Now that The Bachelor is over and a gaping hole has been left in our Mondays, the time for reflection is upon us. And what if, instead of reminding ourselves that this reality show is a staged circus, we chose to look back on this season as an unexpected source for strength and inspiration?
Stay with me.
It starts with Ben. Though some consider him spineless and bland (Vulture recap queen Ali Brothwell refers to him as "Oatmeal"), the popular opinion is that he's one of the classiest, kindest men to ever be on the show. As Chris Harrison said, Ben's face is "going on Bachelor Mount Rushmore."
Because Ben is so wholesome, it makes sense that this season was somewhat boring. His women were kind, caring, and "fun" in its most PG, air-quotable sense. They coasted uncontroversially through uncontroversial dates; smiling and being carried threshold into the sunset.
But the season got interesting during the last five minutes of every episode: the scene right after a girl went home. Sure, tearful limo monologues are a Bachelor staple, but this season's women weren't just being rejected by anyone -- they were being rejected by Ben, a Chris Harrison-accredited perfect guy.
It's common to play the blame game during breakups, and since Ben was portrayed as flawless, my cynical self expected his suitors would be more inclined than ever to use their rejection like a mirror. That's how I reflect on my failed relationships, after all -- by assuming I shouldn't have sent that text, or said that thing, or eaten food in front of him. The Bachelor women often do the same thing: They wonder where they went wrong, what they should have done differently.
But instead of following tradition, Ben's women directed most of their hate mail toward the universe. Take Olivia, who was rejected and said, "I thought he wanted everything that I am, but I guess I was wrong." The difference between that and "This is all my fault" was subtle, but on a close reading, you can see that Olivia was actually being rational. She spoke with a clear head, recognizing that the only mistake she made was misreading the situation.
Every time someone ghosts me, my friends urge me to adopt Olivia's perspective.
"He wasn't the right person for you," they say.
"Because I'm ugly and stupid," I say.
"No," they say.
"Yes," I say.
It's often easier to see things as your fault than to wait for the right thing to show up; to accept that maybe this was what the world had in store for you. But this is why I'm choosing to see The Bachelor as aspirational: because I'm not ugly or stupid (#humblebrag), and I need someone other than my friends to tell me that. Rejection doesn't have to be a pity party -- it can actually bring positive change, inspiring you to get more in touch with the person you really are and what makes sense for her.
The women of Ben's season are slowly but surely leaving self-deprication in the dust. Jubilee amended her earlier statement, saying, "I'm not unlovable; I'm just hard to love." Amanda constantly reminded us that she and her children were priority number one. Lace left the show to find herself. Even Ben reinforced that breakups are often beyond the couple's control, saying, "it doesn't make you any less of a person and it doesn't make me any less of a person." Yes, he always sounded like a high school guidance counselor when he "communicated," but alas, he was usually right.
If you squint hard enough, looking past the fireworks and countless times we were told that "Jamaica is a great place to fall in love," The Bachelor reinforces a message every hopeless romantic needs on repeat: When something doesn't work out, it doesn't mean you did anything wrong. This season's women seemed particularly ready to see this truth: Ben was great and all, but they just weren't what each other needed. A relationship simply wasn't a good fit.
I say "relationship" and not "joke of a relationship" because -- and perhaps this theory deserves its own blog post -- I don't think the relationships on The Bachelor are a sham. Or rather, the marriage part is a sham, but the feelings are real, at least partially. Who among us has not pictured her future with someone she hardly knows? Personally, I've considered five-year plans with Tinder guys before even finding out if they've liked me back. Romantic love is often initially less about the other person and more about our own imaginations.
It's possible that I just gravitate toward empowering quotes anywhere I can find them, whether on Pinterest or in a limo ride home. It's also possible that if I had my life together and didn't need schadenfreude, I'd see The Bachelor as a spectacle that sets feminism back 40 years. But as life stands, I need the artificial hope this show dangles in front of me, and thus am willing to ignore that Ben keeps saying the phrase "my perfect wife," or that Chris Harrison told Jubilee not to worry because a guy "as terrific as Ben" had validated her. I'm willing to see Caila's departure not as eerily Stepford (She said "wife" so many times!), but as a celebration of the desire to love. Caila, like so many of us romantics, was just confused at where her love energy should've been directed. I've felt this way before, after a third date.
Maybe we don't watch reality TV to feel better about ourselves in a comparative, separatist sense. Maybe we watch because we actually, legitimately, see ourselves in the contestants, and in order to see them (us) triumph, we have to see them (ourselves) fall.
The Bachelor may chronicle rejection, but it's still full of moments that give us hope. And until we ourselves get famous for no reason, hope is all we have.