I’ve watched every season of The Bachelor, give or take a few somewhere in the middle when I thought I’d get into foreign films or read some books instead. That clearly didn’t stick, and for at least the last five consecutive seasons I’ve curled up every Monday it’s aired with a glass (OK, bottle) of wine to watch these groups of “normal” people try to find love.
At first, I thought I liked the show because I was a romantic, and I enjoyed the journey to a proposal. There are extravagant dates and confessions of falling in love while couples are jumping off cliffs, and fabulous outfits, and exotic locations with private concerts, and “deep” personal connections. But then I realized I was watching it more to pick out the cool contestants, the ones who I wanted to be friends with. It was fun to see someone who seemed sort of like me winning over the leading man or lady and beating out the mean, hot people. What I wished for more than a proposal at the end of the eight-week journey was for the men and women with good heads on their shoulders to say with dignity, “No, thanks.” Yes, there’s also the show’s inherent dramatics, the trainwrecks that no one can look away from.
After Monday night’s Bachelor finale, I realized that it’s for these same reasons that I recently binge-watched season two of the Netflix comedy Love.
Love, like The Bachelor, is about two people trying to find a meaningful connection against all odds. The relationship between the two central characters, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (co-creator Paul Rust), takes place over a similarly concentrated amount of time. By the end of season two, the couple has known each other for only a couple months. They’re differently flawed people who fundamentally should not be together. While watching Mickey and Gus try to make their seemingly doomed relationship work, I saw anew the flaws in my own past relationships. I related to the worst in each character: Gus’s annoying and selfish agreeability and Mickey’s lack of impulse control. I enjoyed watching these damaged people relive funnier versions of my own mistakes while eating Chinese food from the safety of my couch.
At their core, both The Bachelor and Love are obsessed with the idea of being with a particular someone—not because you really want to but because you think you should. The concept is built into The Bachelor. If the show doesn’t end with a proposal, no one is America’s sweetheart, and the rejected parties have to go back to selling software or being a dental hygienist—or worse yet go on Bachelor in Paradise to reenter the cycle of looking for love on national television. Meanwhile the protagonists of Love, both scorned by partners in the recent past, think that by being attached to someone, the personal issues they’re (to varying degrees) ignoring will be fixed. But really, all of these people just need to be by themselves.
Of course, it’s much more horrifying on The Bachelor because the show is cast by real humans, not fictional characters. When the newly engaged Vanessa Grimaldi and Nick Viall professed that yes, everything was fine, and no, they hadn’t set a date yet but everything was FINE, it was like I was watching a scary movie screaming, “No! It’s a trap! Get out of there!” Then they paraded out Rachel Lindsay, the new cool-as-hell lawyer who’s the show’s first black bachelorette, giving us a false glimmer of hope that maybe this time things would be different. The same thing happens in the final scene of Love—Mickey and Gus forgive each other’s tragic mistakes and pledge to give things a real shot. (Mickey makes this promise for an arguably selfish reason that involves Three’s Company-level absurdity.)
I find it baffling that societal pressure to couple up still permeates so much of pop culture, enough that it can support everything from a traditional network TV franchise to a more cutting-edge streaming program. There’s nothing wrong with coupledom—some of my favorite humans are paired off—but watching these two shows has proved to me that being single is just fine.
The second season of Love is streaming on Netflix. New seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette air on ABC every few months, probably for eternity.