I have a noisy mind. I worry about texts that go unanswered, career goals that go unmet, and nuclear weapons that may or may not go off. The internal din is deafening. And sometimes, it just needs to be silenced. That’s where The Bachelor comes in.
I grew up in Ohio in the 1990s; my only exposure to New-Age ideas was eating hummus at the local vegetarian diner. It wasn’t until I got to college, and sat down in Philosophy 101, that I was exposed to meditation and the ever-elusive concept of mindfulness.
“Breathe in,” Professor Smith told our class. “Quiet your mind. How long can you go without a new thought entering your head?”
I tried, I really did. But somewhere between Professor Smith saying “Breathe” and “In,” about 6,000 new thoughts flooded my screaming mind:
My nose is itchy. Philosophy is interesting. But what’s the point of philosophy? Should I major in philosophy? I’m hungry. Or am I just dehydrated? My nose is still itchy. And dry. But it’s always itchy and dry. Is that normal? Could I have some hard-to-detect fungal disease?
This was September of 2001, a week or so before the 9/11 attacks and about six months before the debut of The Bachelor, the long-running ABC reality show in which a pack of beautiful women all compete for the same seems-good-on-paper, looks-good-enough-on-TV suitor.
When The Bachelor premiered in March, my roommates and I were there to see it all go down. Gathered in our common room, we watched as a gaggle of eligibles in sparkly gowns fawned over a Harvard-educated businessman named Alex Michel who, we decided, was a full-on Monet. The show revealed itself to be a silly, sappy modern-day gladiator spectacle. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
About 10 minutes into the first episode, I realized something: My mind was quiet. My mood was calm. I could have counted to 20 without a single thought shattering my peace. I — basically a clump of what-ifs and prematurely drawn conclusions wrapped in last year’s Abercrombie and Fitch — was zen.
By the end of the episode, I was hooked on The Bachelor. Not only does the show exist in a unicorn-colored world where true love comes from three group dates and one almost-private night in a “fantasy suite,” it’s also a nonstop rush of manic drama: In The Bachelor universe, you go bungee jumping on a first date, dredge up childhood trauma during a casual conversation, and get dumped to a soundtrack of soaring violins.
I would turn on my new, shallow escape and immediately tune out. The Bachelor and all of its over-produced histrionics were so loud that my own frazzled brain felt utterly halcyon in comparison. Once a week, my mind became as still as a millpond in Manitoba. I relished the nothingness.
Today, I’m a grown woman with multiple academic degrees and proud feminist beliefs. And I no longer live in America, birthplace of The Bachelor; I moved away six years ago to work as a journalist in Israel. Here, local TV has taken a stab at a Hebrew-language version of the format two times, and once even put together a knockoff series called Of All the Girls in the World, in which a handsome, rich American import comes to Israel to find a wife. But I’m a classic kind of fangirl. And thanks to TV-streaming sites, I’ve been able to determine that nothing soothes me quite as well as the original Bachelor masterpiece.
For a long time, my citizenship in the so-called Bachelor Nation embarrassed me. So I’d get my weekly fix of reality TV discreetly. But earlier this month, I was doing my requisite pre-show internet reading to gear up for the new season — Arie, the race car driver from five seasons ago, is back to make out and find true love! — and I remembered another moment from that fateful philosophy class: the day we learned about Aristotle’s theory of catharsis.
Think of the Greek philosopher’s premise as one of the first-ever attempts at media theory. In short, Aristotle said spectators of a Greek tragedy can experience their own anxiety relief just by watching other people’s drama unfold on stage.
Modern media psychology has expanded Aristotle’s idea, by proposing that both tragedy (the runner-up sobs into her formal-wear cape!) and joy/comedy (the bachelor gets down on one knee!) can give viewers that real-life emotional release. The Bachelor, for all its big-haired players and small-minded plot lines, is, at its core, a form of true therapy.
Some people get into lotus position and visualize their chakras. I settle into the groove in my couch and picture the look on Lauren H.’s face when she figures out that Lexi has been bad-mouthing her during group dates. And then I breathe deep, quiet my mind, and tell the show I love that, of course, I will accept its rose.