For the past month, my Instagram Stories, Twitter, and Facebook feed have been flooded with one thing. Not opinions about the Democratic primary. Not reposted TikToks from people who look like they’re 14 years old. No — the people I follow on social media have been completely captivated with Love Is Blind, a series that turns marriage into a prize.
I haven’t even seen an episode of the show, but I know exactly what it’s about. I could also tell you without question that some people think Jessica speaks with a baby voice that’s reminiscent of Abby "Sexy Baby" Flynn from 30 Rock. I know that people were rooting for Cameron and Lauren — some even openly wept on their Instagram Stories during the televised nuptials. The people in my life who marathon Love Is Blind seem to be the same people who obsess over The Bachelor and The Bachelorette — two other shows I refuse to watch.
Why? Because I think it’s absolutely freakin’ crazy that we’re still watching shows where the “prize” at the finale is an engagement ring and a wedding. It’s 2020. What are we doing?
I used to actually be a fan of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. The first show premiered when I was 12 years old, and I remember watching the show with my mother. I loved Trista Sutter (then Trista Rehn), the first star of The Bachelorette, and remember being so excited when she and Ryan got married. But the show was incredibly different back then. Engagement wasn’t the norm. In fact, of the first 10 seasons of The Bachelor, only four ended in engagements. Now, the person with the ring at the end is dubbed the “winner,” once again driving home the idea that marriage is a prize to be won.
I was also a tween, and convinced that I’d meet a man in my early twenties when I was working at a magazine in New York and I’d be married by 24, just like every early ’00s rom-com had taught me. The appeal made sense.
As I got older, I started to realize that the whole thing just made me feel icky. For one, it started to dawn on me that The Bachelor just perpetuated the idea that the thing keeping women from finding true love was other women. The show literally pitted women against each other, putting them in competition for the man.
The challenge wasn’t self-improvement, or finding satisfaction in independence, or working hard at your career in order to be fulfilled. No — the challenge was proving to one dude (who was kissing and having sex with multiple women) that they're better than all the other ladies in his life.
But the marriage thing is what has really stuck out to me lately, especially as I’ve crashed through 30 and am still unwed. The number of people tuning into these shows is staggering. This season’s premiere of The Bachelor garnered 6.1 million viewers in the 18-49 demo, a number that swelled to 7.5 million after three days of delayed viewings on digital platforms.
So why are all of these people tuning in to see if two strangers swap rings? Well, it’s all about the fantasy, according to Dr. Lara Friedrich, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York.
“These shows tend to take the reality out of dating and relationships,” she explains. “Contestants are isolated. They’re in paradise-like locales. And the real world stressors that typically affect a relationship aren’t present.” It’s true. The only “issues” on the shows tend to be cooked-up, hyper-dramatized situations. Contestants aren’t exactly arguing over how they spend their money, or where they’re going to spend Christmas this year.
And for those of us who date in the real world — with the ghosting, and the sometimes petty arguments, and the awkwardness — that can be appealing.
It’s the escapism, though, that Dr. Fredrich believes is the reason so many contestants wind up breaking up after the cameras stop rolling. On The Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Becca Kufrin, for example, split almost immediately after his season wrapped. (He went on to marry his runner-up, Lauren Burnham.) Bachelor in Paradise couples, like Chris Bukowski and Katie Morton or Demi Burnett and Kristian Haggerty, ended their relationships within weeks of the finale. On Love Is Blind, Carlton Morton and Diamond Jack's engagement quickly fell apart when they were tested by a difficult conversation; several other couples made it to the altar but couldn't quite say "I do."
“The real world comes in, and that’s when they’re tested,” she says. “Since their relationship has kind of been built on a fantasy, it’s hard to rebound.”
But even if viewers are aware of the fact that this isn’t real life, Dr. Fredrich believes that there’s a big problem with making marriage the prize at the end of the show. “It focuses you on the end goal instead of the process of getting to know someone,” she says. “Marriage isn’t actually the finale in a relationship. It tends to be when things really get started.”
Healthy relationships are built on understanding and trust — not adrenaline and drama. It’s so important to live in the moment and grow your relationship naturally and organically, getting to know your partner over time. This race to the finish line mentality obscures that, and doesn’t exactly set you up for what life will be like once you’re married.
The other reason I can’t stand marriage as an end goal? It’s so retro! We’re marrying later and less often these days, so why do we still hang our entertainment on these archaic systems? (The median age for first marriage was 28 for women and nearly 30 for men in 2019, compared to 25 and 27 in 2002 — the year The Bachelor premiered — and 20 and 22 in 1950.)
If I had the power to create my own show, here’s what it would look like: One person would date 20 people over the course of two months, eliminating them week by week. There’d be more one-on-one dates, so people could really get to know one another. At the end of the two weeks, the show's lead would pick one person to continue dating exclusively — no gaudy Neil Lane diamond included.
The sad thing is, that series would probably never get picked up. It’s too close to real life, and who wants to binge watch real life on a Sunday on Netflix when you’re a little hungover? Marriage as a prize is escapism, and that sells. But if you ask me, today’s reality TV shows are in desperate need of a reality check.