My indoctrination into Bachelor Nation took place on a Monday night in 2016 at my friend Kelsey’s apartment. She’d invited me over to watch JoJo Fletcher’s season of The Bachelorette. I was skeptical — I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching people with alarmingly symmetrical faces go skydiving and make tearful confessions over candlelit dinners — but I was willing to give the show and its cultish fandom a try. She pulled a bottle of rosé out of her mini-fridge, we ordered in sushi, and she taught me everything I needed to know about limo exits and rose ceremonies. On-screen, everyone talked a lot about their “journeys.” By the end of the night, I was hooked.
Over the next 11 weeks, we settled into a comforting routine: For two hours, we’d watch TV and catch up in three-minute bursts. Conversations would get cut short, forgotten by the next commercial break. This was fine for funny stories and minor dramas; anything real (my search for a new job, Kelsey’s long-distance relationship, whatever the f*ck was going on in politics) was saved for after each episode.
The Bachelor often sparked discussions about our own love lives: if we’d want our future husbands to ask our parents for their blessing (her, yes; me, no), how to navigate conflict (ideally off-camera), our preferred engagement ring styles (I stashed her answer away in an iPhone note in case her boyfriend asked someday).
Amid my mess of stilted Tinder dates and frustrating situationships, I found the show’s neat, orderly romantic arcs soothing. I was astounded that without fail, every contestant had no qualms that the lead was their soulmate, regularly shouting her name from rooftops to convey their enthusiasm. Meanwhile, I was spending a lot of time making out with low-level investment bankers who took anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to text me back.
Kelsey and I had met years earlier as magazine interns and quickly became close friends. Our weekly ritual cemented our places in each other’s inner circles. The rest of my New York social life unfurled at loud bars and bottomless brunches, but these watch parties were different. We’d meet after work at her place. Her apartment was peaceful and homey; there were stacks of mail on the counter and dry cleaning bags hanging from her closet door. We could be barefoot. She’d lend me sweatpants and we’d eat straight out of plastic tubs. I’d braid her hair, and sometimes, I brought bouquets of bodega roses. It was a kind of intimacy that reminded me of living with roommates in college.
Three years went by like this. Then, over dinner at our favorite Italian place, Kelsey broke the news. She was moving to San Francisco; her boyfriend had gotten a job there. As happy as I was for her, I was sad for us, too. We promised to stay in touch, but I worried our friendship wouldn’t be the same when stretched across the country.
Kelsey moved that September. As the next season unfurled that winter, we developed a new routine: Tuesday mornings were reserved for analyzing each episode via text. Peter Weber’s season concluded in March 2020 with spectacular chaos: He proposed to Hannah Ann Sluss, then broke it off and secretly hooked up with Hannah Brown, his ex from the previous season. Days after his engagement imploded, he reconnected with runner-up Madison Prewett, then quickly pivoted to a relationship with Kelley Flanagan, who hadn’t even made it to his final four — Kelsey and I couldn’t text fast enough. The drama was a tiny reprieve from our rapidly escalating grim new reality.
With little else going on in our lives, we had a lot to discuss — not just post-season drama, but also, Reality Steve spoilers, gossip from the Bachelor Happy Hour and Game of Roses podcasts, and our ongoing, one-sided, love-hate relationship with Bachelor-turned-dating guru Nick Viall. It was a refreshingly normal touchstone that reminded me of pre-pandemic life, and a regular reminder to check in with each other.
There was heavier stuff, too. The franchise has an abysmal track record for casting a diverse group of contestants. It took 25 seasons — yes, 25 — to cast the first Black Bachelor, Matt James, and his season was marred by controversy; it came out that contestant Rachael Kirkconnell had liked racist social media posts, attended an antebellum South plantation-themed party, and allegedly bullied high school classmates for liking Black guys. (She won his season anyway, and minus a brief break, they’ve been dating since 2021.)
This was far from the only scandal over race, and throughout the series’s history, there have been incidents of bigotry, blackface, slut-shaming, sexual misconduct allegations, and more. While ABC has made some strides toward diversity and inclusion, they still tend to choose interchangeably boring white guys over charismatic BIPOC contestants for the lead role.
Kelsey and I have exchanged email-length texts (not to mention voice memos and actual emails) dissecting all of this, and frequently questioned if we should still bother tuning in. Our enthusiasm for the show has dwindled along with its ratings — The Bachelor debuted with 25.9 million viewers in 2002, but just 2.9 million watched the most recent season. Contestants used to jet off to places like Paris and Bali; in one 2020 episode (filmed the prior year), they visited Cleveland. I spent most of Clayton Echard’s season playing Tetris.
It’s not all bad, though. During the most recent season, Charity Lawson’s Bachelorette, Kelsey liked when the show leaned into humor, like when host Jesse Palmer dressed up as Sasquatch. I coveted Lawson’s glam wardrobe (all those sequined pants!). It’s not much, but that’s fine — years of daily discussions have brought us closer than ever. Our “thoughts on the bach?” texts have become less frequent in favor of topics that actually matter: weddings, breakups, health scares, grief, career wins, family updates. Life stuff. We’d probably talk about it all anyway, somehow, at some point. But would we have this same constant stream of connection? I don’t know.
Our lives have changed again and again. The contestants were once older than us, and now, they’re younger. Kelsey has a full-sized fridge now, and a wine fridge, too. She used to drink whatever freebies she acquired through work, but these days, her wine comes straight from Napa and Sonoma. She has watch parties with her fiancé and friends in San Francisco now, and I have mine in Brooklyn. But once or twice a year, we save a few episodes to watch together during visits. I’ll braid her hair and we’ll roll our eyes at the cheesy drama. We’ll chat during commercials, and if the conversation spills out into the actual episode, so be it.