It shouldn’t need to be so hard – An annual reflection on “The Bachelorette”

Sigh, to be twenty four and in love with two different men on the island of Crete!

Tonight is the finale of this season of The Bachelorette, and as has been my custom, I’ve been left with some reflective thoughts about the nature of relationships and love that I now intend to share. If you feel like The Bachelorette is an absurd waste of time and you can’t imagine why anyone would give this show any amount of time in their lives, I’ll admit that five years ago I was in your boat, but the hype machine sucked me in. And it is called a guilty pleasure after all!

Besides, you don’t have to watch the show to appreciate some reflective thoughts on the nature of relationships and love.

rosesSo let’s dive in. For those who watch and those who don’t, here is my brief analysis of the top four men Hannah has to choose from:

Tyler – A contractor from Florida. Very attractive. Young Patrick Swayze vibes. Hannah’s worried about their connection being all physical and not emotional. But she opened up to his family; her family adored him; she eventually confesses she’s falling in love.

Jed – My initial pick for the winner of the season, but oh boy, that’s gone downhill. Confessed he came on the show in an effort to advance his career, which is singing/songwriting. His family threw nothing but shade and red flags at Hannah. (Likely because they know Jed left a girl friend at home and they can’t believe Jed is actually bringing Hannah home!) Hannah’s family threw nothing but shade and red flags at Jed. Confessed his biggest accomplishment to date is writing a dog food jingle.

Luke P. – The Evangelical Christian who “found Jesus in the shower.” The villain of the season lied to Hannah repeatedly, offended and angered every other guy in the house, and got sent home twice only to come back and insist that Hannah didn’t have clarity. Inexplicably, Hannah gave him the first impression rose, and continues to say it was love at first sight.

Peter – The pilot who flies for Delta. Drives a nice car. Lives in a nice part of California. Has an amazing family who welcomed Hannah with open arms. Pushed her up against a lot of walls and furniture to make out. They had sex in a windmill during the fantasy suites twice four times! Hannah repeatedly describes him as the dream guy…a ken doll…and a perfect person.

While meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, I will stand by those summaries as really accurate portrayals of who the men have been on this season. And by those summaries alone, it should be pretty easy to make a call on who Hannah should eliminate and who should be in the front running for her heart and a proposal at the end.

Except for Hannah, it doesn’t seem to be all that clear. In fact, she seems utterly distraught about her final choice, and maybe it’s because she’s spent weeks in exotic locations with good looking men doing romantic things, and maybe it’s because she doesn’t have the same picture of the guys that the audience does. But I’ve come to wonder if maybe it’s also because she somehow believes that a real, deep relationship, is on some level going to be inherently difficult, and so she finds something oddly enthralling about the struggle.

rose 2Why, might you ask, would someone believe that a relationship should be difficult? Well, on a base level I think it probably comes down to self worth and not believing that you deserve uncomplicated, unconditional, unselfish love. If I believe I’m unlovable, or not good enough, or bring unforgivable flaws into a relationship, I’m more likely to believe my partner when they act in a way that validates those ideas in my mind. To that end, it’s not hard to see how people end up in manipulative and abusive relationships.

I once heard a story from a woman who worried that she wasn’t a good enough housekeeper. She didn’t particularly like to clean, and so she tended to wait until a bunch of tasks needed to be done at once and then do them in one swoop. She brought that belief into her marriage and the way she kept the her home with her husband.

One of the tasks she often avoided was unloading the dishwasher. On more than one occasion, she’d left the dishwasher go until there were no more clean glasses in the cupboard, at which point her husband would open the dishwasher, taken a clean glass out to use, and then leave the dishwasher standing open. Because it was blocked by the island, when she came around the corner, she couldn’t see the dishwasher open, and she would crack her shins against it and/or trip and fall over it.

Upon hearing the story, my initial thought was that if this happened in my house, Josh and I would be having a conversation about how his actions had contributed to my falling in the kitchen. Either he A.) takes a glass out of the dishwasher and closes it so I won’t trip, or B.) takes a class out of the dishwasher, realizes it needs to be emptied, and so puts all the dishes away and THEN closes it. In either case, however, his action of not closing the dishwasher would be responsible for my injury in the kitchen.

But that’s not the way this woman saw it. She believed that she was ultimately responsible for her injuries because if she was a better housekeeper, and kept up with the dishwasher more often, then her husband wouldn’t have to go into the dishwasher to find a clean glass, and the opportunity to leave it open for her to trip over wouldn’t be there. It was, she believed, just one of those normal struggles of being in a long term relationship.

🤨 Forgive me…but I call BS!

imagesI call BS on the idea that a long term relationship has to be riddled with struggles. This, as it turns out, is actually very non-intuitive because we’re told often, and see relationships play out often, with A LOT of struggle!

Take almost every Rom-Com ever written. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl overcome some massive obstacle that should tear them apart but somehow brings them inexplicably closer together, boy and girl live happily ever after. This is even true in our cartoon romances. Take, for example, Aladdin. I get that Jasmine was head over heels in love with Aladdin, but really…you’re just going to look over the red flag that was your entire relationship being built on the lie of who Aladdin was? I like a good romantic comedy as much as the next girl, but the obstacle part of the story always makes me cringe because I know in the real world, a lot of the reconciliation that happens between the leads on screen, probably wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen!

It is reasonable to expect that at some point in even the happiest and healthiest of relationships there is going to be struggle. When you get married, they make you vow that you’ll stick it through in the “bad times,” the “sickness,” the “poorer.” But those struggles should not come as a result of a clash in basic values, and those struggles should not be confused with red flags, which aren’t obstacles to overcome, but rather reasons to run!

These are struggles:
* Losing a job
* Figuring out a budget with limited income
* Creating a healthy work/life balance
* Resolving conflict and/or building relationships with your SO’s family
* Infertility
* Losing the “spark” in the relationship
* Etc. etc. etc. etc.

These are red flags:
* Not having any solid plans or goals for the future
* Being irresponsible with money
* Expecting your partner to only support our career or your goals
* Your SO’s family telling you they aren’t ready for commitment
* You SO siding with his/her family over you
* Using sex as a weapon or making you feel guilty or shameful about sex
* Having only “spark” and no substance
* Etc. etc. etc. etc.

They kind of parallel each other, so it’s not that hard to see how one might be confused for the other. Something that might initially appear as a struggle, say differing political opinions, might quickly become a red flag if those differences in opinions turn into one partner disparaging the other or coming to believe destructive things.

Then you take into account that most women also like to believe that they can change a man, and will take a little bit of potential and let their imaginations run wild with it, and it’s also not difficult to see why many women stick around too long in relationships that everyone else can see is a bad idea.

As a friend said about her dating experience just the other day:

He came in and handed me a whole bouquet of red flags, and I just took it and was like, “Wow! Thank you so much!”

rose-3.jpgIf we’re lucky, we’ll have a come to Jesus moment where we learn to discern the difference between the two. If we’re really lucky, it will happen early enough in our dating experiences that we can be more selective about the relationships we pursue moving forward.

For me, I was fortunate (and I use that word only in hindsight) to learn this lesson as a result of my very first relationship in high school. It ended, after two years, with my boy friend going off to college and coming home that fall to tell me that he was bi-sexual. If I had been bi-sexual, or even bi-curious, this, perhaps, would not have been a red flag. However, as I was quite confident in my heterosexuality, that should have been the red flag that ended it. He was very insistent, however, that it didn’t have to be the end of it, because he still liked women, so nothing had to change. And I, because I was naive, and 18, and harbored the faintest glimmer of hope that I’d be “good enough” to turn him straight, did not immediately dump him, but rather stuck it out for another three weeks.

And then, even after we did break up, I still went to a family wedding as his date, during which it became apparent that the reason I’d been invited was because he hadn’t told any of his family that we’d broken up or that he was experimenting with his sexuality.

Needless to say, I walked away from the relationship with some trust issues and insecurities, which eventually developed into a much healthier skepticism towards motivations in a relationship and what I was willing to tolerate as a struggle vs. a red flag.

This is, I believe, the main issue observed all season, and a lesson those looking for their forever person should take to heart. Hannah was honest from the start of the season that she had low self esteem and self worth, and did believe that she wasn’t worthy of love, and instead of spending eight weeks on a reality show trying to find herself through 30 different relationships, would have been better off spending 8 weeks learning how to love herself first, so she could understand how she should be loved by another person.

Image result for red flag bouquet memeShe’s inherently bad at identifying red flags, which is probably not entirely her fault, because the things that most of the viewers see as red flags, she sees as some form of romanticized struggle. For example, pop culture has romanticized the “starving artist” lifestyle forever, and it’s sweet if a guy writes you a song…but it’s a red flag if he confesses that his motivation for pursuing you was to further his career. It’s a red flag if his family tells you that being with him would be bad for his career. It’s a red flag if your family tells you that he seems to only be interested in his career, which has not been that successful. That’s not a “starving artist’s” struggle. That’s the cue to run away!

It might be a struggle to wrestle with slight differences in your views on Christianity, or to pick a church you’ll attend together. It’s a red flag if the man you do that with weaponizes that faith to shame you, judges your actions and motivations based on his standards, and is hypocritical in his application of faith when it comes to his actions vs. yours.

Fortunately, Hannah eventually figured that faith thing out. But it took A LONG time.

Then she sent Peter home…maybe the one guy on the show without a single red flag!

So here’s the moment of realness: a relationship should not have to be difficult. Yes, you and your person will invariably have to endure a hardship or a struggle, but you should not get up day after day and wonder how it’s going to work or how to get through the next 24 hours. You should not need to think so hard about the logistics of life together. You should not need to question motivations and intentions. You should not need to worry what happens if you’re not perfect. You should not use the relationship to validate unhealthy beliefs you have about yourself.

If a relationship feels natural, comfortable, and secure, that’s a good thing…not a red flag! That doesn’t mean it’s boring or ordinary or less passionate or just ok. That means it’s healthy! Not everyday is going to easy, but it shouldn’t need to be so hard!

And a bouquet of red roses should always be more exciting and more desirable than a bouquet of red flags.

Cheers!

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