I have a confession to make: I’m a card-carrying member of Bachelor Nation. And, no, not ironically—getting together with my girlfriend and our one token straight white male friend every Monday evening is the highlight of my week. When people learn this about me, they’re often shocked—after all, I’m a radical queer feminist, often prone to uttering comments like “I hate men” and “Are straight people okay?” But here’s the thing: The Bachelor isn’t just a guilty-pleasure time suck; as a matter of fact, I consider it an educational program.
My girlfriend once dubbed The Bachelor “Heterosexual Animal Planet”, and to this day I have not been able to come up with a better way to describe it. This franchise has taught me more about heterosexuality than I ever learned in 20 years of considering myself to be straight. Don’t believe me? The Bachelor checks all the hallowed boxes of the heteronormative-courtship checklist:
The often-contrived meet-cute, here presented as the parade of limo arrivals. Ah, the “meet-cute”: that hallmark of every romantic comedy, the most cherished part of your “relationship story”. Are meet-cutes exclusive to heterosexuality? Of course not—but most queer couples’ meet-cutes are either “We were friends for five years and then we slept together” or “We met online,” so.
The “group hang”, as approximated by the group dates. As far as I can understand them, group hangs largely seem to serve one purpose: they provide a low-pressure venue to “test out” a potential date. For men, that seems to largely entail testing a woman’s ability to “be chill” in a social setting; for women, that seems to involve the ability to safely evaluate whether a man is safe to date or in fact insane. For people of either gender—nonbinary people, of course, don’t exist in heterosexuality—a “group hang” at once lets you gauge your interest in someone and presents an opportunity to make a low-pressure move without totally humiliating yourself.
The feint at intimacy offered by the one-on-one dates. I mean, queer women are queens of the what-are-we, but that’s mainly because every single queer person is having an emotional affair with everyone they’ve ever met. (We call that “friendship”.) To this day, I am continuously astounded by how far along straight people can get into pretty much every aspect of a committed relationship—physical and emotional intimacy, planning for the future, etcetera—without “putting a label on it”. As in real life, one-on-one dates allow Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants the opportunity to play at being “a thing” while pretending that their intended isn’t totally canoodling with, like, ten other people.
The social intrigue of the house dynamics. Gossip warfare. Respect (or lack thereof) for each other’s “time” with the star. The formation of factions and alliances. Sometimes I need to double-check the TiVo to make sure I’m not actually watching an experimental modern-dress series about the 18th-century French royal court. I used to think this was a side effect of the reality-competition structure, but I’ve hung out with the occasional straight person since I started watching this franchise, and I’ve been shocked to find out that y’all do this stuff in real life too: rumormongering, intimidating crushes’ potential significant others, and so on. Straight people are wild.
The enshrinement of family approval that takes place on hometowns. A lot of queer people are estranged their families; still others have relationships with their families only because they don’t tell their loved ones anything about their personal lives. Suffice it to say that predicating the future of your relationship on your family’s opinion of your partner isn’t exactly a cornerstone of queer culture. And no matter how much a female contestant’s relationship with her mom or siblings is emphasized, the most important part of hometowns always has to do with the Bachelor’s ability (or failure) to get her father’s approval, which I 100% didn’t realize was a thing people still did until I started watching this show.
The opportunity to have sex before marriage the “right” way, as facilitated by the overnights. We know how this goes: if you have sex too early on the show, you’re a slut or “there for the wrong reasons”—even if it’s your damn season! (Oh, Kaitlyn Bristowe, ABC did you so dirty.) I’m not saying all queer women are libertines, but—given that marriage wasn’t even on the table for most of us until a couple years ago—I think we’re way less likely to start planning a future with someone we haven’t even seen naked yet. In Bachelor-land, by the time you do the nasty with a contestant, you’re already halfway to the altar.
The fairytale ending promised by the final proposal. I cannot imagine getting engaged to someone I haven’t even been in a committed relationship with, let alone someone I’ve only known for three weeks. And this is championed by the contestants as the pinnacle of romance! I don’t know about you, but I’d never let someone I’ve only known for three weeks pick out a ring I’m supposed to wear for the rest of my life.
Whether they love or hate The Bachelor, the straight people I know scramble to distance themselves from it, emphasizing that “that’s not how dating really works” or “nobody thinks this stuff is real”. However, my observations have led me to believe that the dating mores promoted on The Bachelor are far truer to life than straight people may wish to admit. So the next time someone gives you hate for your devoted Monday-night viewings, just tell them you’re doing it for science.