Authors: Jessi Klein
or years, I thought that only a certain kind of person watched
. I assumed it was the kind of person whom I would loosely describe as part of “the problem,” the problem being sexism, war, the death of culture, tackiness, babies having babies, and the general feeling that there isn't a surface left in America that a black light wouldn't reveal to be tainted with someone's shameful, Cheesecake Factoryâlaced DNA. But then one evening my friend Kate came over and we were drinking wine, and we wanted some TV to drink to, and it just so happened that the premiere episode of season 18 of
was on. Hahaha, let's watch this as a joke, we said. And forty minutes later I realized I was feeling this warm, happy feeling, and when I took a moment to think about what it was, I had no other choice but to recognize that it was enjoyment. And not just a little of it. A tidal wave. And as soon as I started reaching out to see if anyone else I knew had experienced this sensation, I was surprised to find out how many respectable, hardworking, college-educated people, male and female, also are willingâdesperate evenâto talk about this ridiculous, incredible show.
Maybe it's because finding the right partner had been such an agonizing journey in my own life, but I feel a vicarious relief in seeing the process of picking a mate organized into a strict, codified structure. It's a comforting antidote to the modern neurosis in which we are all incapable of making a decision about whom we want to be with until we are out of time, i.e., dead.
The rhythm of the show is always the same. In the season premiere, we are introduced to our titular bachelor in a segment where he rambles about how desperately he wants to find The One. We then watch him exercise without his shirt on for a bit. After the commercial break, he stands outside the
house and greets each of the bachelorettes as they arrive in black stretch limos (which you might think is cheesy, but be honest with yourself, being in a limo feels incredible and you know it).
The women on
are a specific breed, and watching this season closely I grew fascinated with them. They are often from Atlanta, or the types of places that are defined by being next to other places, like Bakersfield, California. On some level they are the next phase in the life cycle of a stereotypical sorority girl, or conversely you could see them as just two phases away from becoming Real Housewivesâ¦but still, they are their own thing.
They are always shockingly pretty. And they always have incredible bodiesâall tawny flat stomachs peeking out of crop tops and perky tushes in white jeans. The characteristic that always impresses me most is that they all have a starkly defined tricep, outlined by a deeply chiseled shadow. This is a kind of bonus muscle that does not really appear in nature (on women anyway). I'm not totally sure how you get it, but my guess is it is only achievable through thousands of hours of precision toning. For me, it is the tricep that always gives away how hard these women are working at looking the way they do. But then, on top of all these enviable physical traits, they each spackle on entire Sephoras of makeup.
What the women do for a living is always a source of wonder. While many of them have the kinds of jobs you'd expect of twenty-three-year-oldsâadministrative assistant, legal assistantâthere are always a few curveballs. There is a woman this season whose job is chyroned as “twin.” Two seasons ago, one of the girls was a “Jumbotron operator,” and in season 18 one of the women was always referred to as a “former NBA dancer.” As in, her current job is having formerly danced for the NBA. Which makes me think that I should update my rÃ©sumÃ© to sell myself as a “future NBA dancer.”
Personality-wise, they are all always nice, but a little bitchy, but mostly nice? And none of themâincluding the Bachelorâare ever funny. Not one person has ever made a joke in the entire history of the show. They occasionally laugh at stuff, but the source of this laughter is usually inexplicable.
Then there is the Bachelor himself. By all accounts, Juan Pablo, the Bachelor of season 18, was special. Juan Pablo is a former professional soccer player. He has a body that one could describe as “jacked,” if one was interested in saying that word, and at first glance he is very handsome, until you've watched about four episodes and then you realize he looks like a mini horse. It's not so much because he's short, which he isn't, but rather just that the more he talks, the more you realize what a truly small human being he is. And it turned out that he was worse than just ridiculous; he was actually a genuine dick. The reveal of this dickishness, however, was a slow burn over the course of the season. It appeared first as a kind of boring sweetness, then morphed into a slightly shocking intellectual dullness, until in the final five episodes it became clear he was an anger management case.
His growing orneriness led to what was apparently the first semi-revolt in the history of the show, as starting in the middle of the episodic mating process, one bachelorette after another became disenchanted with him and left the show. Sometime around when Sharleen (the opera singer who displayed more self-awareness and intelligence than anyone on reality TV is ever asked to have) decided to leave, Mike, who'd been lingering around the edges of the couch whenever I watched the show, became fully addicted with me. Watching it together became, I am ashamed to say, the highlight of our week. We were both riveted by its inanity, but I got something more out of it:
If you want to know how a man really thinks, I truly believe one of the most instructive things you can do is to sit and watch
with him. Because the women on the show seem more like fictional characters than real people, men feel free to talk about them in an unfiltered way they wouldn't use to talk about anyone you know, or even just women hypothetically.
For example: The runner-up in Juan Pablo's season was Clare, the tragic figure who had sex with him in the ocean, only to then be slut-shamed by him for “making him” have sex with her in the ocean. Clare was clearly a little crazy, although her decision to have sex with Juan Pablo was probably the sanest thing she did the entire season, since he turned out to not be good for much else. Her rival, Nikki, also seemed somewhat crazy, but in a way that was a little less dark than Clare.
When it came time for all of us to decide who would “win” (
being me, Juan Pablo, and Mike), we got into it. As crazy as I thought Clare was, she seemed like a nicer person than Nikki and should be Juan Pablo's choice. But then Mike informed me, “That's not how guys see her.”
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently.
He hesitated, but for just a moment. “Clare seems like she'd be a good fuck,” he said.
I was shocked to hear these words coming out of my husband's mouth; it was as if you one day heard your sweet domesticated King Charles spaniel call someone a vicious cunt. Of course I know men sometimes view women this way, but I didn't really understand what the specific signifiers of being a “good fuck” were, other than being hot and having a nice body, two qualities all the ladies had. What made Clare so special? I asked him to elaborate, and we got into a fight, and he told me I was being insecure, which I was outraged byâ¦but it was the truth. I felt a pang realizing that of all the things I may have unintentionally radiated my whole life, “good fuck” was definitely not one of them. Maybe people can sometimes tell I'm a Leo?
The next morning I decided to double-check Mike's comments with my friend and co-worker Dan, a devoted husband and father of two who is one of the most polite and inherently decent men I know, and is one of those hyper-intelligent people who also happens to be obsessed with
“Dan,” I said, cornering him the moment he arrived at our office. “Do you see Clare as a good fuck?”
He looked panicked.
“Mike said so and I want to know what you think,” I explained.
Reassured by the fact that Mike had said it first, he ventured slowly, “Um, I guess I know what he means.”
“WHY WHAT IS IT ABOUT HER?” I unintentionally yelled at him.
“She just seems like the sort of person who is crazy enough to have no boundaries and would let you do anything,” he said, looking around the room for a fire exit or accessible air shaft. “And also she has porn face.”
I had to agree about the porn face.
Of course, I feel guilty watching this show. I feel guilty watching people cry and be upset for entertainment. My only defense is that I am never truly sure if these people are “real.” Are they actors? Are they would-be actors? Or are they truly vulnerable human beings who are yearning for a relationship?
I have spent more time than I'm comfortable admitting pondering this question, and it bothers me that I can never be sure. Perhaps as a result of this desire for certainty, I have developed an elaborate fantasy of joining the show as a contestant myself, but in a very special
season where, instead of the usual tricep-ed, former-NBA-dancing, white-jeaned beauties, the entire roster of women is composed of women like me: Jewish girls with glasses in their thirties who went to liberal arts colleges.
My fantasy begins with our arrival at the house to meet “The” Bachelor. We each pull up in our big fancy limos, but instead of emerging bedecked in some kind of goddess evening gown, all of us are wearing big sweaters and Dansko clogs. And instead of greeting the Bachelor with big sexy hugs, every single one of us is awkward and offers a handshake while saying, “Can we all just acknowledge this is
Normally the dates on
are all of an active varietyâkayaking, or paintball, or some other physical thing where you could end up having sex by accidentâbut because every member of this new cast is constitutionally a delicate flower, different kinds of activities are in order. Such as:
On an early group date we all go on a CVS run to buy Advil. There are some laughs about who's choosing tablets over the gel capsules because they're smaller and easier to swallow.
Later on, as we are narrowed down to a smaller field, a sense of trust is established. A few of us ask the Bachelor if he will come glasses shopping with us. Several different stores are visited and many pairs are tried on before we decide to go with a frame very similar to our existing one.
There is the date where we go to a cafÃ© and just talk about our dads.
There is the date where we go to the Met to see some important Chinese brush-painting exhibit that was written up in the
and then eat at a terrible restaurant on the Upper East Side.
And at last, when the show has brought us down to two candidates, the final deciding date puts each of usâyes, I am one of the finalistsâin the most intimate situation of all: watching all of the previous seasons of
This is the date that is the most important. This is how we will find out what he really thinks, and who he really is.
n the '60s, when he was putting himself through graduate school, my father worked at Bellevue Hospital, where his job was to hold the heads of people receiving electroshock therapy. My dad was not in graduate school for anything related to medicine, psychology, hospitals, shock, or heads. He was getting his master's in English. Fifty years later, if you tell him you're going to therapy (something I would not recommend doing), he pictures you being strapped down by Nurse Ratched for the Cuckoo's Nest special. That's what he thinks all therapy is. Or maybe he pictures someone masquerading under the title “psychoanalyst” getting out of his chair to quietly grope you after he's put you into a trance with garbage lies about your parents.
But this isn't about my father. This is about me finding my way to therapy, way back in 2003, a couple of years after I had the spectacularly horrible split with Pete and every weakness that had been an ignorable little dripping faucet turned into a waterfall of low self-esteem, sadness, and anger. I paddled around in this muck for a year after we broke up, gradually getting worse, until I began to feel physically sick. My hands started tingling, I developed a numb patch on my cheek, and when I tried to type, my fingers were clumsy and missed the keys. I went on WebMD (THE RIGHT THING TO DO), where I found out that under no circumstances was I to believe anything other than the medically established true fact that I was dying of everything. In a panic, I ran to my primary care doctor at the time, Dr. Remy.
Dr. Remy was British, in his early fifties, with a chilly demeanor and more than a passing resemblance to William Hurt. I had a huge crush on him and would occasionally fantasize about an appointment with him touching my face and tracing the outline of my lips with his finger, and then gently kissing my forehead the way Mr. Darcy kisses Elizabeth in every decent adaptation of
Pride and Prejudice
Believe it or not, this never happened. However, his specialty was gastroenterology, and thus he believed the anus to be the oracle of health, the human equivalent of a dog's nose. This meant that every time I went to see him, regardless of the reasonâa cold, a sore throatâhe would put his finger in my butt. So in a way, it was like we were dating.
This time, I told him about the numb spot and tingling hands and my bad typing. As usual, he put his finger in my butt. He asked me if anything unusual was going on in my life, and I said no, not really, except for the breakup with my live-in boyfriend of six years. Before I even finished the sentence, he snapped off his plastic gloves and tossed them into the medical waste disposal, which is doctor sign language for “This appointment is over (you idiot).”
“You know when you go through a breakup, it's like going through a death,” he said in his frosty accent. “You're depressed. Have you thought about speaking with someone?”
I hadn't. I'd thought about ripping open my gown and kissing him, but that was it.
I told him I'd consider it.
I know people whose parents sent them to therapy when they were seven and have never stopped going. In my therapy-averse household, the idea of “speaking to someone” had never come up.
I went to my company's HR department to get a copy of my insurance provider directory, which is one of the saddest things anyone can ever do, and in fact was so sad that the Internet was invented so no one would have to do it ever again.
Faced with a long list of random names and addresses, I tried to think about how to create preferences. I wanted to talk to a woman more than a man. I wanted a place close to my office so I could run out at lunch, be a fucking lunatic for an hour, and then run back. I noticed that most female therapists seemed to be named Linda, Debra, or Karen, so I figured I'd let them cancel each other out and I'd go with someone not named any of those things. I also remembered a piece of advice from my father, who once told me that you should choose a doctor based on the way their office answers the phone.
I started making calls. You'd be surprised how many therapists in Midtown then had very old answering machines, ones with actual tape where you hear it grinding on and then groaning off. I listened to their outgoing messages, and they all sounded the way my mom sounds on my parents' answering machineâlike a hostage with a gun to her head, haltingly reciting a threat that will be broadcast on Al Jazeera. Only one person calmly and clearly stated her name and also mentioned that I should be aware that if I was on a cell phone, my message might not be transmitting. This struck me as a relatively sophisticated understanding of technology. I went ahead and made an appointment with this therapist, Connie, and then went back to crying at my desk.
Connie's office is in an old Midtown New York building, above a Pax. And it's always been the same. You walk past the security guard, who's kind enough to keep it to himself that he knows you're there because you're a train wreck, and then you always wait a bit too long for the elevator. Once in the elevator, you press 3 and then look at yourself in any of the four mirrors that line the walls, reflecting back at you an uncomfortably fragile, frizzy version of yourself. But you can't help but look forward to the moment you push the doorbell, and Connie buzzes you into the waiting room, where a white-noise machine purrs discreetly and there's a copy of
featuring a spread on Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's Malibu mansion. You will sit and look at their home theater, and the surprising adobe theme, and you will think about what there is of significance to report about your own mansionless life.
Finally, some other patient opens Connie's door to leave and you pretend not to look at them even while you're trying to decide whether any of the details of their appearance give away that their problems might be more interesting than yours.
Then you rise and enter the inner sanctum, an office with buttery yellow walls and a painting of flowers and vases with some French words floating around the canvas, just to give the whole thing an air of sophistication. The room is warm and womb-like, and the only reminder of the real world is a window that looks across a gray alleyway and directly into a dentist's office, where sometimes, out of the corner of your eye, as you're talking about some particularly navel-gazing bullshit, you'll see someone in the middle of a root canal.
Finally, there is Connie herself, sitting in a big leather chair. She is always well dressed, often in a pantsuit with some chunky jewelry, a sort of free-spirited Hillary Clinton. She is now in her late sixties, with red hair and large owlish eyes magnified further by rectangular glasses that occasionally hang from a chain around her neck, the therapist's equivalent of a doctor's stethoscope.
The first time Connie and I met, I had the feeling I imagine an orphaned baby animal gets when it spots a female of another species and chooses to follow her around until she becomes its new mother, like the post-tsunami baby hippo that latched onto a matronly female tortoise. Connie grew up around the corner from where I grew up, albeit forty years earlier. She's Italian American, which means she understands food and crazy people, which means she's basically Jewish. Like the tortoise hippo mom, she reminds me of my mom, without actually being my mom.
In our first session, she asked me what had brought me to her office. I told her about Dr. Remy and about how the finger in the butt told him I needed therapy and was grieving a breakup. I talked about how betrayed I felt, and worse, how ugly I felt. She'd been listening and taking notes quietly until I said the ugly thing, at which point she looked up and said, “I don't understand the ugly thing. 'Cause I'm sitting over here and I feel like I'm looking at Audrey Hepburn.”
There are a couple of things wrong with this. Number one, I do not remotely look like Audrey Hepburn. Nobody does. That's the whole point of Audrey Hepburn.
Number two, your therapist really shouldn't feel the need to give you an outrageously flattering compliment about your appearance to make you feel better. But she did anyway, and I started crying (I was crying a lot in those days). Partly because of the Hepburn thing but also because of an enormous sense of relief that I'd found someone I trusted. Or at least someone who was willing to accept money in exchange for never being exhausted by me.
Most therapists stick to a strict forty-five-minute clock. My sessions with Connie are an hour and fifteen minutes minimum. In the last few years, we have occasionally gabbed for upward of an hour and a half, if no one else is waiting. I'd like to think this is because she believes this is the amount of time it takes to have a productive session, but I know it's mostly her compensating for the fact that more often than not we spend at least twenty minutes talking about what happened last night on (over the years)
Sex and the City
. Earlier this year she and her husband went on a two-week trip to Iceland, and while she was away I had some very important bullshit happen in my relationship and I was really looking forward to getting her advice. When I showed up for my next appointment, I sat on the couch and politely asked her about her trip. She then spent the entire hour telling me about Iceland. How amazing it is, how beautiful and friendly the people are, how generous their system of government is when it comes to health insurance. I got up to go, and paid her an out-of-network fee of $150 for the travel recommendation.
A few weeks later I ran into my friend Greta, a college pal whom I sent to Connie about a year ago. Since then she's been nothing but effusive about how much she loves her. This time, however, after exchanging initial greetings, she gave me a look. “Did Connie talk to you about Iceland?”
So Connie doesn't always adhere to typical therapist protocol. But Connie has also healed me. When I walked into her office ten years agoâor was it eleven?âI was a broken eggshell. I didn't know what I was doing with my life. I was unmoored from the person who had been my person and I couldn't stop feeling the ache. I wept as I walked the ten blocks from the subway to my apartment every night. I was crushingly lonely. Once a week, I showed up to her office and sat cross-legged on her couch, often holding a pillow like a security blanket, as I dumped these feelings at her feet so she could do something about them. The horror over my ex being with someone younger, blonder, how it undid me to think about them together, how my idea of what love meant had drained away, leaving a cold white void, an empty sink in my gut. I told her about my obsessive Googling. This went on for months until one day, Connie leaned forward in her leather chair, brass bead necklace swinging forward, and told me, “Jess, you have a tape that's playing in your head. You need to decide to stop playing the tape.” I stared into her eyes and pictured an old '80s cassette player. She was right.
We started going through my other tapes. The tape of my dad always pointing me toward the safest path in life, the path of plan B. The tape of me wanting to escape this path but not believing in myself. We started going through older tapes. Deep cuts.
It took years. But I gradually started to feel better. I started taking risks. I left my job and began my career. And I went on dates. Connie heard about all of them. There was the guy I brought in for one session of “couples therapy,” at the end of which Connie said, “Well, you've been together a year, and this is supposed to be the honeymoon of a relationship, so just know it's only going to get harder from here.” We broke up in the elevator on the way out.
There was the architect, a classic cad. When I told Connie he wore loafers without socks, she was agape. “Who is this phony?”
Years later, right before her daughter gave birth, Connie found out she needed foot surgery. We were supposed to do a phone session on a Wednesday night, and Connie was fifteen minutes late calling me, which was unusual for her. When she did, I could hear that she was scared. “I don't know how I'm going to help her,” she said, her voice breaking.
“It's going to be okay,” I said.
When I got engaged, I called my parents. They were thrilled, but even the happy news was not enough to break them of their habit of keeping every phone call as close to haiku-length as possible. I was on Martha's Vineyard with Mike, but I took a moment to email Connie a photo of us, captured two seconds after he gave me a ring in the middle of a wooded hike to the beach. Then we went to see a movie. When we emerged from the theater, I had a voicemail from Connie.
“Jessi,” she began. “I'm watching the Olympics, and I don't even know what made me look at my iPad, but I did, and I see you and this ring, and I'm shaking. I'm shaking.”
The message goes on for seven minutes. She seems to be signing off about ten different times, but then launches into another torrent of well wishes. “You just take real good care of each other,” she said. “Real good.”
I still haven't deleted it.
When I returned from the trip, I made an appointment to see her. I didn't have anything I needed to talk about, but she'd left me another message letting me know she had a gift for me. I went to her office, past the Pax and up the mirrored elevator, and then into the waiting room, where I looked at Jennifer Aniston's house in
Once I was inside, Connie hugged me tightly. She looked at my finger and literally kissed the ring. Then she handed me a gift bag. Inside was a little jewelry box. “You need a place to put it when you do the dishes!” she said, and she was right. I did. After I thanked her for the gift, she gestured for me to sit down. “Tell me everything about the proposal.” For a full out-of-network non-reimbursable hour, I gave her all the details.
Â A surprising amount of purple.