Edited: Since giving the final rose to Shawn Booth, it has been intriguing to watch this couple on social media. While I don’t agree with their worldview on dating, I have to give credit where it is due. I’m not going to lie, I love seeing their pictures. Granted, they are still on a publicity tour of sorts and not yet entrenched in real life, but, they seem to have mastered an element that many couples lack: fun! There’s no boredom here; just a lot of energy and grabbing life for all its worth while they get to know each other in the “real world.”
At times, watching ABC’s The Bachelor or The Bachelorette can make you feel like you need a shower to get rid of the “yuk.” Specifically, when the contestants are asked to participate in an activity (usually involving their own nudity) they are clearly not comfortable with, or when the lead makes out with multiple people on a group date, or has sex on a single date when there are still nine guys left, or sex in the fantasy suite with all remaining contestants; it just feels gross. Season 11’s Kaitlyn Bristowe is in this position and the message boards are hot with slander against her. Degrading name calling runs amok with others responding back, “If you don’t like her, or the show, then why watch?” Or, “Why is everyone so shocked she had sex; this is 2015!” And, “Sex is not shameful; women should be allowed the same rules as men.”
Kaitlyn herself said as much in a recent interview on Good Morning America. But one comment from her intrigued me. “I think people can see that I’m an in-the-moment-kind-of-gal.” She went on to say, “I wonder if I would have waited the ten days until the fantasy suite and then not told anyone; I don’t think there would be all the backlash.” During an interview with E! News she said the double standard over sex between men and women “blow my mind,” adding that “I’m 30 years old; I’m a grown woman just trying to be true to myself. Just be who you are.”
I suspect the national conversation is using the wrong rubric to decipher this show and Kaitlyn is caught in the melee. Much of the debate seems to be centered on the question, sex or no sex in a relationship. I disagree with this direction. I think there would be less confusion if the debate was centered on boundaries in a relationship. Here’s why:
The premise of the show is to find a husband. Granted, given the fact the show is filmed at warp speed and the lead must “date” 20 or so men in front of the world in exotic locales wearing fabulous gowns with hair and makeup people following her everywhere she goes, it can be more comedy than serious marriage material. But, the producers have set marriage as the premise of the show and herein lay the problem: the confusion is that people are debating sex in relationships but the show promotes finding a spouse.
A lasting marriage commitment takes trust, protection, safety, conviction, discipline, selflessness, grace, boundaries; this is love. In order to find a healthy spouse for a marriage that lasts the duration, these qualities must be exhibited while dating so you know what you are getting into. In my opinion, this is where Kaitlyn made a mistake and why there is such uproar.
“Living in the moment” is a scary character trait to bring into a marriage. Let’s say the wife goes on a business trip, or works in an office, or frequents a restaurant where there is a Nick type personality –smooth, seductive, no boundaries (she was already dating ten other guys when he barged in; not a lot of respect there)—and this person approaches and reels her in. Does she live in the moment and give in because her body is revving at 1000 rpm’s from the attention? Would she expect her husband to understand?
A man or woman in that position might say, “Well, I wouldn’t do that when I’m married, but when I’m single I must explore every option.” Male or female, cheating is cheating. This isn’t about a double standard that men can sow their oats but women cannot. No. This is about the character of a future spouse.
Character is not something you turn on and off. The ability to say no, to deny your own pleasure for the sake of another, is a muscle that must be exercised over and over. Boundaries are hard to set and hard to follow; they must be exercised over and over. The way to develop a strong ethic of protection and security in a marriage is to not give in when land mines present themselves but practice over and over the decisions that protect the relationship. Decisions, and the ensuing behavior, determine a person’s character.
Again from the Good Morning America interview, Kaitlyn said, “Well, I’ve never dated 20 people at the same time before.” And when asked about her self-proclaimed title “the make out bandit” and the reactions from the guys, she stated, “Well, I wonder if they remember what show they’re on.”
Whether they like it or not, the bachelor or bachelorette is in a position to exhibit marriage-type character while they are dating because marriage is the thesis of the show: give one of them the final rose to be your spouse. If the show was titled, “Dating in 2015,” I don’t believe there would be the uproar that is going on now because nothing would be at stake. There are other reality shows with lots of sex going on but they haven’t hit the radar the way Kaitlyn’s night with Nick has because, technically, she cheated on the other men and especially Shawn B in her efforts to find a husband. Which is why I believe the national discussion is on the wrong track.
Instinctively there is a part of us that knows that marriage is more than sex. Sure, it’s the perk, the fun part, but not the glue that holds it together when finances take a dive, or illness takes over, or kids have problems at school or are born with physical disabilities, or somebody dies. It takes character to navigate the challenges and tragedies of real life. It takes wisdom and maturity to handle familial divorce and issues of low self-esteem, rejection, abandonment, and finding your purpose in life. Sleeping with someone only confirms the lust of physical intimacy, not if he or she will be able to stand strong in the rain or in a complete wipeout.
The argument could be made that “It’s only a TV show, out for ratings and not to be taken seriously.” True. I would agree with that. BUT, considering that the show itself provides a Neal Lane engagement ring during the final episode, and that the lead says over and over throughout the season, “I’m here to find a husband (or wife),” that thesis changes everything and the conversation needs to adjust accordingly. If it were a show about dating, we could discuss the merits of sex or no sex; but because it’s billed as finding a marriage partner, the viewers expect the contestants to act like potential mates, not just people who are dating; hence the fallout over Kaitlyn and Nick’s sex.
The downfall of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette is that they are heavy on lust and intimacy and weak on character and yet they bill it as finding a marriage partner. Much has been said for their horrible track record of actual marriages. If they are serious about getting people married, they should nix the foo-foo activities like sumo wrestling and song writing and replace them with some serious competitions that would require the contestants to use decision making skills, teamwork skills, business skills, and God-forbid exhibit some boundaries and character along the way. Human behavior is fascinating and it would be great to see a real test of character, a real test of the emotions. It’s easy to give in to lust; anyone can do that. But who is strong enough to deny themselves for another?
The kind of person we all want to be married to is someone we can trust, someone we can depend on to do the right thing, someone who will protect what we have together and not throw it away because they were “in the moment.”
–Tara Schiro is the co-author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com