The idea that having happily married parents makes you a better potential partner is a storyline the franchise needs to retire ASAP.

By Elena Hilton
Jan 07, 2020 @ 3:15 pm
ABC

The Bachelor franchise isn’t exactly known for subtlety. The spray tans, the sobbing, the gigantic Neil Lane diamonds, and the helicopter rides are all part of the fun train wreck millions have been tuning in for since the early aughts. The show has obviously never really been about the sanctity of marriage, but it sure does its fair share of preaching about what fairytale marriages should look like, no matter how ridiculous.

Needless to say, being a devoted member of Bachelor Nation requires a significant amount of overlooking the bizarre stances this show takes. I’ve gotten fairly skilled at this over the years, but last night during the premiere of Peter Weber’s season of The Bachelor, I was struck by how much of an emphasis was placed on the success of contestants’ parents’ marriages.

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Contestants sharing how they’d like to emulate their own parents’ lengthy, happy relationships has naturally appeared as a talking point in prior seasons, but it felt more in your face than usual this time around. Several of the women, and Peter himself, talked at length about the value of having seen their parents model a “successful” marriage. Peter noticeably perked up every time he heard a woman’s parents or grandparents’ marriage had stood the test of time. The unspoken implication being that having parents who have been madly in love for decades made you a more desirable future wife.

The first one-on-one date, with an early front runner named Madison, involved the pair attending Peter’s parents’ vow renewal after 31 years of marriage. (Yes, it’s odd to renew your vows at 31 years and to bring along a first date to the occasion; if you think the producers didn’t arrange this event, you must be new here.) As lovely as Peter’s parents are, the message here was quite clearly, “Look, Peter is a great guy who would make a great husband because of his great family.” For what it’s worth, I think Peter actually seems genuinely kind guy who would make a supportive partner — but I don’t think my opinion of him would be much different if his parents happened to be divorced.

Fellow Bachelor tweeters seemed to agree that it had gotten out of hand. 

As anyone who has actually dated in the real world knows, prioritizing the quality and longevity of a potential partner’s parents’ relationship is a simplistic, narrow way of determining whether someone would make a loving spouse. In fact, some might even argue that if all you’ve ever seen is how wonderful marriage can be, you’re not as strongly prepared for how to work through difficult challenges — or that you might not be aware of what creates an unideal match.

But maybe I was just also more acutely aware of the emphasis The Bachelor placed on having parents who are happily married this season after my own parents decided to end their 30-year marriage last year. In the midst of processing a lot of complicated emotions, I worried about how this would impact my dating life. Would it be seen as a red flag?

In the Bachelor world, divorce has always been a taboo topic. If you’re looking for a lead whose parents were no longer together, you’d have to go all the way back to Ashley Hebert’s season of The Bachelorette in 2011. By the way, Ashley and her choice, J.P. Rosenbaum, are one of the few pairs from the show that actually got married and are still going strong today.

In previous years, when contestants shared their parents or they themselves were divorced, it was presented as a difficult, serious conversation topic which required the contestant to say they wouldn’t let it affect their ability to be a great spouse. I still vividly remember the producers trying to tie Chase McNary’s unwillingness to tell JoJo Fletcher he loved her after a few weeks to his parents’ difficult divorce. It’s an archaic, and frankly insensitive, way of looking at marriage, but it’s very much in line with The Bachelor’s insistence on portraying marriage as a fairytale romance where love can conquer all.

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Last season on The Bachelorette, fan favorite Hannah Brown spoke honestly about how while her parents are still married, she doesn’t want to repeat their communication patterns in her own future marriage. It was a rare moment where The Bachelor(ette) producers decided to show someone speaking about what marriage really looks like, and how saying a couple has been together for decades doesn’t mean all that much if you don’t take the time to learn from it.

Perhaps it’s a bit ridiculous to be upset with The Bachelor for promoting backwards societal norms. It’s a show that has thrived off encouraging people to get engaged after spending approximately a total of 24 hours together, has a notable history of shaming women for their sexual agency, and has never had a man of color as the lead. But repeatedly hearing that coming from a “normal” family with happily married parents makes you a better potential partner is a storyline that needs to be retired ASAP. As the show continues to evolve, albeit slowly, maybe it will finally get the hint that there are more interesting ways to determine if someone values marriage.

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