “do I feel safe or comfortable sharing so much with this new person?”  If you are not ready or in a mental space to be vulnerable or still uncertain about your feelings towards a new partner, that is okay.

4. Do not get carried away by the fireworks.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette is known for its fireworks both literally and figuratively.  Dates are typically over-the-top and offer adventure and novelty. Oftentimes the couple on these dates will experience a surge of adrenaline after climbing a skyscraper, jet setting or breaking some sort of obscure world record. These exciting dates reflect our western culture and expectations for dating and relationships. We have been socialized to believe that love should be earth-shattering. It has been suggested that we will see fireworks when we fall in love and that there should be deep passion. We are also pleasure-seeking animals. We love feeling good and tend to seek out experiences that make us feel high. And we also try to avoid the lows and sometimes even the mundane every day life stuff because it is not as exciting. 

While relationships (at any stage) can be exciting and fun, in reality, we still have to do life. We still have to have difficult conversations and determine long-term compatibility.  We will still have to have disagreements and face conflict, grieve, go grocery shopping, parent and talk about finances. So, it is unrealistic to expect every day with your partner to be all rainbows and butterflies. Things will not always be fun and exciting, but that is healthy and normal in long-term, successful relationship.