'The Bachelor': train-wreck TV
With the new season of "The Bachelor" under way, I was roped into watching an episode with my 16-year-old daughter, Tori.
For the entire two hours I kept my eyes riveted on the show. And about eight times I looked at her and said, "Never, ever do this!"
Yes, I admit that Sean ("The Bachelor") is attractive. He actually seems like a really nice guy. But the thought of seeing one of my daughters competing along with a couple dozen other young women for a fellow is just ... horrifying.
It's not just the cattiness that comes out as they tear each other down. (You can just see some of these girls want to scratch each other's eyes out.) It's watching them get sexually aggressive and so degrade themselves by chasing this fellow. They are ready to make out with him knowing that on his next date he'll be doing the same with someone else.
I know, I know: Watching the show was a little like watching a train wreck. It is sort of repulsive and gripping all at the same time.
The wildly popular show is full of all sorts of gauzy, romantic overtures. Though, at the same time, this particular installment had some bizarre ones, including a woman on a date with Sean jumping off a building with him. Another woman, having a prank played on her, thought that she had destroyed a piece of art costing $1.5 million. That was weird.
But what is really strange is that despite all the wine, candles and extravagant dates, the endgame is that these couplings, after the "winner" has clawed her way to the top, almost never work out. In fact, after 24 seasons of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," there have been lots of engagements followed by lots of breakups. But after all those seasons, there have been a grand total of two marriages.
So why do women get so pulled into this franchise even as they are faced with the truth that these "matchups" almost never work? (The audiences for "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" are overwhelmingly female.) Because women love to over-romanticize relationships, even when they know that the romance, as fun as it is, doesn't typically provide long-term relationship power.
What's so ironic is that one key relationship-health predictor is almost entirely absent from "The Bachelor": That when a man is interested in a woman, he will pursue her.
Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, explained to me that throughout history, because only a woman can get pregnant, finding a man who would openly pursue her gave her an added sense of security that would prove supportive throughout the relationship and as children came along.
To that end, "The Bachelorette" is a little more traditional, as the woman is the one pursued by a couple dozen men. But, frankly, I find that game, with that many guys over a long period of time, fairly emasculating, which is probably why that audience is also so dominated by women.
So when it comes to "The Bachelor," it seems that women hold onto what doesn't work -- gauzy "romantic pornography," I call it. At the same time, they, too, often don't hold out for one key relationship predictor that is shown to work over the long term: a man pursuing a woman in a real-life context.
I don't know if I will continue watching "The Bachelor" with Tori. She claims to know it's all nonsense, but she wants to watch it anyway.
I do know I will continue saying, "Never, ever do this!"
·Betsy Hart is a Scripps Howard News Service columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.