Why ‘The Bachelorette’ Is a Religious Experience, While ‘The Bachelor’ Is Mere Idolatry
As a new bride-to-be, I can’t look away from tonight’s episode of the reality TV series starring Andi Dorfman
If you want lots of people to fall in love with you all the time, or if you just want to get your way in general, be like Andi Dorfman, the 10th and current Bachelorette. Be charming. Be nice to people. It is extremely difficult to quell the urge to be nasty, which is fun for a whole set of perverse reasons and includes a whole set of perverse incentives, but try it. I promise it works.
Andi is classic Jewess beautiful, like Julianna Margulies: She has long dark hair and big dark eyes and the kind of extremely expressive face that lights up a room whether she is laughing or crying—she is always high-pitched, so even her bad moods are charismatic. She packs enough vavavavoom to rob a small-town savings & loan and at the very least has the most versatile breasts since Jane Russell reinvented the wheel in The Outlaw. I don’t know why she became an assistant district attorney when she so obviously belongs on television. It seems ridiculous to me that a day will come—soon, actually—when Andi will not be on ABC every Monday night for two hours at a time. What a waste for her to do something else. She wears at least a couple of elaborately sequined strapless numbers on every episode of The Bachelorette, as if she were heading down the red carpet to collect an Oscar or going to opening night at the Met 50 years ago, and I cannot imagine Andi Dorfman giving that up. Surely she will lounge in her apartment in Atlanta, after a day in court putting pickpockets in jail, in ball gowns. Surely.
But what do I know? Except for sitting through the first season of Survivor like everyone else, and finding myself unable to resist Flavor Flav’s mostly sickening quest for true dirty love on MTV some years ago, I am not familiar with reality TV. I watched the Louds come undone on PBS long ago, and that was enough—I was there. I have never seen any real housewife on either coast or in Atlanta have a hissy fit or catfight with another real housewife, and I want to keep it that way. But when I was asked to recap the 18th season of The Bachelor this year, it didn’t feel like a terrible idea. Turns out it is brilliant viewing. Between The Bachelorette and other spinoffs like Bachelor Pad and Bachelor in Paradise, I cannot imagine this ever ends. (Bachelor in Hell would be heavenly.) These are shows about dating and getting married, surely the most preoccupying human endeavor even for people who are already married—yes, they consider what might happen next, if ever—so, how can The Bachelor lose? If you refuse to think about marriage, you are just a person refusing to think about marriage. There’s your elephant: Watch it wreck your studio apartment while you microwave last night’s lo mein.
Of the 27 complete seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette combined, five of the couples have endured, which is a 22 percent success rate. Surely that compares favorably with OkCupid or The Millionaire Matchmaker. Surely it is way better than Tinder or Hinge. And if you think the 78 percent failure rate is something about TV, you are blaming Cassandra. Human beings are full of design errors. Consider love: We are never more excited about our marriage prospects than at 23, when everyone looks hot and hopeful, and every one-night-stand is forever. We could get married several times a day at age 24 or 25 or 26, and it would never be a mistake, not even the fifth time. Whatever happens at 3:15 stays at 3:15. Of course, by the time we are done with being this thrilled by romance and done with the whole princess cake fantasy, we are 42 and finally sensible enough to wisely find the right person to marry, but who cares anyway? Soon we will be dead. The Bachelor and its offspring are devoted to the pursuit of marriage among the irrationally exuberant, because to get married at all you have to be at least a little irrationally exuberant. The divorce rate is low considering our stunning stupidity. Andi is rationally exuberant: As a Jewish lawyer, she has to be.
I assumed The Bachelorette made more sense than The Bachelor, because women enjoy choosing among suitors, whereas men are happy with the whole crazy harem; but I did not know quite how right I was. A man dating 20 women is tired of all the psychological drama and would much prefer any other arrangement, ranging from fucking a different stranger every night to the irenic tedium of monogamy. Women are so invested in finding the most perfect man—perfect can be modified by a woman searching for the perfect man—and they are so steeped in the granular particulars of what they want that they are so willing to read relationship guides and self-improvement manuals as part of this quest, and their patience with the process is itself a process that hardly matters except as it pleases a belief system that knows no bounds. Which is why The Bachelorette is a religious experience, while The Bachelor is mere idolatry.
Somewhere in the history of love, a rumor became a certainty and then a dead certainty that if a woman wanted to win a man—or many—she had to play hard to get or at least be a pain in the ass. I don’t know whom this strategy works for. If you have to give someone a hard time in any circumstance—professional or personal—to get your way, it probably is not worth the trouble. If it works at all, it won’t for long. The best way to get anything is to ask for it directly, and the best way to make someone say yes is to be irresistible. That is the whole trick to life. If you are a person who is a pleasure, people will fall in love with you. Playing hard to get will get you nowhere. If you don’t understand this, watch this season of The Bachelorette.
They started in Los Angeles, but Andi and her bachelors have been to Venice and Brussels and even Connecticut on their pilgrimage. The entire time, Andi has been the best date ever. She has charm galore, which means nothing more than the right words at the right time. When there were 24 men, all were convinced Andi was in love with them, and now that there are two left, they are both sold. Yes, they are both ridiculously sold. The end will be a dual reminiscent of Burr and Hamilton, I am sure. There will be blood. OK: At the very least, there will be sweat and tears. Andi makes men want to fight over her. She enters the room with a smile. She asks questions. She listens. She chats and laughs. She is excited about going to the Santa Anita racetrack, and she is into a bicycle ride on the Santa Barbara boardwalk. She finds fun in dumb stuff, like sand castles. When a date is going badly, she says something cheerful and suggests they go to a pub for a pint of ale. She likes to neck on the sidewalk—in sunshine and moonlight. Andi is easy.
Girls, do me a favor, do feminism a favor, and do yourselves a favor: Try being great fun to be around. It is so much better.
There is no particular reason that anything demonstrated by the interactions on The Bachelorette can’t be learned by reading a great novel or from watching scripted television. Mad Men is surely the best series ever, and there is no lesson in charm that has not been mastered by Don Draper. But the producers of The Bachelor and its whole array are very good at casting ordinary people—truly so, because they can find the most mesmerizing registered nurse in Cleveland—who do indeed return to their lives after the run but are somehow riveting in this context. If Andi Dorfman is like the previous stars of The Bachelorette, she is going back to the DA’s office. Which is only to say: This could happen to you. It’s possible. Of course, the bizarre thing about The Bachelorette is the way situations that are weird enough are inadvertently weirder: In Hartford, Conn., which must be home to more actuaries than anywhere else in the world, Andi and her date rappelled down a skyscraper during a snowstorm, engaging in dangerous behavior in the precise place where risk is ascertained for the entire population.
But reality TV is both strange and emblematic, like everything else. I have sat through episodes of these shows and remembered years of dating, years of lounging and lingering over drinks and dinner. And worse, much worse. When I was Andi Dorfman’s age, my idea of an excellent date was to meet some guy who I knew was a bad idea but I was sure I was going to marry and invite him to my house to do dope with me. This was great fun until it was not, usually by sometime the following afternoon. And so my twenties came and went like that. My thirties were spent getting over it all. I quite like my forties. And now I am getting married, unexpectedly, and I am 20 years older than Andi. I am so glad that I can see The Bachelorette, because I know when Andi watches the episodes again when she is 46, she won’t recognize herself at all.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Tablet Original Fiction: a scientist chases a meteorite, and finds a message from God