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Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: Sexual Stendhal Syndrome

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It’s time for another episode of The Bachelorette, America’s pre-eminent reality show for romantic group dates, high-profile rejections, barely concealed male rage, and rendering the phrase “true love” utterly meaningless through ceaseless repetition. This season, we have asked Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation and Bitch, to confront our favorite national circus nightmare. Join Elizabeth each Tuesday for all of her opinions on the squabbling and hot-tubbing that’s fit to air on ABC. 

Everyone thinks about marriage. Even people who refuse to think about marriage are refusing to think about marriage. People desperately want to get married, even if they desperately don’t: wedding vows mean someone wants to be with you and you only for the rest of your life, which means you have been chosen for your excellence. Who does not want that honor? No one does not want to be wanted that badly. I never wanted to get married, and now I am getting married, because it turns out: I want to get married. I am like everyone else. I am boring. I want to love and be loved. I want to choose and be chosen. Sigh.

Under the circumstances, it is no wonder The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchises have been so popular for so long. We must think about marriage more than anything else in the whole wide world no matter what else we are supposedly thinking about. If we aren’t thinking about our own marriages, we think about other people and their goings-on. Are Bill and Hillary at all in love or is it a professional arrangement? What is up with Kimye and Bennifer and Brangelina? Why would anyone consciously uncouple when a vicious court battle with expensive lawyers and screaming fights and slamming doors is the natural way to divorce? Is Princess Kate pregnant again? Is Prince Harry engaged? Do Barack and Michelle actually have sex? There is nothing we love to do more than speculate on the lives of others. Reality TV is supposed to eliminate the part where we have to wonder: it’s all there.

Of course, on The Bachelorette we are watching the part that leads up to the wedding. Last night’s episode was a recap — premature, as only three weeks have passed — and I was reminded of all the emotional excess. Courtship by contest is drama and melodrama. This series has lasted much longer than any reality show that portrays a married couple because people who are already committed have too much to protect and too much to hide. A marriage that works is necessarily dishonest: so much of what makes a relationship work is kindness despite pain, and lying to make the other person feel better. If men told the truth every time a woman asked if she looks fat, the divorce rate would increase geometrically.

But The Bachelorette is raw. Even though directors stage many of the contretemps, they are staged raw. Most people choose a spouse by dating around, but the method employed here is as efficient as the Bataan Death March. On this past season of The Bachelor, Juan Pablo changed the rules, and instead of proposing marriage to the winner, he asked her to be his girlfriend. The roses and tears and airplanes lead to nothing more than more dates. I don’t at all blame Juan Pablo for wanting to spend more time with Nikki before making a lifetime commitment — that is the opposite of crazy.

Or maybe not. In India, where 90 percent of marriages are arranged, there is only a 1.1 percent divorce rate. Globally, only four percent of arranged marriages end in divorce. In fairness, women have few rights in places where this goes on, and likely cannot leave husbands they are not happy with. But these couples are sanctioned by family and community, which means they are likely to have much in common. “The people we end up married to or partnered up with end up being similar to us in race, religion and class background and age,” Stanford sociologist Michael J. Rosenfeld told The New York Times. “Which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.”

The producers of The Bachelorette have prescreened the perfect men for Andi Dorfman with such genius that she has multiple excellent choices. She is suffering from a sexual version of Stendhal Syndrome: many people faint at the Uffizi in Florence because they are so overcome by the beauty of all that art. Andi is dizzy with too much love.

And unlike Juan Pablo, Andi is going to find a fiancé. She wants to get married. Just like everybody else.