As a hopeless romantic whose guilty pleasure is watching reality TV, you could say I was destined to enjoy the infamous series “The Bachelor.”
For the past five seasons, I’ve eagerly hoped that a show with such an interesting premise — a flavorless, endearing white man dating 30 women, then proposing to one within two months — would end in a wholesome love story. However, zero of the bachelors from seasons I’ve seen are still with their final pick, and the success rate for the show’s gender-swapped counterpart, “The Bachelorette,” is only slightly higher.
While I’m sure there are plenty of reasons the Bachelor franchise churns out failed engagements, this past season — and its shameless focus on drama — led me to a broader realization about relationships: People need to recognize the difference between challenging their partner and simply being incompatible.
Part of the issue is how conflict is portrayed in media. Oftentimes, drama is framed as interesting and exciting, so relationships with tension feel more passionate and compelling. Sometimes this manifests in tropes like the good girl reforming the bad boy, or the free spirit helping their neurotic love interest loosen up.
It may be fun to watch these tropes play out artistically, but in the real world, these dynamics usually aren’t as healthy or realistic. Forcing together clashing personalities is generally a recipe for disaster, and not something people should aspire to.
Even worse is when conflict crosses a line into disrespect — especially when it’s hard to identify what behavior is appropriate because the relationship’s boundaries are blurry to begin with.
From an American perspective, I think cultural influences play a big part in why people struggle to draw those lines. As children, many of us are told it’s normal for kids to tease each other when they have a crush. While children certainly shouldn’t be crucified for not knowing how to express their emotions, this attitude is harmful when carried into adulthood.
It’s time to dismantle the notion that mistreating someone deserves to be rewarded, and instead hold people accountable. If you treat someone poorly, having feelings for them is not an excuse for any anguish you cause, nor does it equal an apology. In addition, if someone treats you poorly, you shouldn’t feel the need to make excuses for them, even if you have a soft spot for them.
This isn’t to say people can never change — in fact, growth should be an important aspect of any relationship. But there’s a huge difference between supporting someone’s growth and expecting them to change, and having those expectations is where problems begin to appear. It’s not anyone’s job to shape their partner into who they want them to be; attempting to do so is probably ignoring long-term incompatibility in favor of a temporary fix.
Plus, harboring expectations of change raises the question of what drew you to that person in the first place. It’s probably a red flag if you want your significant other to change drastically. Maybe you’re more wrapped up in the idea of that person than who they really are.
I don’t mean that relationships should be broken off at the first sign of conflict — honest communication is crucial — but fighting is still definitely a factor to consider when assessing your relationship. It’s not practical to make plans to settle down with someone when your values don’t align.
Despite the message “The Bachelor” producers create, drama isn’t necessary to have an exciting relationship. Challenging someone doesn’t always require an argument, and even though it wouldn’t make for good TV, you can inspire someone to be a better person in a calm, encouraging manner.
Editor’s Note (11/22/20): A prior version of this article was mistakenly edited to say that zero men from “The Bachelor” are still in a relationship with the woman they got engaged to on the show. This statement has been changed to reflect that this is only true of the Bachelors whose respective seasons of the show the writer has seen.