It is no longer so hot here that you want to take off all your clothes and pour ice water all over yourself, so that means that it’s possibly safe to think about love again. We’ve been in a love moratorium for some time now on the East coast. It’s a safety issue. You can’t survive long if you get too close to another human being when the temperature and humidity are both in the triple digits.
But hey, it’s 10 p.m., and the mercury has fallen to a mere 86 degrees, so game on.
Could we take a moment to think about “The Bachelorette”?
This is only my first season watching this show, and yet already it has introduced me to a whole new way of talking and thinking about love. Until now, I figured that falling in love was some kind of mysterious emotional response between two people, something that comes on without warning and shakes you to your very foundation–but now I see that Real Love is something you can catch, like measles or cholera.
How, I ask you, did this concept for a TV show ever get off the ground–the idea that you could take a whole bunch of hunky guys and one perky, cute woman…and presto, by the end of a season, she could go on enough dates and ask enough questions that she would catch herself a good case of love.
And yet…I can’t seem to look away.
Each week the poor bachelorette seems to me to be on the verge of a psychotic break, so distressed is she that she might not fall in love by the time the season ends. Every week she has to eliminate yet another contestant who didn’t spark her hormones, and now time is running out, and just how many more romantic locations can she and the remaining men be thrown into, while they wait for the mysterious igniting of the human spirit to happen to them?
I love the way they all agonize over the rose ceremony at each show’s end, and then switch to outright joy and optimism when they find out where they’re going next, as if love just might exist in the very next location they get to.
“Iceland!” she’ll squeal for the cameras, her eyes as bright as buttons. “I just know I’ll fall in love in Iceland!”
Worse, though, are the poor guys in the show, who have to keep declaring over and over again from the initial meeting onward that they already are in love. America asks that they appear to be pining away, as they look into the camera with hangdog faces and one after another, intone, “I really feel a connection to Ali.” Meanwhile, the producers of the show keep thinking up new ways for them to be humiliated: they have to sing in public, write love poems and read them aloud, perform in a Broadway show half-naked, wrestle Turkish athletes–all the while looking both tragic and hopeful, mournful and excited, manly and sensitive.
It’s the craziest thing in the whole world.
And yet I am inexplicably hooked. What if the world really did work this way? It would be fascinating. Think of it: if you had a pool of eligible applicants, unlimited money and bottles of wine, and chances to sit in a castle watching them all wrestle for your love–could you truly pick out The Right One and know it was all going to work out forever? We are being asked to believe this is possible.
As a novelist, I know this isn’t true! The human heart, with all its twists and turns and inexplicable appetites, will surely never work that way. We go head over heels at the whiff of a certain perfume, or a sidelong glance from across a subway car, from a casual remark, the tilt of a head, the pull of fabric, or even a fleeting memory. As humans, we don’t always go for the most appropriate candidate, either. We pine for people we can’t have. We wake in the middle of the night, tormented–and we love our torment as much as we love the whoosh of feeling that set us out on the roller coaster ride of love in the first place.
Which is, of course, why over time the show hasn’t had a very good success rate at developing real-life marriages once the cameras have gone away, and ABC-TV isn’t supplying the artificial pizzazz. You don’t need castles and romantic locations, rolling cameras, and a whole bunch of good-looking hunks in order to find love.
I know I’m in the minority here (even in my own house) but I think what would be really great would be if at the last show, if Ali would simply turn to the TV audience and tell us the truth. “I guess the right guy wasn’t here after all,” she could say. “I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t make myself fall in love with any one of these people! So I’m going to take all the rest of these roses and go home. Maybe I’ll start a great garden somewhere, or maybe I’ll take some time off and and do whatever it was I meant to do anyway before I came on this crazy show: just wait for love to sneak up on me like the miraculous force it really is.”
Maybe what Ali needs is to hear from somebody like my Aunt Mary, who used to to tell me, “Child, love won’t come when you’re looking for it. You have to give up on it, and that’s the only time it comes.”