‘The Bachelor’ Makes Me So Very Happy To Be Single

In pretty much every way, I’m the target audience for The Bachelor. I’m a single woman in my thirties who lives in a city with a job and a healthy TV habit. I have zero romantic prospects, and own a cat. Yet, until this season’s premiere, I had never seen The Bachelor. I already know that modern dating is a horror show, so I imagined that watching The Bachelor would reinforce my greatest fears about dating as modern warfare, reduced to a strategic numbers game. Why would I watch it on television when if I wanted it so badly, I could squint at Tinder on my phone in bed until I fall asleep?

When I watched the show for the first time, I expected to find myself despondent at the state of humanity and the bleak landscape of modern love. Watching women in bandage dresses and a lot of contour throwing themselves at a man they don’t really know sounds like one of the most depressing things on prime time television. The show is built to pick at the darker corners of the mind, reminding you that love is real and it’s out there and my God, what are you doing if you’re not looking for it? But, watching the show for the first time made me realize that I’m doing just fine.

For years, I’ve told anyone who asked — and many who didn’t — that being single is my choice. Yes, if I wanted a relationship, I could hold my nose and dive deep into the murky waters of OkCupid and Tinder, swimming blind and grasping for something so that I’d at least have a date to take to weddings and various social obligations in which I am usually the only single person for miles. I’ve grappled with this decision, wondering if being single by choice is a line that I’ve fed myself so many times that I actually believe it.

The show preys on our deep-seated fear of being unloved and alone, consumed by Alsatians, like Bridget Jones says, or in my case, eaten slowly but surely by my fat and docile cat, miffed by her empty food bowl. I thought the show would cause further despair about the state of my current singlehood, because it traffics in fairytale endings and fetishizes a white wedding as the one thing that everybody needs and wants. The women on the show are specimens plucked from every corner of this great nation, clearly selected for their willingness to ingratiate themselves on camera to a stranger and their ability to take direction without questions. Their thirst for fleeting infamy and a version of love that ends with a bended-knee proposal is palpable.

During the premiere, I watched as Caila, a peppy brunette who broke up with her real life boyfriend to be on The Bachelor, emerged from a limousine in a sequined cocktail dress and propelled herself into Ben Higgins’ arms. Who breaks up with their actual, flesh and blood boyfriend in order to look for something that might not actually be real?, I wondered to myself, and then watched as an unemployed 23-year-old from Little Rock rolled up to greet Ben on a hoverboard, wearing sneakers and a prom dress. It all started to make sense.

Watching the women desperate and clawing for attention, for “love” — a love that is either real or manufactured by skillful producers behind the scenes — made me realize that my choice to be single isn’t bad at all. It’s just fine. I don’t believe that love is anything like what happens on The Bachelor. Here, love is a blood sport. If you don’t believe me, keep your eye on Lace, the Cecily Strong-lookalike whose favorite thing to do is interrupt Ben’s private time with other women, or Olivia, the 23-year-old Dallas TV anchor who emotes by opening her mouth as wide as it can go for an uncomfortable amount of time and strategizes by telling every contestant that Ben is “hers” even though it’s only the second week. You strategize, you work your angles. Get the man alone in a room and make your move. Secure your spot in the Fantasy Suite and do whatever it takes to make it to the finals. I’ve never considered myself a romantic, but I have been in love before. It did not look like this.

Being single for me isn’t sad. It’s a clear and defined choice that I made, based on years and years of knowledge and experience with the only person in the room that matters in this decision: me. Dating is nothing more than a numbers game. If I wanted to put myself out there, tripping and falling into the first arrangement that met the socially-accpeted definition of a relationship, I could. They’re two sides of the same coin. The women on The Bachelor choose one extreme. I choose another.

I don’t know if I want a Bachelor kind of love. I want companionship, someone to quietly pass sections of the New York Times with across a table while eating oatmeal. I want to spend part of my life with someone who likes most of the things I like and prefers silence to ceaseless chatter. I want a relationship predicated on mutual understanding, respect and a shared affection for reading quietly in the same room without actually speaking. Call it love or call it companionship, or call it just a deep, abiding friendship that spans the ages and deepens over time. Watching America’s favorite reality TV fairy tale illuminated a very sharp and clear truth: being alone is okay. Being single is okay. I’m not looking in earnest for anything. I’m just content to see what floats my way.