For years now, I’ve been asking myself this question: "why would anyone go on 'The Bachelor' or 'The Bachelorette'"?
Now, I know I’m not the first person to ask that question. And I also know that when I ask that question, it’s hard not to ask it in a pejorative way. I mean, like, seriously: competing with 24 other people to get to one person who’s been chosen because they test well with a focus group?
Who does that?
The obvious answer is: a lot of people.
Given the number of seasons of the show, there must have been thousands, or maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people who’ve auditioned and been contestants. Some even come back for a second round. And clearly, the whole concept is appealing to another large segment of the population, the audience. Though some of us watch it – admittedly – for the pure humor/Twitter fodder that it provides, there are surely some true believers out there, right?
So what’s it all about? Is love so hard to find that we’re willing to put our fates into the hands of someone else and compete for the privilege?
My new novel, "Arranged," is about a woman who uses an arranged marriage service, so clearly, I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time. In fact, it was on my mind enough to (a) partially generate the book idea and (b) keep me interested enough (and hopefully you) to write 350 pages about it.
But when you write a book, you have to do more than ask questions. You have to have some answers. You have to get to a place where you might understand why someone would do the very thing that you’re positing as a premise, and convince others that it seems like a plausible thing to do.
So, there I was, scoffing at the absurdity of it all, and yet so intrigued that I began to wonder: what would lead a woman – attractive, successful in some aspects of her life, having no cultural connection to the practice – to give up on the idea that she should be able to find love on her own and let someone else do the choosing?
The answer I came up with – that, in some measure, it’s really about giving up on the idea that you can do it on your own – is partially evident in reality TV. If you’re willing to put yourself in close competition with a group of people who’ve been chosen for their camera-appeal (putting aside the few crazies they tend to throw in for entertainment value) then, in my estimation, you’ve clearly given up on doing it on your own.
But for the novel, I thought it had to go further than that. Arranged marriages aren’t based on love; at least, not in the sense we generally mean: heart-thumping, I can’t eat, sleep or stop thinking about you. They’re based on compatibility, shared goals, values.
The idea is that, in the long run, these are the things that keep people cemented together. And rather than risk the chance that heart-thumping = compatibility, arranged marriage is about taking the heart-thumping out of the equation.
Love might come, but it’s not the beginning. It’s not the glue.
So, not only did my main character have to give up control, she had to give up on love. And she’s ready to do this because, for her, love has been nothing but trouble with a capital T. She’s willing to – for lack of a better word – settle on compatibility to get the things she wants: a partner, a family, stability.
And really, when you think about it, isn’t that what’s going on on "The Bachelor," too? Does anyone who goes on the show really think that it’s about finding lasting love?
When I last checked, there were only two couples who have survived the experience past a few months. And the whole set up is so false, so anti-reality (fabulous vacations, makeup artists, no fights about replacing the toilet paper) that no one really thinks they’re going to come out of there in love.
Catherine McKenzie is an author who continues to give readers thought-provoking twists on contemporary culture—first with Spin, a fresh look into the world of celebrity rehab—and now with "Arranged," (William Morrow May 2012) a novel that questions the role of love in marriage.