Sitting under a beautiful, twinkly-lit tree, Rachel Lindsay and Dean Unglert finally had their first 1-on-1 date in last night’s episode of The Bachelorette—and to my surprise, I watched my own dating struggles play out on screen.
No, I am not a stunningly beautiful and witty attorney from Texas, nor do I tend to attract Jesse McCartney lookalikes. But, watching this date was like reliving every first date I’ve been on, and it wasn’t Rachel that I related to.
Rachel and Dean have had chemistry from the start, but this was their first official date where it was just the two of them (and an entire camera crew). In an effort to get to know each other beyond Dean’s endearing fear of heights and Rachel’s inability to pronounce the word “blimp” as a child, at dinner—which, of course, neither of them end up eating—the two launched into the typical first-date small talk.
Living a love life that is mostly driven by online dating, the first date interview is familiar territory for me. “Where are you from?” “Where did you grow up?” “What did you study in school?” “Do you have siblings?” are all classic q’s on—as Bachelor Nation would say—”my quest to find love.” But there is one question that I typically try and avoid.
When Rachel innocently asked Dean about his family, the 26-year-old startup recruiter immediately cast his eyes down and began to tell his story. And it was a story you could tell was somewhat rehearsed—not for the cameras, but because it’s one he’s had to learn how to tell over the years.
In the span of a few minutes, Dean broke the hearts that he had already successfully stolen earlier that evening by telling Rachel about how his mother battled breast cancer throughout his childhood and passed away when he was 15. In a season and a franchise that is increasingly dramatic and outrageous, this was a moment of true reality on television—and it is my reality as well.
I never thought my story was special. Death is the only thing we can be certain of and everyone is afflicted by it. I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life glossing over my emotions and never really opening up about how it’s affected me because I thought it was something I should just deal with on my own. I have so much love and respect for Rachel (and @bacheloretteabc) for allowing me to share my story and, most importantly, honor my mother, Debbie. That was an incredibly emotional night with A LOT more tears shed off camera. I only hope this helps others who are dealing with something similar to not make the same mistake I did. Every story is special. Opening up about it has only strengthened my relationships with friends & family
My mother died when I was 25 and like Dean, I had to watch her go through good years and bad years, multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, hope and defeat. Nothing can prepare you for losing a loved one like that, but one thing that I didn’t even see coming was how that loss would impact my dating life. Every time I meet a new potential suitor from OKCupid, Bumble, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel or whatever other flavour-of-the-month app I’m using, I have to figure out how to navigate the conversation so that I don’t end up having to explain my mum’s death to a complete stranger. This means making sure to say “my parents’ house” instead of “my dad’s house” and trying to talk about my mum in the present tense instead of the past. It’s a delicate dance, but I’ve learned that the alternative (i.e. casually crying a bit and telling a complete stranger about how I lost my mum, quit my job and then essentially rebuilt my life from scratch) is just a bit too much for a first date. In fact, it’s often too much for a second or third date.
Having said that, I have yet to figure out when is the right time to reveal the baggage I’m carrying. Everyone’s got something—case in point: the ridiculous number of contestants with heartbreaking backstories this season—but figuring out when to share that part of you, and how, isn’t easy even when there aren’t producers around to egg you on.
I don’t know, and maybe I don’t think I want to know, how The Bachelorette producers seem to convince contestants to unpack their most personal baggage on these dates. We’ve seen it before (sending so much love to Ben Z!) and we’ll see it again, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
With all that said, Dean surpassed his 26 years with the maturity he showed sharing such a tough story, one that was clearly still fresh for him, and Rachel’s empathetic response showed not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of compassion without making Dean feel more uncomfortable than he already was.
So thank you Dean. I don’t think you’ll win The Bachelorette, but you’ve definitely won my heart—and my appreciation.