The 10th season of The Bachelorette is underway—and although Andi Dorfman’s chance at love started as one of the most-watched seasons, the ratings have dipped to an all-time low. We can’t help but wonder: Are women finally tiring of ABC’s over-the-top portrayals of romance?
It’s no secret that most women’s first dates don’t involve helicopters or exotic locales—or that ladies rarely have 25 hot guys vying for their attention. Even so, The Bachelorette may prime you to expect this kind of opposite-sex attention in your own life.
Case in point: A recent Albion College study found that women who believe TV portrayals of romance are realistic tend to be less committed to their relationships. “What’s disturbing is that the sample had an average age of 47, and subjects were all married,” says study author Jeremy Osborn, Ph.D. These weren’t naïve undergrads—they were adult women in long-term relationships.
Simply watching The Bachelorette can be pure, escapist entertainment, sure. But if you’re a weekly watcher, season after season, and think the show is a reliable glimpse of reality, “these images become part of your toolbox for understanding what relationships should look like,” says Osborn.
As Robin Nabi, Ph.D., a professor of communications at UC Santa Barbara, puts it, “If you’re seeing a lot of unrealistic depictions of falling in love at first sight, then you might, over time, think that’s something that actually happens.” The result: If you meet a prospective partner, but don’t feel an immediate spark, you may be more inclined to write him off as the wrong guy, she says.
So how can you tell if you’re taking the show too seriously? If you’re comparing your boyfriend to show contestants—and not, say, your parents’ marriage or your gal pals’ relationships—then it may be time to take step back. You don’t necessarily have to ban yourself from watching, though. Just set a few ground rules!
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1. Remind yourself you’re seeing the highlight reel: Osborn compares the show to people’s Facebook feeds: a selectively crafted portrayal of someone’s life. “Good TV isn’t watching people sit around in their sweatpants reading the newspaper or eating Cheetos,” he says. “The show puts people in situations that ramp up the experience of euphoria.” And keep in mind, Andi’s handsome suitor did not plan and pay for that impromptu vacay. “These are paid for by people who are trying to create the most idealized dates women could imagine,” says Nabi. “If you feel like you come away a bit dissatisfied, remind yourself that it’s not real.”
2. Don’t man bash: Having a safe place to vent about your guy is important—it also reinforces that your friends’ relationships aren’t perfect either, says Nabi. The problem? All-out bitching about men could create a negative mindset, making you focus on what’s wrong in your relationship, instead of focusing on what’s right, says clinical psychologist Alisa Robinson, Ph.D.
3. Voice your concerns: Maybe the show really is a wake-up call that you need more romance in your relationship. That’s okay, as long as you clue your partner into your needs and brainstorm (realistic!) ways to improve things together. “It opens up a dialogue about how to enhance the romance—like, ‘Let’s plan more date nights,' or 'Let’s surprise each other once a month,’” says Nabi. (Just don’t tell him it’s The Bachelorette that inspired you!)