I stood outside the doorstep of a guy I’d been seeing for two months. I said to him, “I have feelings for you, and if you don’t feel the same way, I’m just going to bow out. So, do you?”
He said, “I mean, it’s not like I’m staying over at other girls’ apartments and asking them to hang out.”
It was a yes or no question. So I just stopped agreeing to plans. Until a message from him popped up in my Instagram DMs.
“I really like you,” it said. “You don’t owe me anything, but I’d like to get coffee and let you know exactly where I’m at.”
So we got coffee. I asked him where exactly he was, in fact, at.
“I mean,” he began, “I’d just want to take things a lot slower.”
“You mean, physically?” I asked, confused.
“Well, yeah, that, but also, everything,” was his even more ambiguous reply.
I did the math: He wanted to hang out with me, not hook up, and also move at an even slower emotional pace, which was a hair above stagnant to begin with. So this dude wanted… friendship? Friends with the possibility of benefits? Or, more likely, simply the knowledge that I wasn’t going anywhere, a place on a hook on which he could keep me indefinitely in case his other relationships didn’t work out.
This is dating in 2018, in New York at least. It’s a game of chicken—who can maintain the greatest emotional distance while doing everything a couple would do? And when you figure out the game, when you ask to change the rules, the guy doesn’t fold and move on to someone else since your goals are clearly incompatible. He’ll keep playing, all the while insisting he’s not playing a game. Then he’ll get back with an ex, or end up in a relationship with a girl he was seeing all along, or stop answering your texts but still watch all your Instagram stories.
So when I sat on my couch watching Bachelor in Paradise and heard Jordan tell Annaliese that he was going to pursue Jenna, but if Jenna changed her mind, he would come back to Annaliese, I screamed into my empty apartment. Bachelor in Paradise has stopped being fun to watch. I’ve seen this exact situation play out too many times to enjoy watching it on television, too. Except in real life, the guy doesn’t even do you the courtesy of telling you outright he’s putting you on the back burner so he can pursue someone else.
It’s not just this instance with Jordan. It’s Chris telling Tia he wants to be all in with her, and then deciding the next minute announcing he’s always wanted to pursue Krystal. It’s Dean keeping Kristina and Danielle on the line simultaneously, even though he was clearly only interested in one of them. It’s Jared never giving Ashley the time of day until she starts seeing someone else and suddenly isn’t available on demand to make him feel desirable.
We watch the men of Paradise lead on multiple women with no remorse—and I cannot for the life of me think of one good example where the women have the privilege of acting the same way. We may get some of that later this season between Kendall, Leo, and Joe, but as of right now, it’s more of the same: men have their pick of women out of their league (hi, Matt and Adam from season 4). Men have the power and decide how, or if, the relationship progresses. All the women can do is sit there and hope the guy chooses them.
And here’s the thing, too: with the successes of couples that meet on Paradise, get married, and have kids (Carly and Evan, Jade and Tanner), the stakes are higher now. It’s not just about getting f*cked up on the beach and maybe finding a boyfriend to extend your 15 minutes of fame. Many of the women in their intros talk about how they want to get married and meet their husband on Paradise. But the men? They all just want to f*ck around. So the women take the process seriously while the men treat Paradise like their personal female buffet, even though modern dating, out in the real world, is already a buffet for them. These men don’t need Paradise. Not when they can open a dating app that takes all the work and courtship out of their hands and places those responsibilities squarely on the woman’s shoulders. Not when they could walk into any bar. Not when they could slide into a girl’s DMs.
As time goes on, the women on Paradise put up with more and more bullsh*t from the men—the same bullsh*t they are probably encountering in droves outside of the show—in the hopes of getting that storybook ending. They’ll make themselves appear pathetic and stupid, all for the possibility the guy they’re pining over will come around and maybe even pop the question.
Bachelor in Paradise is a dating show, but it’s the dating that I can’t stand to watch. It just mirrors all the worst aspects of modern dating. I know that Bachelor in Paradise isn’t exactly meant to be subversive. But why should I spend four hours every single week, in my off time, watching men string women along just so they don’t have to deal with the inconvenience of being alone? Why should I watch men toss beautiful, funny, kind women aside, a rotating door of upgrades to newer models, and not only not get reprimanded for their behavior, but actually get rewarded with Bachelor gigs and PEOPLE magazine spreads? What part of that is enjoyable? For whom is that fun? Why should I do that for entertainment when I can, and do, get the same experience when I turn off my television?