Warning: This post contains spoilers about episode four, season 22 of “The Bachelor.”
Bekah M. is 22. Does that sentence mean something to you?
If so, what’s up Bachelor Nation? If not, let’s get you up to speed: We’re on the 15th year of the ABC show “The Bachelor,” in which a man dates 30 or so people in his quest for a wife. (In “The Bachelorette,” the gender roles are reversed.) “The Bachelor” has been widely criticized for being old-fashioned and exploitative. Perhaps its greater sin, however, is that it’s boring. This is also its singular asset and the ultimate reason why, as a dog returns to its vomit, we find ourselves watching every Monday night. You can’t count on much these days, but you can count on “The Bachelor.” I’m unironically devoted to it.
And you can absolutely count on this season’s bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr. Arie is a Very Normal Person: a racecar driver/real estate agent based in Scottsdale, Ariz. He’s 36 years old. He hangs out with his parents every other day. He really wants to get married. Arie is not thrilling to watch. Four episodes in, he’s basically said that he likes to eat pizza, that “excitement excites” him, and spending time outside is cool and fun. Now being boring in the real world is no sin; we’re all entitled to it. But this here is primetime television. And so thank God for spunky Bekah Martinez, who pulled up in a ’68 cherry red Mustang and a pixie cut, setting Arie’s little eight-hours-of-sleep-a-night, I-always-stretch-before-running heart on fire.
Until last night, we didn’t know how old Bekah M. was because the producers, trying to pull a new trick out of a dead dog, have been conspicuously hiding her age from viewers. All the other women’s lower thirds included their name, age, job title and hometown. Bekah M.’s simply read, “Nanny, Los Angeles.” (I have to keep calling her “Bekah M.” because there is also a “Becca K.”; shared first names are a common problem in the world of “The Bachelor.” This season had four Laurens.)
We were aware that the rest of the women were very young indeed. The oldest of Arie’s contestants was 33 and she got axed on the first night. By the end of last night’s episode, the oldest woman standing was Krystal, 29, a full seven years younger than Arie. Krystal has definitely been through it in her life and is probably a good person who deserves more credit than she’s getting, but through editing or actions, she presents as a bunny boiler. Arie’s likely to cut her, ending up with someone in their early- to mid-20s.
Much of the conversation around the age difference between Arie and his contestants has been negative, with critics saying the show reinforces the perception that older dudes often want to get with younger women even if they have little in common with them. Yes, the show absolutely patterns that sick reality — but find me a reasonable woman in her mid-30s who wants to go on “The Bachelor.” Quitting your job and competing with dozens of other women for the love of a man you don’t know and will be (best-case scenario) engaged to after he has sex with at least two other women while your phone and computer are held by a chaperone for six weeks sounds to me like a screaming nightmare.
I don’t know a single person who would do it. When we were young and perma-drunk and rootless? Absolutely. But when I saw the ladies run shrieking through a cabin in South Lake Tahoe as if they’d been invited to sleep in Versailles, my 30-year-old ass thought, “Never.”
Normal humans go to a cabin in Lake Tahoe and say, “Wow, this is really fun and lovely.” But “Bachelor” producers routinely invite the women to act deranged. Playing that part is much easier if you have less life riding on the performance. One of the most pleasant things about getting older is that it becomes harder to pretend.
In “Bachelor” world, age differences have been raised before, though they’re usually far smaller. For instance, recent bachelor Chris Soules, then 33, fell for Becca Tilley, then 25, even though he wanted to live on an isolated farm in Iowa for the rest of his life and she didn’t. When recent bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, then 32, fell for Dean Unglert, then 26, viewers and contestants alike got to clucking. She broke up with him, she said, because she didn’t think he was ready to settle down and start a family.
Much as I love a good polemic, it seems reasonable to assess May-December romances in context. If there is a 40-something dude that only ever hooks up with 20-something models (hello, Leonardo DiCaprio), then I think it’s fair to question whether that dude is deeply concerned with women’s inner lives or sees women his own age as genuine romantic prospects.
But Arie does not seem like that creepy dude so far. He fell for Emily Maynard, five years younger, on her season of “The Bachelorette.” He casually dated Courtney Robertson, the winner of bachelor Ben Flajnik’s season, who is two years younger. He most recently dated a woman who was, yes, nine years younger. He has fallen in love with two single moms and moved in with one of them and her children. Arie’s exes from the franchise sing his praises.
So when Bekah M. revealed she was fourteen years younger than him, Arie didn’t say, “Yesss! Gonna get me some yung ass and totally ignore the women in the room who are fully grown!” Here’s what happened:
“I’m 22,” she offers, having danced around the topic.
“Oh my god,” he covers his mouth.
“Twenty-two. You’re so young. Gosh,” he says, tilting his head, eyes totally joyless. If anything, in expressing his misgivings so directly, he makes her feel like she has to apologize for something that’s neither of their faults.
But he doesn’t fetishize her inexperience. He tells her repeatedly that he’s concerned their relationship won’t work. He says he is “worried,” “scared,” and “terrified.” He gives her outs. He literally tells her that he’s boring, and he likes waking up early.
“My biggest fear is that I go through all of this and emotionally invest in you, and at the end, I’m heartbroken,” he says.
“Would it be worth it if that did happen?” she says, looking hopefully into his eyes.
“No, because I need a wife,” he says.
But he gives her the rose and says he wants to make it work. You can see how much more engaged he is with Bekah M. than with the other women. (He was an amiable mannequin on his other one-on-one date this week. You could feel his date — Seinne Fleming, who was composed and charming — straining to move their conversation forward.) He holds Bekah M.’s head in both of his hands and strokes her cheek. He tells her he sometimes leads with chemistry and doesn’t want to do that anymore. But any viewer can see the X factor is present, vibrating between them, and the X factor does not care what Arie wants.
His instinct feels true. I’d be shocked if Bekah M., whose social media is full of L.A. modeling shots, moves to Scottsdale to be a wife and mother. It’s statistically far more likely she’d end up an Instagram SponCon girl. But Bekah M.’s about 10 times as lively and interesting as Arie is. She’s also one of the few compelling women with a real shot left on the show. (My other favorites Brittany T., 30, and Caroline, 26, were sent home this week.)
The producers hoped we’d make much of age itself, but in this case, Bekah M.’s age is no different from any other critical disclosure. It’s often easiest to desire those we do not know, but information makes things real. It breaks the spell. Not to bring the great poet Adrienne Rich into a “Bachelor” recap — but then again, yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing: In her poem, “Splittings,” Rich wrote: