Orthodox Courtship Can Be Quick As ‘The Bachelor’ — But It’s So Much Different

On the season finale of “The Bachelor” Arie Luyendyk — whose last name, rather appropriately, rhymes with d*** — proposed to Becca Kufrin, one of over a dozen women vying to be crowned fiancée. But then he pulled a “I’ve got to follow my heart” move — he broke up with her by the end of the episode, during the most uncomfortable twenty minutes of “unedited” footage.

This was followed up by last night’s episode of “After The Final Rose,” where Arie, after thoroughly humiliating Becca on national television, proposes to the runner-up, Lauren Burnham. Despite her own hurt and humiliation at Arie’s rejection during the final rose ceremony, Lauren inexplicably accepts his proposal. The cheers that filled the live audience felt as hollow and superficial as the entire charade that the Bachelor franchise has come to represent.

The entire premise of the Bachelor is asinine — a pre-selected bunch of women (or men, for the Bachelorette) that try to woo the “Bachelor.” And, by the end, after only a couple of months, the Bachelor is supposed to get engaged to one of them.

But unlike most critics of this show’s main conceit, the actual timeline of getting engaged doesn’t bother me. You can, in fact, meet someone and get engaged after only two months and have a long, happy marriage. After all, this is the way Orthodox and Hasidic Jews approach marriage.

The divorce rate among the American Orthodox community is, according to a study by Dr. Yitzchak Shechter, around 10%. While this may be due to a variety of factors, it points to the success of a certain attitude toward love and marriage — you don’t get married because of romantic love, but because of compatibility. Trust and loyalty are valued over following one’s heart. Making a commitment compels a couple to make it work, putting in the time and effort, planting seeds that grow into the true and undying love the “Bachelor” franchise tries to sell to their millions of viewers.

The paradox of romantic love is that it’s so dependent on feelings, which are inherently temperamental. And so that feeling of love can and will change. There is really no such thing as a “happily ever after” because the feeling behind it is so fickle. And because of its inherent impermanence, the idea of “working” at a relationship becomes irrelevant. If you fall out of love, then the “right thing” to do would be to “follow your heart.”

But “following your heart” is selfish. Immoral, even. Relationships aren’t created in a vacuum of the self. If a man falls out of love with his partner, it may be in his best interest to leave, but it’s not necessarily in the best interest of his partner. Following one’s heart is based on a very Westernized premise that the individual is king — that pleasing the self takes precedence over pleasing others. Relationships cannot work that way. If there is no desire to give, or a person doesn’t have an unshakeable loyalty to someone, the relationship is doomed to fail.

“Following the heart” — that irrational, fickle feeling — may work in the bubble-like setting of “The Bachelor”. The picture-perfect dates, the exotic honeymoon-esque destinations, the competitive environment of vying for one person’s attention all contribute to the ease with which contestants fall in love with the Bachelor or Bachelorette. It’s a world unto itself whose structure breeds these romantic feelings, almost forcing it upon these men and women who, one would assume, are mostly rational individuals in the real world.

But those feelings aren’t real. And the proof is that, once the now-victorious couple gets back into the real world and has to deal with real issues, without a camera crew in tow to help hide one’s true self, the relationship falls apart. The once inconspicuous flaws begin to grow, like an insidious, parasitic disease, obscuring the rosy, picture-perfect image of one another.

Part of the problem with the Bachelor franchise is the expectation of a proposal. It wasn’t always this way: on the very first season of the Bachelor, Alex Michel didn’t propose. He simply continued to date the winner for a few months before they broke up. Bob Guiney, season 4’s Bachelor sort of proposed, giving a promise ring to Estella Gardinier. They too broke up soon afterward.

Both the season 5 and season 6 Bachelors didn’t propose, but at least Byron Velvick and his pick, Mary Delgado, continued to date for five years afterward. Same for season 7 — Charlie O’Connell didn’t propose to Sarah Brice, but continued to date her on and off over the next five years. The season 8 and 9 Bachelors followed the same path — picking winners, but refusing to propose to them. The “non-proposal streak” was broken by season 10’s Andrew Baldwin, who got engaged to contestant Tessa Horst, but called it off a month after the finale. Season 11’s Brad Womack didn’t even bother picking a winner.

By 2008, the Bachelor franchise was getting a reputation of non-proposals, which did not fit the commercialized fairytale it was trying to package to viewers. Thus began a streak of proposals (most of which got broken off mere weeks after the show’s finale). So by the Bachelor’s 13th season, seasons ending in proposals finally became the majority, with a score of 17 seasons to 9 proposals.

Dangling a cash prize to achieve a storybook ending with the cheesy, dramatic music and emotional proposal is extremely problematic. It forces the protagonist — the Bachelor or Bachelorette — to pick a winner from a pre-selected pool of candidates, whether or not they are ready to make such a commitment. And not just pick a winner, but to fall in love with one of the contestants, so that it’s somehow a real proposal.

This is worse than arranged marriages. At least in arranged marriages, there is no expectation of romantic love — it’s an arrangement, a mutually beneficial contract. Love can and often grows as the couple gets to know one another, but it’s not necessarily the most important thing.

The idea that someone can fall head over heels with someone in such a short period of time is not only unrealistic, it very rarely happens. When it does, it’s due to other magical elements — like fate and chance. Having to pick from a specific pool of candidates is not fate, it’s a tightly controlled production with producers on hand to point the Bachelor (or Bachelorette) in the preferred direction.

Even Orthodox Jews, who don’t have arranged marriages, but date and get engaged after a short period of time, don’t expect the couple to be “in love” by the time they get engaged. Indeed, it’s often discouraged or minimized, with couples being told that the experience of love that they’re feeling is chemical and sexual. Instead, they are expected to “grow” in their love for one another. Love happens when life happens — marriage, babies, financial stress, family drama, fulfilled ambitions. It is only through weathering the storm of life, both good and bad, that love can truly blossom and be considered true love.

For the Bachelor and Bachelorettes, the apex of their “love” is staying together long enough to be gifted a multi-million dollar wedding televised to an audience of millions. “Love” is the fame and opportunities that get thrown their way after the show. And, aside from a few outliers (Trista and Ryan; Molly and Jason; Catherine and Sean), “love” is after the happily ever that gets packaged in a scenic setting with a triumphant score; and the couple, now faced with real life, realize their love was a lie.

Michelle Honig is the style writer at the Forward. Contact her at honig@forward.com. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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Orthodox Courtship Can Be Quick As ‘The Bachelor’ — But It’s So Much Different

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