‘The Bachelor’ Franchise Showcases What’s Glaringly Wrong With American Dating Culture

All is fair in love and war…except on “The Bachelor.” When it becomes less about commitment and love and more about competition and likes, it makes a girl wonder. The franchise’s dramatization of dating games could be showing how some toxic relationship themes are already socially accepted.

By Abigail Bargender7 min read
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First, The Bachelor. Then, The Bachelorette. Then Bachelor in Paradise. And now? Two bachelorettes. This franchise unsettles me more and more with each new season. Don’t get me wrong, the first season I watched was Emily Maynard, and it was magical. After that, I rooted for Sean and Catherine. But I could barely sit through Juan Pablo’s season and stopped watching during Andi’s. The TV show that got America wearing rose-colored glasses when it came to dating over 20 men or women at once in order to find Mr. or Mrs. Right now showcases what’s glaringly wrong with American dating culture when it comes to being a bachelor or bachelorette.

“The Right Reasons”

Ah, the common claim or accusation of the show. However, I don’t think many of the contestants know what “the right reasons" even are at this point. Of course, we have already met a few contestants, especially Madison Prewett, who was clear and honest about her values and how they would impact her relationship with Peter Weber, as well as his relationships with the other girls. But how many other contestants felt pressured to cave on their beliefs and values, especially since the producers literally run the show and the romance? Chemistry between two people can lead to people-pleasing and overlooking red flags for the sake of a crush. I’ve noticed it in my sisters and their dating relationships, and maybe you’ve seen it or experienced it too. This has been a real issue since before there were any books on dating, but what if the show is just aggravating a cultural problem by broadcasting some very wrong reasons to date someone?

Beyond personal values and beliefs either lacking or being ignored for the sake of a scripted romance, it’s debatable that some contestants aren’t there for the love but for the likes. As we’ve noted in the past, many contestants have gained a large following during and after their time on the show. The motive of gaining followers for self-promotion when applying to be a contestant could be a legitimate theory. Seeing couples on the franchise end up together when we know, guess, or find out that at least one of them agreed to the show for the publicity abstractly reflects our country’s dating culture of people focusing on the selfish and shallow in their relationships. Thinking too much about what other people think of their relationship rather than being in tune with their boyfriend or girlfriend on a selfless and sacrificial level is an issue which may be worsening because of the unhealthy relationships we’re given to visually consume. 

The Big Pool vs. the Little Pool

When a contestant agrees to be on the show, they also agree to be one of the 20-30 men or women vying for the love of the bachelorette or bachelor. But, why? Why does the main guy or gal need to start seeing over 20 different people at once? Messaging even a couple people at the same time can be difficult when it comes to keeping conversations straight, up to 30 would undoubtedly be even more so. Bachelor Jesse Palmer even forgot and gave a rose to the wrong girl because there were so many names and both girls’ names were similar.

In addition to that, very few bachelors and bachelorettes find the love they’re looking for – the success rate sits low at 11% for The Bachelor and 30% for The Bachelorette. Success for the bachelor or bachelorette isn’t the franchise’s endgame. They simply pick another contestant who never got chosen in their debut and give them their chance to do the choosing, but failure to find the right person is a bigger risk than it is a probability. They capitalize on the vulnerability of wanting to find love, mix it up by forcing the one man or woman to date a large number of contenders at the same time (which would confuse anyone’s heart and mind), and put in a splash of drama for the viewers. 

But it’s not just The Bachelor – it’s dating apps too. Everybody has this idea that “the one” is out there somewhere, each of us just has to find that person. Those lucky-in-love stories about meeting through these apps makes us think we can find it there too. Dating apps give us such a large selection that we probably have a better chance at not missing him, right? It’s okay to get to know a few people at once to see if he could be a good fit with us, but the bigger our dating pool is, the more fish there are going to be in it. It could actually make it more difficult to find “the one,” and it might not have the type of fish we’re looking for. It’s better to narrow down our selection in accordance with our standards and non-negotiables and create a smaller pool, rather than inflate it with people who are not a possible match – the ones who will waste our time and give us needless heartbreak. 

The Inauthenticity

Let’s be real. How many guys are going to be dressed in a classy suit to await us for our first meeting, especially at a mansion where we arrive by limousine? Almost every dinner in a formal gown and suit? Trip across the world just for one date? Once-in-a-lifetime activities to spark romance? It really would be amazing, but we have to be honest with ourselves: This is the ideal that the show is striving to achieve each new season. Maybe we as viewers have already seen the red flags (the mansion that gives playboy vibes, the unattainable number of trips for only so many dates, and the unrealistic wardrobe), but the show has a lot of us coming back for the overall spectacle. 

As soon as they sign up, the contestants are charged with bringing enough fancy clothing for at least 10 weeks (many of which never get to see the camera lights) and are flown to exotic places (if they progress through the season) that can give them and the main man or woman the euphoric feeling of falling in love because they’re with a special someone in enchanting locations. The show makes it easy to “fall in love” because they’ve manufactured a fairytale. However, as the failure rate shows, the contestants and their bachelor or bachelorette more often than not experience a crash landing back into the reality that love is difficult. It’s not rosy all the time (pun intended). It takes commitment, sacrifice, and compromise. 

The same goes for the guy who’s going all out to buy your love. I know receiving gifts from a man in addition to the initial feelings of attraction can be overwhelming and can feel awesome because a guy we’re interested in is attentive, but try to focus on what you’re feeling once safely at home after the date. Go over the date again, and don’t linger too long on the “sweet” details. Ask yourself some questions: Did anything he said or did strike you as odd at first? How do you feel about it now that you have the time and space to think? Is it a legitimate red flag? Chemistry overwhelm is mostly made up of fleeting emotions that can cloud judgment, so, ladies, please be watchful over your safety and your heart when it feels too good to be true.

The Drama

What would The Bachelor even do without the drama? It’s one of its selling points, the addictive additive that has viewers coming back season after season. Now, I understand that the show is entertainment, yet the drama of the “love” it shows is purely toxic. There are 20-plus contestants for more than one reason, and I’m convinced one of them is if there are more people involved in filming, then somebody is bound to be dramatic. The competition to “win” the bachelor or bachelorette causes male contestants to posture and the female contestants to get into catfights. Why else does a “group date” even exist if not specifically for the drama?

It’s my firm belief that the very last thing love needs is drama.

If a man feels threatened, he could go over the top, acting completely different than the type of person he actually is because of the need to look better than other guys. If a woman feels threatened, her feelings of insecurity could bring her to exact girl hate. All for a guy or gal who may not even be worth it in the end. As a result, viewers begin to guess who will “win” based on which contestants they and all of the other contestants “hate” or which of the individuals are their personal favorites.

I experienced the drama that got stirred up around my high school prom, the negative comments circled through my grade about the couples, and how it disappeared once it was all over. The Bachelor isn’t all that different from the insecurity of high schoolers in anticipation of prom night. Once the bachelor or bachelorette finally picks someone, they almost disappear and we don’t always find out if the couple actually made it unless we do some digging. The show gave us the dramatic climax and the “happy ending” of an engagement; it’s certainly not going to tell us if all the drama was for nothing – because love isn’t the point of the show. If it were, the true happy ending would be marriage, but the show isn’t set up for the long haul. It’s my firm belief that the very last thing love needs is drama. Drama is unnecessary and fabricated, but love needs and thrives on necessary and real emotions and circumstances. 

The Fantasy Suite

This topic automatically drudges up something from Juan Pablo’s season that maybe was one of the first things that brought about my dislike for The Bachelor. Andi Dorfman had a very understandable and relatable beef with him: She went through the fantasy suite and woke up the next morning realizing that she wasn’t in love with him but had just been very intimate with him. And when she came to him with her concerns, explaining that they had just gone through fantasy suite night and he barely knew her, he brushed her off: “It’s okay.”   

Later on, we learned he even told her that he had an overnight date with another contestant, and as he considered it, there were three “default” overnight dates. But why even tell her to begin with when she probably already knows? What if the fantasy suite just pressures the women involved to have sex? Because it’s a “default” date? Contestants on The Bachelor may feel obligated to try to “outdo” the other girls during their fantasy suite nights, and the bachelorette herself may feel pressured to be intimate with each guy to have a “test run” before making her decision on who she wants to have propose to her.

Isn’t this the same thing that hookup culture has taught us? That we’re way too picky if we’re waiting for a man who wants to wait with us? That we’ll never keep a guy around if we hold out for sex? Or that we really should take him out for a “test drive,” to, you know, just make sure? Ladies, you’re worth not giving in to the pressure to go physically further than you’re willing. You have a right to set and keep your standards. They give you every reason to strongly walk away from a relationship that is breaking your boundaries and never look back.

The Lack of Privacy

Of course, I fully understand that there would be no show if there weren’t cameras in the room, but the thing about relationships is that it’s usually about the girl and the guy. The “IRL” dating scene doesn’t have 20-plus other girls or guys watching and waiting for their turn the second a one-on-one moment ends, doesn’t have millions of people tuning in every week, and doesn’t have anyone but the couple know when the chemistry is starting to get a little steamy. The thing about the relationships on The Bachelor and its sister shows is each development in each relationship (and that’s the ones the producers have deemed drama-worthy and decided to keep for airing) is it’s all entirely open for the world to see…and judge. It's too public to get real. Relationships need privacy to be able to enter into the stages where vulnerability happens, the stages where it deepens from crush and chemistry to courageous and committed.

There have been the lucky few couples that have lasted, but with the development of two bachelorettes on this season of The Bachelorette, I don’t see the ending leaning in either's favor. These relationships that the show sets up for drama, insecurity, and publicity can’t grow roots, and so they remain superficial. Remember Juan Pablo? (Yes, I’m bringing him up again.) He told Andi that he had liked her since week two. Some alarm bells started going off and I felt like I remembered that week two, so I did some digging. Week two was when all of the girls modeled naked and held up a small sign for pictures in a charity shoot for Models & Mutts. Andi, as I would be, wasn’t comfortable with the idea. If I remember correctly, he ended up convincing her to do it “for the dogs” by posing naked as well. 

Relationships need privacy to be able to enter into the stages where vulnerability happens.

We know that she later realizes he never knew her. He had “liked” her since week two! Yet he didn’t seem totally bothered when she straight up told him she wasn’t in love with him. That’s the thing about fake love. It’s invested in the appearance. Superficial qualities usually include clothing, hair, body, etc. But what are the people on the show left to feel about the others beyond the superficial when the privacy essential to creating bonds is nonexistent? And what are we led to feel as viewers about what we’re watching when it's surface-level romance?

We live in a social media obsessed world where a person can often be considered rare and weird for not having an account on at least one social platform. A lot of people, influencer or not, plaster their romantic relationships on the web. It’s okay to be honest and genuine online, but what about when offline with our boyfriend or husband? What is keeping some of us from letting ourselves be vulnerable in our relationships and moving us to purposely give up our privacy to perfect strangers? According to Dr. Lisa Firestone, there are seven reasons people are afraid of love: vulnerability, confronting past hurt, challenge to identity, pain that comes with change, unrequited love, disconnection from family, and fear of loss. These reasons are scary. But the thing is, we have to face our fears if we want love. Being vulnerable is the only way to grow a relationship that’s rooted deeply in love and understanding instead of unsustainable chemistry.

Closing Thoughts

Whether we watch The Bachelor and its spin-offs purely for entertainment, we get a little too invested, or have been turned off by the franchise altogether, there are definite red flags that should not be ignored when and if we tune in to the current season of The Bachelorette or just our own romances. We should be looking for green flags of the actual right reasons, authenticity, genuine trust, shared values, healthy boundaries, and strength in vulnerability and avoiding all of the red flags perpetuated by the current American dating culture and The Bachelor franchise.

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