Let’s look at the evidence. Not only did I recap and live tweet the last season of The Bachelorette(from the post-dating perspective, of course!), start a comments war about the show’s viewership in my Huffington Post column, and use it as a viable platform to discuss psychological theories of attraction, arousal and why Vienna’s face still sort of bothers me - but I can’t seem to do anything WTF?!-related without throwing in a symbolic rose. Check out my cartoon. Or my photo in Time Out New York. Or my choice of guest bloggers (that one took some convincing, let me tell you). That hint of romance just hasn’t quite been beaten out of me yet.
Say what you will, but I’m definitely not the only one watching The Bachelor. 13.8 million people tuned in for the season finale on Monday night! Well, 13.8 million plus one, if you count my dad. But while most of them were probably focusing on the romantic helicopter rides, or wondering how Brad found time to exercise and keep up that physique (yum) in between all those shark diving outings, I was thinking about the gaggle.
The conclusion of this past season – Brad’s season – reminded me of a very important truth about the gaggle. The gaggle works a lot better when you both have one.
As I’ve said before, the whole premise of The Bachelor/Bachelorette is based on the gaggle. Or, you know, the gaggle on speed. You take one open-minded guy or gal looking for love, and you introduce them to a houseful of romantic prospects. Within seconds, the various personalities and attractions start popping out, and the gaggle roles start being filled. Remember Kasey, the “I want to guard and protect your heart!” Ego Booster? Or Jesse, the super-hot-but-not-so-bright Accessory? How about Roberto, the sweet, handsome, baseball-playing, salsa-dancing, gift-giving Boyfriend Prospect-turned-fiance?
(I would love to break down Brad’s gaggle, and let you know which role each woman played. But then I’d have to let you in on the secrets of the guy’s gaggle. And then I’d have to kill you. More on the guy’s gaggle – coming soon!)
All along the way, the Bachelor or Bachelorette waxes poetic about how much they’re learning about themselves, how different their emotions feel than ever before, and how all these connections and experiences are making them question their desires and needs – but yes, they promise, they are definitely getting closer to figuring out who and what they want by sifting through these prospects!
So let’s get back to Brad. One gaggle of 25 women may be enough for most men, but not for Brad! The first-ever repeat Bachelor, he needed to meet 50 women and hand out dozens upon dozens of roses to get to the point where he was ready to find love. But then – he did!
The gaggle worked for Brad. The show may be ridiculous (fact), but by the end of this past season, even the most cold-hearted viewer had to admit that Brad seemed to have fallen head-over-heels in love with tragic single mom/Barbie lookalike Emily. He gave up the promise of an “exciting life” with runner-up Chantal for the chance to become “a family man” with Emily. And the fact that he walked away during his first season as the Bachelor, choosing no one, only suggests further that when he proposed to Emily in South Africa – he meant it.
Brad waded through his massive gaggle and came out at the other end, 100% confident in his love for Emily. As he said in the “After the Final Rose,” special and in numerous media outlets since, he would marry Emily anytime, on the spot. He’s seen what else is out there, explored the many sides of himself with other women, and therefore has no doubt that he made the right choice in choosing Emily. Watching him talk about his feelings for her, you believe him.
The gaggle worked. Brad is in love and ready to start a life with Emily.
But what about Emily?
Emily didn’t get to have a gaggle. She got caught up in the premise of the show – 25 women desperately chasing and fighting for the affections of one man – and she focused on Brad…and just Brad. She got roped into the game, and it was a game that many of us women are all too familiar with: the “How Do I Get Him To Like Me?!?!” game. In her mind, the only guy Brad was being compared to was her dead fiance (not quite an active gaggle member). And although she never seemed desperate for a man – what 24-year-old Millennial woman is? - she made a mistake that might seem familiar to all of us.
She got so excited that a man was choosing her, that she forgot to make sure that she was choosing him too.
If only she’d had a gaggle. If only she also could have sat back in a mansion, reviewed headshots of her various prospects, talked it all over with Chris Harrison, and come to the conclusion that, yes, Brad was the one she really wanted, even when faced with other options. Then maybe she wouldn’t have followed up the romantic finale by postponing their engagement, temporarily ending the relationship, getting unbearably jealous while watching him with other women (all of whom he later went on to reject!) and telling a national television audience that she was no longer ready to move closer to Brad, much less marry him. She truly loves him, she swears. But she’s just not sure.
All this while Brad – a reformed commitment phobe – now tries to win her over. My, how the tables have turned.
To be clear, Emily’s about-face is completely understandable and should shock no one. All the blogs and news outlets who are horrified by her reaction should be applauding her. Once she stopped chasing a guy and obsessing over whether he was going to “pick” her, she realized that she didn’t really know him. In some ways, she didn’t entirely know herself. So she’s putting on the brakes and letting their relationship progress in the real (post-)dating world before committing to a lifetime of commitment and exclusive People photo shoots.
The lesson here is that, as part of a generation that sees marriage as a voluntary choice instead of an inevitable obligation – we all have a right and a need to sort through our options before committing to our one and only.
Of course, when you have feelings for someone, nothing is more terrifying than the thought that they have options. It was this thought that made all the women cry and backstab and act insecure during the competition for Brad’s heart, and it’s this thought that now makes Brad look like his head is about to explode every time he declares his undying love for Emily. He had options, and now, Emily is acting as if she has options, too. Feelings are involved on both ends. It’s scary stuff.
But wouldn’t you rather be with someone who had options, sorted through them, and chose you? And wouldn’t you like to have options, sort through them, and then feel undeniably confident in your final choice? Isn’t that two-sided choice the very basis of what will make a relationship work, especially when things get rough or boring or confusing down the line?
Having a gaggle breeds options – and it breeds choice. And when two people both choose to forego these other options and be together instead…well, that’s real love, right?
Brad and Emily may still end up together. Honestly, I’m rooting for them! I believe that, cameras and disappointing Bachelor success rates aside, there’s love there. But Emily will have to truly believe that Brad is the best guy out there for her, before their relationship can move forward in a trusting, loving, confident way.
In the meantime, the rest of us will have fun watching Ashley H. inspect the molars of her new gaggle on the upcoming season of The Bachelorette (although really ABC, again with the hair extensions…?!).
Jess is the co-creator of The Gaggle, alongside her childhood best friend Becky Wiegand, and is the author of the book - yep! - The Gaggle. She never tires of hearing your post-dating stories. She wants you to enjoy your love life, and is full of advice on how to do so.
The-Gaggle.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click here to submit your work to us. We love you.