‘You Don’t Microwave Relationships’: How ‘The Bachelor’ is designed to violate its own values


Everyone knows that “The Bachelor” is inherently ridiculous. You give a man about 30 relationships to manage, tell him to gradually cut down to the best one, and then pressure him to propose all over the course of a month. It’s a ridiculous scenario where no one comes out looking all that sane.

Nowhere is the tension between the show’s premise and its stakes clearer than during hometown dates, where four lucky contestants get to bring home the same man to their families. Each family is both pretty excited they’re on TV and that their little contestant is doing well in the competition, but rarely is a family excited that their daughter has actually become emotionally attached to a man with three other girlfriends.

The hometown dates then show each family member trying to feel out and reckon with the chances that their child might be heartbroken on national television, all the while suppressing the most basic piece of advice they can give them: this show is stupid, and if you buy into its love narrative, you’re dumber than I thought.

In last Monday’s episode (aired February 25), one father looks at his recently-divorced daughter in shock as she admits she’d say yes to a proposal then and there. Soon after, he says, “You don’t microwave relationships. That’s what is going on.” You feel like cheering at the simple logic thrown into the show’s matrix. But by the end of the night, the father has essentially come to terms with the whole deal, and the date ends in stock romantic music. It’s the contradictions that make the show as laughable as it is addicting to watch.

However, the surface dissonance begs a question — exactly what is the contradiction at the heart of “The Bachelor”? How can we acknowledge the show’s stupidity and still find ourselves rooting for ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ that the show sets up? After all, social media jumps on contestants who are seemingly ‘in it for the right reasons’ and cheers on contestants who are somehow tricked into falling in love over two months on camera.

The truth is that what makes the show both irresistible and frustrating is that its contestants – and seemingly the show itself – hold values that “The Bachelor” is designed to violate. Three of the core issues that come up time and time again are contradictions within themselves. So without further ado, here are three contradictions that make “The Bachelor” grind painfully forward, season after season:

BE VULNERABLE AND OPEN IN RELATIONSHIPS. Trusting a partner with compromising information about yourself isn’t a process anyone should take lightly, but sharing the right information at the right time can really strengthen a relationship and let you know whether or not something can work long term. However, “The Bachelor” compresses the time over which this should happen down to a couple months, and contestants know that what they share isn’t just going to “The Bachelor,” but everyone who watches “The Bachelor.” Why on earth would you share anything actually compromising or personal? The ideal contestant is armed with a sob story that poses no actual threat to themselves if shared and paints them as a victim or survivor. That’s not vulnerability, but manipulation, and Bachelor Nation has been trained to cheer it on.

DON’T LEAD PEOPLE ON IN RELATIONSHIPS. Like anyone else with a head and a heart, “The Bachelor” has a good idea whether or not someone is marriage potential the day he meets them. Past contestants have reported that it’s relatively obvious early on who The Bachelor is really interested in — usually one to four people. However, the show doesn’t allow its Bachelor to cut people quickly, or else they wouldn’t be able to fill enough episodes. It’s basically in the show’s contract to lead people on.

GO ON THE SHOW FOR LOVE, AND WITH NO ULTERIOR MOTIVES. At the end of the show, one contestant leaves a fiancée to a man who just days before had sex with another girlfriend and was contemplating proposing to them. Really, winning “The Bachelor” is more of a loss than anything else. However, almost winning “The Bachelor” — coming in the top five or so, for example — means you get out scot-free with tens of thousands of social media followers and a shot at appearing on one of the Bachelor’s sister shows. You’d have to be an idiot to go into the show for love. You’d only have to be bold and willing to be a little disingenuous on a disingenuous show to have a good shot at a boatload of social capital.

On the first season of “Survivor,” only one of its players acknowledged early on that the show was a game. As people cast votes for other players to leave the island based on little more than what they were feeling at the moment, the player built a voting alliance to ensure that he was never voted out. Players got angry at his manipulation of the game as he voted out threats and kept unworthy competitors, and then he won. Now he has a million dollars and the show of Survivor is what it was always meant to be – a cutthroat competition with complex social dynamics.

“The Bachelor” functions as “Survivor” might have functioned if no one came to terms with its game-like structure. No one wants to acknowledge the real stakes and goals of the players, and for this reason, the contestants are either cast as jerks, idiots, or the random soul who “The Bachelor” actually falls in love with. It’s a complete mess of a show. As viewers — even ironic ones — we’re as likely to fall for its faulty reasoning as the contestants we laugh at along the way.