As we count down to the final episode of The Bachelorette, the show’s rigid formula is once again getting in the way of forming real relationships—and this isn’t the first time.
Last week before letting Matt go, Rachel told him that in the real world—i.e., with more time—they might have had a chance. This week, it’s Peter who brings it up. Like many of the guys, he’s certain that he wants to be with Rachel. But He’s less sure that he’ll be able to commit to proposing. For her part, Rachel is positive that at the end of the show she wants a proposal and a fiancé.
What an odd way to think of relationships.
With the finale mere weeks away, the structure of the show is starting to weigh more heavily on Rachel’s search for love. It feels formulaic, instead of natural. Last week, the pressure of the family visits nearly nearly torpedoed Dean’s and Eric’s dates. This week, the looming “Love question” seems like it’s yet another box Rachel’s got to check off her list in evaluating the last remaining candidates’ capacity for commitment. Each guy confessed their love in their own way: Eric was straightforward about it, if over-eager; Bryan felt compelled, if almost too rehearsed; and Dean dropped the L-word during the throes of his parental turmoil. Peter, however, didn’t say it at all.
On Peter’s Hometown, he pulled his friends aside to talk to them about his anxiety over the fast pace of the show—eight episodes from first sight to true love seemed too much for the guy (#same). As the The New York Times’ Amanda Hess points out, it is also a solid strategy to become the next runner-up and potentially the next Bachelor. After all, that’s basically how Rachel ended up here.
But do people actually say “I love you” on the same schedule?
Perhaps it is only becoming apparent to me now, but the show has a checklist approach to love (and marriage). I hear it most when Eric says that Rachel embodies everything that he wants. What does that have to do with who she is? In it, you hear the boxes that she ticks, not the qualities that he admires. His passion is founded on the bullet-point version of Rachel, and not, it would seem, on the poetry and prose that make her, her.
I also hear it in Rachel. What she is looking for in a husband—and in a future—isn’t being emphasized as much as the fact that she must find a future husband at the end. I don’t know if she wants kids, or if she wants someone who can be a stay-at-home dad, or if she’s prepared to move (or isn’t), or if she can handle the families she just met. The ring is the priority; the marriage is an afterthought.
As a newcomer to the series, it’s hard to understand what we’re being shown. Sure, I can see that Bryan is too slick, but how he fulfills Rachel’s requirements hasn’t really become clear. And yeah, Dean’s youth and reaction to his dad could be seen as a red flag, but as a viewer, I didn’t get to find out if Rachel felt that way too.
Instead we’ve watched the men go through a cycle of love that is set up to filter them out on a predictable weekly schedule. Clearly, the checklist has worked for the The Bachelorette‘s 13 seasons, but the high ratings seem to stop after the show ends. Very few reality-TV couples actually make it in the real world.
Rachel may get proposed to on television, but if it all goes downhill afterwards, that’ll happen without cameras and without the checklist.