The Bachelorette and finding love

Most people who watch professional wrestling know that it’s fake. It doesn’t matter though, because they’re only watching for entertainment. No harm done.

Political debates in last year’s election cycle were only a little less fake than professional wrestling. People intuitively knew that both candidates were often lying. It didn’t matter though, because most people watched the debates for entertainment. In the pursuit of truth, harm was done.

Shows like The Bachelorette and The Bachelor fall somewhere in between professional wrestling and political debates. Most people know the shows are highly scripted. Characters are selected, heroes and villains created, and love stories ensue, all on purpose, all done to please the viewer (ultimately, all done to sell advertising). There’s high entertainment value in finding love.

The problem is that we assume “finding love” is utterly important. We assume that if we haven’t “found love”, we’re missing something. Neither assumption is true.

In 2000, three psychiatrists came together to write a groundbreaking book on the psychobiology of love, A General Theory of Love. In it, they debunk our cultural notion of what love is, and what it ought to be:

“In a dazzling vote of confidence for form over substance, our culture fawns over the fleetingness of being in love while discounting the importance of loving.

[…]

Our society goes the craziness of in love one better by insisting on the supremacy of delectable but ephemeral madness. Cultural messages inform the populace that if they aren’t perpetually electric they are missing out on the pinnacle of relatedness. Every pop-cultural medium portrays the height of adult intimacy as the moment when two attractive people who don’t know a thing about each other tumble into bed and have passionate sex. All the waking moments of our love lives should tend, we are told, toward that throbbing, amorous apotheosis. But in love merely brings the players together, and the end of that prelude is as inevitable as it is desirable. True relatedness has a chance to blossom only with the waning of its intoxicating predecessor.

[…]

A culture wise in love’s ways would understand a relationship’s demand for time. It would teach the difference between in love and loving; it would impart to its members the value of the mutuality on which their lives depend. A culture versed in the workings of emotional life would encourage and promote the activities that sustain health — togetherness with one’s partner and children; homes, families, and communities of connectedness. Such a society would guide its inhabitants to the joy that can be found at the heart of attachment — what Bertrand Russell called ‘in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined.’

The contrast between that culture and our own could not be more evident. Limbic pursuits sink slowly and steadily lower on America’s list of collective priorities. Top-ranking items remain the pursuit of wealth, physical beauty, youthful appearance, and the shifting, elusive markers of status. There are brief spasms of pleasure to be had at the end of those pursuits — the razor-thin delight of the latest purchase, the momentary glee of flaunting this promotion or that unnecessary trinket — pleasure here, but no contentment. Happiness is within range only for adroit people who give the slip to America’s values. These rebels will necessarily forgo exalted titles, glamorous friends, exotic vacations, washboard abs, designer everything — all the proud indicators of upward mobility — and in exchange, they may just get a chance at a decent life.”

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