Monday evenings in my house are sacred. My roommate and I dash home from work to make dinner, change into fuzzy pajamas, light a candle, pour a glass of something sweet and sparkling, and curl up on our couch.
“Do not start without me! I repeat: do NOT start without me!” my roommate yells from the kitchen as I turn on the TV. Call us millennials, basic white girls, reality TV addicts, or all of the above, but you won’t keep us from our hallowed tradition: a weekly viewing of “The Bachelorette.”
We’ve been through it all this season: Lee and Kenny’s cringe-worthy display of testosterone in the woods, a spelling bee for 20-something men that was every bit as awkward as it sounds, some good old-fashioned Viking shield-pounding, and, yes, heartbreak when Dean didn’t receive a rose on his impeccably tailored suit.
On its surface, the show appears to be reality TV at its finest. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch 30 gorgeous hunks spar with each other in overly dramatized displays of manliness to win the heart of a beautiful girl? Dig further, however, and it’s clear that this show exposes the natural heart of the human condition in love, and it’s a selfish, dark place to be.
We’re All Self-Absorbed Now
It’s not entirely Rachel’s fault. As she dabs at one expertly placed false eyelash and tells Peter that she needs him to propose on command for her to pick him, it’s important to remember that 98 percent of this drama is for the camera. But this trend of my desires, my needs, my expectations, and my goals being first in a relationship is one that extends far beyond the final rose.
Don’t like a guy? Swipe left. Don’t feel like being married anymore? Get a divorce. Don’t want to make any kind of commitment? Live as friends with benefits indefinitely. Society tells you to be happy no matter the cost, and it’s not a pretty sight.
At the risk of appearing to romanticize “the good ol’ days,” I am reminded of a letter written by a humble private during the U.S. Civil War, a man by the name of Sullivan Ballou. On the eve of Gettysburg, Ballou penned a letter to his wife, hoping to encourage her before he faced battle:
“Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field … never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness.”
This is not to suggest that everyone who lived before the 1900s somehow had a corner on the selfless love market, as some may imply. Rather, it indicates the necessity of viewing love not as a means to an end, but as a lifelong melding of two intertwined lives that cannot be broken, even in the face of death.
That’s Why ‘The Bachelorette’ Is Upside-Down
With that in mind, Rachel has it all wrong. It’s not about the handsome J. Crew models, the jaw-dropping dates in the nether regions of the European countryside, or even the massive ring in the finale. Love goes far beyond the cameras, the Instagram posts, and the massive fanfare, and is instead the quiet understanding of mutual affection that will last for eternity. Unfortunately, in a world obsessed with personal gain, that notion seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs.
So what do we do? Do we throw up our hands, loudly exclaim that “love is dead,” buy a cat, and call it quits? Not a chance. We roll up our sleeves and get down to business, showing those in our lives that we care enough about them to change our plans, wash the stack of dirty dishes in the sink, take them out to dinner after work, and send them an encouraging text to start the day. In fact, such actions go far beyond one-on-one time with a significant other, because it is our selfless love for our friends and family that proves how much we care.
All that to say, I haven’t stopped watching Rachel and her boyfriend of the day romp through the Swiss Alps, because as I scrub the chocolate stain out of my pajama top it’s fun to daydream about adding another overseas adventure to my bucket list. Plus, I now have a vested interest in knowing which guy gets down on one knee at the end.
But I’ve also learned a lot this season; namely, that looks, fame, and fortune do not constitute happiness, and instead are a smokescreen that disguises the humble love of the mundane and the everyday. Once the cameras go away, the lights dim, and restless fans move on to watch “Bachelor In Paradise,” Rachel and her new fiancée will meet the uphill climb of choosing each other each and every day, even in the midst of overflowing toilets, unwashed laundry, and forgotten anniversaries.
Yet that is the love of the beautiful ordinary, and that is a love I am grateful to cherish.