“Here for the right reasons”
“Last chance at love”
“Sent home broken-hearted”
If you recognize these phrases, you, like me, are guilty of watching The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Recently, one of our readers was curious about how pop culture influences relationships. The current season of The Bachelorette provides a great case study to answer this question. Is watching relationship “reality” TV like The Bachelorette bad for your real life relationships?
Reality TV may be seen as a harmless, guilty pleasure, but a new book by Jennifer Pozner, Reality Bites Back, suggests that these shows perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Relationships research supports many of Ms. Pozner’s arguments.1 Here are three ways The Bachelor/ette influences relationships:
False relationship ideals
Your partner hasn’t taken you on a private jet or surprised you with $100,000 necklace to wear to dinner, so your relationship may not be as special as the relationships you have seen on “reality” TV. Researchers have found that those who watch higher amounts of this relationship-specific TV programming have more unrealistic expectations about love, and these expectations can harm real-life relationships.2 “Reality” relationship TV ideals that love, once found, is easy and perfect can create expectations that a loving partner should be mind reader, always be in a good mood and never have a disagreement. These expectations set people up for relationship dissatisfaction when their partners can’t read their minds, have a bad day or disagree with them about something.
“Must Marry” TV
Researchers have used the term “Must Marry TV” to describe shows like The Bachelor/ette.3 This type of programming promotes the idea that a person can only be complete through a committed heterosexual relationship. The message is that it is not okay for anyone (especially women) to be single. At the end of the most recent season of The Bachelor, a 25 year old who didn’t get a rose depressingly proclaimed that this was “her last ditch effort” to find love and that the show had confirmed that she was destined to “end up alone.” Believe it or not, ladies, such comments send the message to us that if we are not in a relationship by a certain age (in this case 25!) there is something wrong with us and our only option is to prepare for a life of miserable solitude. Please. The real travesty is seeing a smart, successful, fun, attractive woman crying over a man she met two days ago.
Love at the speed of light
The Bachelor/ette would have you believe that if it’s true love, then you will be ready to get engaged after six weeks. The truth is that love and relationships develop and change over time. The early stage of a relationship is referred to as the passionate love stage, and is characterized by intensity, high levels of desire for a partner, and obsessive thoughts about the relationship. Over time this preoccupation shifts to companionate love, a more comfortable, intimate stage of the relationship.4 The Bachelorette promotes making a serious commitment (engagement) very early in the relationship. As discussed in a previous post, it is best to wait to make a serious commitment once you are in a more realistic and stable stage of the relationship.
So does all this mean that we have to abandon reality TV for the sake of our relationships? Galician suggests it is all in how we watch; being critical of these shows makes a difference.5 To me, the only acceptable way to watch The Bachelor/ette is as a comedy. It is important to recognize that these “reality” shows are anything but real. For example, Pozner writes that producers film 100% of the time, but use less than 1% of what they film. One of her suggestions for critiquing these shows is a media literacy drinking game where you drink every time one of the “characters” says a particular cliché phrase on the show (if you’re over 21 – or 19 in Canada, and not planning to drive, you might consider using one of our shot-glasses!). Watch out though, you will soon realize that these cliché phrases are not few or far between. Approaching the show in this way will make the absurdity of the show apparent. The phrases listed at the beginning of this post should get you started; you could also add “the claws will come out!” or “I gave up a lot to be here.” Sure you did.
1Wood, E., Senn, C. Y., Desmarais, S., Park, L., & Verberg, N. (2002). Sources of information about dating and their perceived influence on adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 17, 401-417.
2Segrin, C., & Nabi, R. L. (2002). Does television viewing cultivate unrealistic expectations about marriage? Journal of Communication, 52, 247-263.
3McClanahan, A. M. (2007). ―Must marry TV‖: The role of heterosexual imaginary in The Bachelor. In Galician, M.L., & Merskin, D. L. (Eds.), Critical thinking about sex, love, and romance in the mass media (pp. 261-274). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
4Hatfield, E., & Walster, G. W. (1978). A new look at love. Chicago: Addison-Wesley.
5Galician, M.-L. (2004). Sex, love, and romance in the mass media: Analysis and criticism of unrealistic portrayals and their influence. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Amy Muise – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Amy’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.