Recently, I’ve joined those Americans who tune in every Monday evening to watch ABC’s hit series, The Bachelorette.
This happened against my better judgment. I’ve always associated the show with all things shallow and vapid, but a friend whom I love suggested we watch it together. And so, a few weeks ago, I sat down to watch my very first episode.
At least, thanks to my training as an English major, I could appreciate the pacing of the show. “Here is JoJo, the bachelorette,” the first few establishing shots said. “Here she is looking longingly out of a window looking for love. Here she is walking down a street in high heels as the sun sets. Doesn’t this girl just need to be married?”
Enter stage left: her choir.
I have to admit that it isn’t the blatant sexism of the show that irks me—I expected that. Instead, it’s the contestants. I look at this cast of men with their gelled hair and perfect smiles and sweet little kisses, and think what a game they are playing. Every honest kiss, every line spoken in confidence to the camera, it’s all a part of the competition.
But my irksome thought is this: all of them are better at playing the game than I would be.
You see, my family rarely talked about romance. Love and sex were kept to the sidelines, and vain worries over appearance raised an eyebrow. Since my other avenues were closed, I found most of my information about love in books, especially anything written by the Bronte sisters. There was something about the way Rochester spoke to Jane in Jane Eyre—it was like their souls touched.
So feeling wise and informed, I walked into high school eager for love.
And immediately wanted to walk back out again.
At least at first glance, high school was all sex and short skirts and people making out in the hallways. But love wasn’t supposed to be like this. Where were the passionate monologues? The poetry? The hearts so close that they touched? And why did it seem that the girls who cared more about their hair and makeup than any of those other things, were the ones going on dates?
It felt so inauthentic, and I resented my peers for it. But after a while, as I began to understand how high school really worked, I found myself wanting to be something like them.
I started copying the way the pretty girls stood in class, and tried to mimic how they played with their hair as they talked. Of course, everyone does this imitation act to some degree—we all want to be like someone else, especially those we consider above us. I don’t think the error was there. Nor do I think that, if you will, learning how to flirt was a mistake either.
The mistake was in believing that I wanted to be just like them.
And this, dear reader, is why I think we Americans love to watch The Bachelorette. We love to look at those who have it all: the dresses, the smiles, the confidence and personality, and realize that in comparison, what we have is so much more. No one really seems happy in that isolated mansion. Contestants hold champagne glasses idly, with seemingly nothing more to worry about than their hair, and the state of their love life with JoJo. (I wonder now, too, what it was really like to be one of the girls I envied so in high school. I called them inauthentic, once. But can’t inauthenticity also be a way of coping?)
So sure, I’ll never be on The Bachelorette, and I never really learned the language of flirting. I moved through high school feeling, like most every teenager, awkward and at odds with those around me. But I kept reading, and eventually I found someone who loved reading too. He’s making his way through Jane Eyre right now, and every once in awhile I get to lean over and whisper one of my favorite lines, ““All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you.”
Which is better than all the roses you could give.