Why I Watch the Bachelor for my Mental Health
Every Monday night I race to the finish line. It’s 7:45 and my toddler is pleading for another book. I negotiate him down to a pithy one where the entire plot is to count dogs. In the kitchen my husband feverishly stirs the boxed macaroni and cheese, transforming powder into something edible. He pops his head out into the living room, pot still in his hands, to see that the contestant on Wheel of Fortune has no clue what the final puzzle is. I carry my son in his sleep sack to the window and we look out to see if we can spot the moon. “No moon!” I affirm. He wants to look for longer but I pry him away, a little too eagerly. I tell him that his mother and father love him very much and I lay him in his crib, walking away slowly so that my body language does not betray my intent. I close the door and wait for the lock to click. “What have I missed?” I call out as I rush to the TV. “It’s just the recap,” my husband assures me as I collapse into the sofa and he nestles the steaming bowl covered in hot sauce into my hands.
I started watching the Bachelor the year after I graduated with my Masters in Social Work. At the time I worked in a program that provided alternatives to incarceration for individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues. My job primarily consisted of fieldwork and I was a regular at shelters, methadone programs, and psychiatric units. My days were intense and too frequently sad. After work TV provided some respite but Game of Thrones no longer held the allure that it once did. I needed to disconnect into a world of fantasy, one that didn’t involve beheadings.
My first season of the Bachelor starred Juan Pablo ambivalently plucking the petals off of a daisy playing, “she loves, she loves me not” with beautiful 27 women. Anyone who’s seen that season knows that it was a very bad year for the contestants and a very good year for the audience. I cringed at every “it’s okay,” he uttered. As if saying those words could magically manifest emotionless women. Nevertheless, it was not Juan Pablo’s journey that I was interested in. It was the women perfectly arranged behind him. The relationships between them and the glimmers of personality that hid behind an otherwise carefully crafted romantic narrative.
Juan Pablo didn’t find love that season, but I sure did.
When I started watching the Bachelor my workweek anxieties softened. Yes, Monday still involved an ice-cold plunge into the lives of my clients but at 8pm I would be surrounded by predictably beautiful women all wearing a singular ubiquitous hairstyle. The Bachelor was easy. It was uncomplicated comfort. It provided a safe space where my mind could rest and the only thing I had to worry about was if Nick Viall was going to get his heart broken a third time. That, I could handle.
When friends try to make plans on Mondays, I generally tell them I’m busy without going into details. I don’t have to subscribe to any definition of busy other than my own and maintaining my schedule and having some predictability and ease to look forward to is the cornerstone of my mental health. Any judgment about whether or not it’s a worthwhile use of my time is simply not the point. I don’t need more worthwhile activities; I need rest. Because if Chris Soules can survive a two-on-one date with Ashley I and Kelsey in the Badlands, well then I can certainly finish out the workweek.
Emphasizing structure to maintain mental wellness isn’t actually a new idea. In fact, it’s a huge component of every psychiatric discharge plan I coordinate. When my patients are hospitalized for some departure from baseline I advocate for them to receive more structure and supports than they had prior to their admission. Whether it’s an intensive outpatient program, respite center, or partial hospitalization program. They all have the same key components of structure and socialization. Allowing frayed minds space to heal and rest.
The truth is we all crave predictability and success. Routines help us to reduce stress and feel accomplished. As much as we tell ourselves otherwise, we like to know what’s going to happen next. We want to be surprised, but only a little. So when the last rose of the night goes to the villain, we’re shocked but only in that the producers have had their way with us yet again.
The Bachelor is my North Star. A fixed point in the week with well worn behaviors and rituals to help me to reset and mark the passage of time. It’s eating dessert before supper. Spending a couple of hours at the beginning of the workweek with problems that are entirely manufactured.
Because there is nothing better than watching a group of grown men feign excitement over being sent to Rhode Island.
Life will inevitably be full of surprises, but on Monday nights I already know what I’m doing. It’s just a routine, like reading books before bedtime, looking for the moon, and being told that your mother and father love you. We all need a centerpiece to build our weeks around. For me, it’s a vase filled with roses, predictably red and thornless roses.