The Bachelor and Christianity

The Bachelor first aired twenty years ago as a first-of-its-kind reality-TV dating show. The success of The Bachelor is incontestable: twenty-six seasons, seven spin-off shows, and numerous other shows styled after it (Too Hot to Handle, Love is Blind, Married at First Sight, and Love Island, to name a few). The premise of the Bachelor—one (outrageously attractive) man looking for “true love” among a group of (equally attractive) women—has built a dedicated fan base that keeps coming back for more, season after season. Once (or twice or thrice) is not enough to vicariously experience the rollercoaster of emotions on display by the contestants on The Bachelor, all purportedly looking for their one true love. But the format of the show, which lays out the search for love as a contest primarily focused on a person’s physical desirability, following one’s heart, and requiring that numerous women intentionally become emotionally (and often physically) intimate with the same man, seems to be inherently at odds with the idea of true love. What is the enduring appeal of a show that makes a spectacle of toxic and unrealistic relationships, misconstrues the idea of love, and sets up absurd ideas of what it means to seek true love? Is there anything redeeming to be found in The Bachelor?

*warning: contains strong emotion and sensuality

Love or Lust?
In the preview for the 26th season of The Bachelor above, the cringe-worthy contradictions at the core of the show’s concept are on full display. The bachelor, Clayton Echard, starts out by proclaiming his intent to find true love: “I can’t wait to get married and have kids, and I believe more than anything that my future wife is here.” Hot on the heels of this statement is the same Clayton Echard excitedly shouting, “Bring on the women!” Clearly, his search for “the one” is not going to get in the way of him enjoying the attention of nearly three dozen attractive women for the duration of the show.

Similarly, the women articulate the same desire for relational depth before seeming to contradict themselves. One states that Clayton is “the whole package,” exactly what a woman wants in a man. What makes him so? “He’s big, he’s strong, he has muscles… he’s so handsome!” The initial veneer of sincerity and depth is eclipsed by attention to physical desirability. It’s hard to feel convinced by one of the girls saying “He’s just so wholesome and genuine” when the statement is a voiceover for a montage of Clayton kissing at least a dozen different women on the show. The Bachelor postures as a show about finding true love, but when you look past the facade of sincerity, it seems to be merely a parade of sensual indulgence, not just for the show’s stars, but also for the viewers who enjoy the vicarious experience of the drama, sensual romantic interactions, devastating betrayals, and false idealization of love.

The Bachelor and Christianity
The Bachelor and its most closely-related spin-off, The Bachelorette, have both been at times closely connected to Christianity, with some of the Bachelors and Bachelorettes openly expressing their Christianity on the show. Some of the Christian contestants have famously abstained from premarital sex while on the show, while others have famously not done so.

A large part of the shows’ fanbases include Christians as well. But does the idea of love presented on the The Bachelor, or the idea of what it means to pursue love, have anything in common with the Christian ideas? The show seems to promote a consumeristic, competition-fueled, sexually-driven idea of how we determine who we should love.

At one point in the preview above, Clayton shouts, “I am falling in love and it feels so good!” And isn’t that what we all want to see? Isn’t that the point of the show, to see two people find true love? However, the conclusion of Clayton’s season of the Bachelor is particularly dramatic, with Clayton confessing that he is in love with three women at once and that he has slept with two of them. This declaration is devastating for both of the remaining women on the show. They are shown collapsed in tears, calling their situation “embarrassing” and crying, “I’ve never felt pain like this before!” Again, the show subverts its claim to be about finding true love. As the season winds down and the flirtatious antics at the beginning turn to betrayal, emotional devastation, and mental breakdown, any pleasure the viewers continue to find is not in seeing the show’s contestants finding true love. Rather, the enjoyment is seemingly in vicariously experiencing the emotional turmoil and pain of the contestants. The posture the show takes towards love seems to have little or nothing to do with a Christian idea of love.

Redeeming The Bachelor?
Central to the Christian definition of love is its not being self-seeking but self-sacrificial, putting the beloved before yourself. This applies universally to the idea of love, including within romantic relationships: to love someone romantically means putting them before yourself, making sacrifices for their good. Also key in the Christian reality of love is that the object of love does not have to be wholly loveable. Even when we are in sin and supremely unloveable, God loves us (Romans 5:8). In reference to a Christian view of romantic love, this does not mean that we should choose a romantic partner indiscriminately or at random merely to love the unlovable. But it does mean that we don’t need to look for perfection and we should always choose to love the other person, even in their imperfections.

Contrary to the Christian idea of love, the structure and basic assumptions of The Bachelor leave little room for the concepts of sacrifice or loving the unlovable. No matter how many Christians appear on the show, that will not change the fundamental nature of the show as something that confuses love with lust, elevates drama and promiscuity, and suggests that the search for true love is a search for a perfect partner (or as near-perfect as is possible), and personal fulfillment

Nevertheless, perhaps something redeeming can be found in The Bachelor. The show gives a false depiction of what it means to seek love, but the popularity of The Bachelor and similar shows points to a good desire within humans. Even though the way of finding love presented by The Bachelor is twisted, it reveals that we have a deep desire for intimacy, a deep desire to be pursued by someone who truly knows and loves us. That desire we can fulfill in part in human relationships, including romantic relationships, but ultimately we can only find that satisfaction through relationship with God. While The Bachelor gets the method for finding love all wrong, it gets the desire fundamental to human design right: we are made to be loved, to be pursued, and to find fulfillment in relationships (John 15:9-17).

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