Carly Reilly | Millennial musings: Keeping a vow

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The first time I learned about The Bachelor I was too young to watch it. It came on at 10 at night and made reference to a fantasy suite, so it was pretty quickly shuffled into a category with Friends and Sex and the City as "grown up shows mom watches" (not that I would ever have understood the implications of a fantasy suite, even if I had been allowed to stay up that late on a school night).

I distinctly remember my mom laughing in camaraderie one morning as Diane Sawyer opined about the latest Bachelor drama and then immediately back-tracked with faux-self-consciousness. "We all watch it," my mom explained to me, "but don't always want to admit it." (It was a time before Kris Jenner and Donald Trump, so feeling shame was still culturally normative.)

This sounded fabulous to me. Like this show had given rise to some big, inclusive club where everyone wrinkled their noses and shared their most embarrassing secrets only to learn with surprise and relief that everyone else in the room had the exact same secrets. Which, I now realize, is basically just what female friendship is. Evolving from, "Oh! Sometimes you also serve your husband store-bought pie but lie and tell him it was homemade?" to "Someday I'll admit that my left breast is smaller than my right, and once a week I think I hate my children."

And much like secrets and pie recipes, The Bachelor, it seems, gets passed down from mother to daughter: a torch for the next generation to carry. I don't know how many moms are still watching The Bachelor, but within the millennial community I can tell you that The Bachelor reached a kind of mainstream cultural relevance and popularity that even the wide-eyed, 9-year-old Carly, exalting all things that put my mom in cahoots with Diane Sawyer, couldn't have imagined.

And yet, that 9-year-old Carly may have understood the appeal of The Bachelor better than I do today. I stopped watching The Bachelor in late high school after Ali Fedotowsky and Roberto Martinez broke up (they were the final couple of season 6 and I was heavily invested in their romantic future). In fact, I vowed I would never watch The Bachelor again, a promise I, and my mom in solidarity with me, have both kept.

It wasn't just that I felt betrayed by the Ali/Roberto break-up, it was that the magic of the show was finally lost to me. For years I had clung to Trista and Ryan, The Bachelor's nearly singular success story - thinking, like all old-school Bachelor fans did, that if lightning could strike once, it could happen again. When Ali and Roberto broke up, however, I gave up on that hope.

But no one expects The Bachelor to be about finding love anymore, do they? I mean, sure, there have been some triumphs since Trista and Ryan, but by and large The Bachelor is more like an extended job interview for hosting the next B-list podcast about "dating in the modern world," than it is a match-making show. Unlike during my days as a Bachelor fan, it is now an open secret that reality TV is anything but real. Which is why the continued success of The Bachelor, and all reality TV for that matter, is so confusing to me.

If I wanted to see real people play out scripted relationships, I'd just watch Donald and Melania board Air Force One all day long.

This is all to say that, while I'm excited that the new Bachelor is being filmed in Vermont and the intro to it in our very own little hamlet, don't expect me to watch this season. I, unlike almost every Bachelor contestant since 2003, have a vow to keep.


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