It’s that special time of year again. Where, despite my internal protesting, I tune into ABC every Monday and watch to witness which carpenter/model/unemployed male Sims character will woo The Bachelorette. Though the show has been critiqued numerous times in the past for its outdated premise, this particular season is rife with stale presumptions about one thing in specific: age.
The Clare of it all
This year, slighted Bachelor contestant Clare Crawley was named to lead the show’s quarantined sixteenth season. Being the oldest bachelorette in the show’s brief history (at only 39), her casting was positively received by the rabid “bachelor nation,” as much needed break from immature leads. But, the excitement quickly shifted to disdain. As despite the usual meticulously planned thirteen-episode journey, Clare chose contestant Dale Moss to be her betrothed, a mere three episodes in. Which immediately whisked her away from the competition, nearly ending the season.
Though shocking, I can argue that Crawley’s quick road to nuptials was bound to happen. Not due to the couple’s claim of “love at the first wet driveway,” but instead, the toxic culture that The Bachelorette propagates.
The initial advertising for Clare Crawley’s run on the franchise was the first bad omen. In the promotional poster, Crawley poses in a velveteen jacket, with a man pulling up dress socks onto his leg in the foreground. A direct spin on the iconic poster from The Graduate (1967). Which is a film that famously concerns an older woman seducing a recent college graduate.
First off, this comparison doesn’t even make sense compositionally. Plus, it incites a negative connotation about the series’ lead. Typically, these posters are meant to excite the audience about the upcoming season and empower the Bachelorette. This one only seems to poke fun at Crawley.
By comparing her to the vilified Mrs. Robinson character, the show is framing their heroine as a bored and desperate spinster, looking to prey on younger men. Which is entirely against the typical ethos of the show: to find a “worthy” woman true love. Even in the commercials, Crawley states that her “window is closing” and that this was her “last chance at love.”
This type of rhetoric would make sense for someone on their deathbed, but Crawley hasn’t even hit her forties. This confirms that The Bachelorette‘s casting of Clare isn’t to provide a platform for a woman above 25 to be framed as desirable. But instead, to perpetuate the idea that older, unmarried women shouldn’t even exist.
But, outside the monogamous fantasy sphere of The Bachelorette, the necessity to marry before thirty isn’t even a reality.
Heterosexual couples are actually marrying in their thirties more than ever. With the average age of newlywed women being 35, as opposed to 38 for men. Clare Crawley is only a year older than that. Which shows that the series’ insistence that a woman of Clare’s age should be married already, is a double standard.
Moreover, fewer people are tying the knot in general. Time Magazine’s study reports that 25% of millennials will never even marry. Due to the fact that most couples don’t feel financially secure enough. Marriage has also lost a lot of its general social appeal, as famously, 1 in 2 ends in divorce.
So, despite plummeting numbers, The Bachelorette clings on to the narrative that marriage is the only true “happily ever after.” This not only eschews what’s actually occurring in the modern dating world but also confirms the notion that women are invaluable without romantic achievements. Crawley could very well have both a successful career and fantastic friends and family. However, the advertising and her brief stint on the season purposefully neglected that information. As a result, she simply became her age and marital status.
Clare and Dale
Since Clare Crawley’s brief appearance on her own season, she has become one of the most maligned figures of The Bachelorette, and they aren’t entirely incorrect. In those few episodes, Crawley was vastly immature. She spent her time flat out ignoring the other contestants. Who already had to suffer through a season devoid of luxury vacation spots. But, with a culture so frenetically turned against unmarried women like Clare, it’s no wonder that she’s led to behave this way. Though frustrating to witness, she’s a victim of her culture. Most likely sick of not feeling like the “worthy” woman she’s supposed to be.
After their departure, Clare and Dale came back for a reunion with host Chris Harrison during Monday’s episode. Viewers at home laughed at the seemingly disingenuous display of the couple asserting “true love.” The moonstruck Crawley then goes on to state that she “knows what she’s looking for next.” Which, of course, is kids.
Despite the rather unorthodox methods of getting to the final rose, Dale and Clare’s engagement still confirms the show’s attachment to the outdated dream of the nuclear family. With a steady, appropriately aged wife at the center. Finally, fruitfully “happy.”