Obsessed with “The Bachelor ”Franchise? This Romance Expert Explains Why (Exclusive)

The author of new rom-com novel 'Not Here to Make Friends,' an academic who studies romance, reveals why audiences devour real-life fairytales like 'The Bachelor' and 'Love is Blind'

<p>Manda Ford; Atria Books</p>

Manda Ford; Atria Books

'Not Here to Make Friends' by Jodi McAlister

I went out to coffee with a friend recently, and they asked me just how many words I’d written about The Bachelor over the course of my career. I thought about it, did some back-of-the-napkin calculations, and eventually replied that it was definitely north of half a million, probably by quite a lot.

Their eyes widened. “Why?”

This was a reasonable question. Really, if anyone is writing a Lord of the Rings-level number of words about a subject, they should expect to be asked why.

But what they said next – “it’s just a reality TV show!” – made me realize that despite all the words I’ve already written on the subject, I still have more to say. While, yes, The Bachelor is just a reality show, it’s also a fascinating cultural artifact that can tell us an enormous amount about how we think about love.

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This is a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about. Like, a lot. I have two careers, and both of them revolve around love and love stories.

By day, as Dr. Jodi McAlister, I study romance. I’m an academic at a university in Melbourne, and the vice president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. My research revolves around the love stories we tell in popular culture and how they influence the ways we think.

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By night, as regular Jodi McAlister, I write romance. I’m the author of several romance novels, and my latest, Not Here To Make Friends, will hit shelves on June 4.

<p>Atria Books</p> 'Not Here to Make Friends'

Atria Books

'Not Here to Make Friends'

This book takes place on the set of a reality TV show called Marry Me, Juliet, which is very similar to The Bachelor. But this time, the Bachelor – called the Romeo in this universe – is not the main character. Rather, we’re following the producers of the show on their unique journey to love.

So – to return to my friend’s question – why? Why am I so incredibly fascinated by this show?

First of all, as a reality TV format, The Bachelor is an endurance athlete. Different dating shows will come and go, but the Bachelor franchise has been around for over 20 years – which tells me that there’s something in it that audiences are continuing to find resonant.

<p>John Fleenor/Disney via Getty</p> The Golden bachelors

John Fleenor/Disney via Getty

The Golden bachelors

A lot of reality TV formats have a specific gimmick – in Love is Blind, for instance, contestants aren’t allowed to see each other until they commit to each other, something which would rarely happen in a real-life romance.

Related: Love Is Blind: How 8 Couples Have Made Love Last Against the Odds Half a Decade After the Pods Opened (Exclusive)

The Bachelor’s only gimmick, though, is the fact that all the lead’s prospective partners live together. The romantic milestones built into the format – meeting, dating, kissing, introducing each other to their families, sex, commitment, maybe even proposing – mirror the milestones a relationship progresses through in real life. The visual language of the show (roses, candles, endless formalwear, etc.) evokes the timeless feeling of a fairytale, but it’s a fairytale specifically about modern romance.

<p>Disney/Michael Kirchoff</p> The Bachelor 28 cast

Disney/Michael Kirchoff

The Bachelor 28 cast

The relationships we see on The Bachelor involve real people, sure – but as anyone who watched even a single episode of UnREAL knows, the love stories we’re shown are very actively shaped, manipulated and edited. They’re real love stories, but with an asterisk.

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It’s this tension between what we think love should look like and what love actually is that has fascinated me for years. In Not Here to Make Friends, after a season that went disastrously off the rails and left the audience deeply disappointed with the ending, TV producer Murray conjures up a very specific vision of the sweepingly romantic fairytale he wants to tell, complete with a perfect heroic Prince Charming and chosen Cinderella – and he’s willing to do an immense amount of manipulation and sabotage to get the story he wants. But he doesn’t count on his estranged best friend and former co-producer Lily joining the cast as the season’s villain, upending all of his plans.

<p>ABC/Craig Sjodin</p> The Bachelorette cast

ABC/Craig Sjodin

The Bachelorette cast

We’re so compelled by the fantasy of what love should look like that we return to the show year after year, even though the statistics on couples staying together and really making it work afterwards are, shall we say, underwhelming (looking at you, Gerry and Theresa).

Related: The Golden Bachelorette Names The Golden Bachelor's Joan Vassos as Lead

“Your love might be pure and true and eternal,” Murray snaps at one point, “but it doesn’t give me a love story you can tell on TV!”

Because even if The Bachelor is designed to mirror real-life romance, love is rarely as simple as the TV fantasy. Sometimes it’s not a clean progression through romantic milestones, from meeting to dating to kissing and so on. Sometimes the path is long and winding, and it’s one step forward, two steps back. Sometimes love is tangled up with all kinds of other complicated, messy emotions – and sometimes, the mess makes for a significantly more interesting story than the fairytale anyway.

And sometimes, it’s not Prince Charming and Cinderella who are the protagonists of the story at all.

Sometimes, it’s the villains.

Not Here to Make Friends comes out June 4, and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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