What ‘The Bachelor’ May Tell Us About Our Own Relationships
Sept. 20, 2022 – On Monday nights, while millions of viewers are marveling at the whirlwind romance of “Bachelor” couples and their extravagant dates, glamorous dresses, and fitted suits, one mental health expert will be taking notes on the relationship behavior the contestants .
Diane Strachowski, EdD, a licensed cognitive behavioral psychologist and couples therapist, uses media psychology to share dating and relationship takeaways from “Bachelor” episodes via her Instagram platform.
Fans of the franchise — also known as “Bachelor Nation” — become invested in the relationship journeys of “Bachelor” couples, which can present valuable opportunities for self-reflection, according to Strachowski.
“I’m using the show as a catalyst to start conversations about ‘What is good coupling? What is a good relationship? What are good determinations on what makes for a viable relationship?’” says Strachowski, who has dubbed herself the “Bachelor psychologist.”
Even after two decades, the “Bachelor” franchise garners a minimum of 3 million viewers on any given episode. This summer, fans are reacting to two bachelorettes — Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia — in one season for the first time ever.
The success rate of couples from the franchise is about 30% — out of the 75 “Bachelor” couples, 24 are still together. The emotional and physiological implications of the competition component of the show can play a major role in successful, and unsuccessful, matchmaking.
“It’s cortisol and endorphins and dopamine and serotonin. It’s all those neurotransmitters, chemicals that we see in all relationships when falling in love,” says Strachowski, who lives in Menlo Park, CA, in the Bay Area. The show, however, amplifies these effects vs. “real-life,” where couples often move at a slower pace.
“The dates themselves are filled with adrenaline: bungee jumping, helicopter rides. All of these experiences bond couples together because your heart is racing and because that feels like excitement, that feels like love.”
“Bachelor” stars often pledge to “follow their heart” in their decision-making. But, it’s much more complex than that, says Strachowski.
“’It’s got to be a head, heart, gut decision, not just to who you’re attracted to,’” Strachowski says. “That’s why we see some of these couples breaking up. They haven’t had enough time to really go through a profound decision-making process.”
Boosting “Bachelor” Couples Success Rate
It’s critical that “Bachelor” leads and contestants understand the difference between chemistry and compatibility, says Kelle Carver, a marriage and family therapist and owner of The Honored Place Therapy in Kansas.
“They feel similar when you’re in the beginning stages. Chemistry feels like this person meets every one of my needs and that they’re perfect for me. Chemistry can also be when you get out of that honeymoon phase, mystery, right? The dynamics that you came from and your family system or from generations past,” says Carver.
Compatibility is something much deeper, says Noreen Dupriest, owner of Simply Be Marriage and Family Psychotherapy, also in Kansas. True compatibility allows each partner to be secure in who they are, so fixating on similarities can also be a dating pitfall.
Sometimes, differences can actually work in a couple’s favor. The therapists give the example of attachment styles, or how someone makes emotional bonds with others. While there are four styles, they highlight anxious vs. avoidant attachment.
Avoidant attachment: Person appears confident, yet they struggle to display or accept emotional
Anxious attachment: Person is more emotionally needy, fears that others don’t want to be with them.
“Anxious attachment is, ‘I’m not enough or will they see me?’ They typically look for, and are very compatible with, a person with avoidant attachment. That avoidant attachment fears abandonment so much that they can rescue that anxious attachment,” says Dupriest.
Bachelor Stars Reflect on True Love Post-Show
“Bachelor” franchise stars also shared their experiences in exclusive interviews with WebMD. Season 20 Bachelor Ben Higgins says compatibility questions came to a head post-show, and he soon realized what he truly needed in a partner.
“It changed for me where I wanted somebody who had a heart for people, was genuine, was caring. Someone who would stand beside the people who feel like the least of these, no matter what. I knew if they felt that way towards other people, they would feel that way towards me,” he says.
Ashley Iaconetti-Haibon, who hosts the “Almost Famous Podcast” alongside Higgins, says romantic sparks in her relationship with fellow “Bachelor in Paradise” cast member-turned-husband Jared Haibon came to a head after the two had gotten to know each other a little better.
“I think a lot of people think that chemistry is something that you feel right off the bat. In my relationship with my husband in “Bachelor in Paradise,” it was interesting because I knew there was compatibility. But my nerves got in the way of chemistry,” says Iaconetti-Haibon, who also owns Audrey’s Coffee House and Lounge in Rhode Island.
Life post-show can become challenging, and couples often need more time before saying “I do,” Higgins says.
“I think it’s [the show] a great way to meet somebody who can potentially become your lifelong partner. I don’t know anybody that’s gotten right off the show — even if they’re so confident in that moment that this is the person for them — and says ‘Hey, let’s get married next week,’” says Higgins, author of Alone in Plain Sight: Searching for Connection When You’re Seen but Not Known.
Things have changed greatly since the franchise began and “Bachelor” stars often gain a social media following from the show. While this can raise eyebrows about a person’s motives for applying, season six Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky-Manno says the answer isn’t black and white – nor does it have to be.
“At the end of the day, if someone’s on the show and they’re not really into you, you’re going to be able to sniff that out. If somebody’s on the show for fame and they actually fall in love with you, you’ll feel that too,” she says.
The fact that there have been a number of successful “Bachelor” franchise couples is notable within itself, according to Fedotowsky-Manno, who is also co-owner of 1to3 Life Hydration Accelerator, a low-calorie electrolyte drink mix.
“If you look at the statistic a little bit differently and think about, out of all the men you’ve met in your life, that you randomly met at a bar, how many did you end up dating and how many did you end up engaged to?” she says.
Higgins says that although his “Bachelor” journey didn’t end in true love, his experience ultimately led him to his wife, Jessica.
“How I found my wife was, post-show, looking at, OK, this is what I thought during the show when I had 30 people to get to know and work alongside to see if we could work. This is what I looked for then. That didn’t work for me. What can I look for now? And I found it.”
Be Unapologetically Yourself
Being authentic and presenting the truest version of yourself can save “Bachelor” relationships, and “real-life” couples, from turmoil down the line, says Strachowski.
“If I pretend that I’m the cool chick that doesn’t need anything, eventually I will blindside my partner. I can only sustain that ‘pretend me’ for so long. Ask for what you want and need. No apologies.”