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Garvey: ‘The Golden Bachelor’: Being seen, not being loved is the answer

By Georgia Garvey - | Dec 5, 2023

I watched the finale of "The Golden Bachelor" last night, as one does when it's on, the kids are in bed and your mother-in-law has poured you a glass of wine.

It was a wild ride, but no spoiler alert is necessary here: This column is about the show, but it's also not about the show.

Because whatever happens with septuagenarian Gerry and whatever woman he chooses or doesn't choose, the show has already become a cultural phenomenon.

I only watched "The Bachelor" once before this, years ago, and at the time, I got the feeling the contestants chiefly were trying to build their "brand," whether that was music or modeling or "van life influencing" (an actual thing, I am told).

But when everyone on a dating show is in their 60s and 70s, it's more real. These are women who actually would have a hard time finding love on dating apps, where most guys will filter them out based on their age alone.

There was honesty on this season of "The Golden Bachelor," and the "journey" everyone's always talking about just resonated. When one woman talked about being on the show to give hope to her sick best friend, I cried. When another talked about leaving the competition to be with a daughter struggling with postpartum depression, I cried.

And it turns out, I wasn't alone. Millions of people wanted to watch senior citizens date and talk and kiss and flirt, defying every expectation we have about reality television (and real life).

Whenever someone on "The Golden Bachelor" is asked why the show has hit a nerve with audiences, they give the same "it's never too late for love" line.

And while that is, I suppose, technically true, it's also not the whole truth.

Because sometimes it is too late for love -- at least the sexy, rappelling-down-a-mountain, horseback-riding love on display on "The Bachelor." Like in so much entertainment, the women on "The Golden Bachelor" are thin, beautiful and healthy. For Pete's sake, some of them have better legs than I do.

But there's more to this: Our society has told us that if we're too old (or too fat or too poor) to be sexy in that very specific way that reality TV stars are sexy, then we don't matter as much.

I'm not at my golden stage yet, but I can see it in the distance, like a threatening mirage. And it's scary, not just because of the threat of -- well, death, but also because of another death, the one that comes before the final hurrah.

As we age, our value to society seems to wear away, too. We're not as hot, not as sharp, not as important.

In 2023, we only have to reach into our back pockets to instantly access the world's wisdom. In decades past, if we wanted to know something, we had to be told, be taught, by an elder. There was hard-won experience in old age, and as someone aged, they became more of a resource and a treasure.

That's no more.

And because of all this, the place that the elderly occupy in our society has evolved, too, from a position of honor to one of burden, annoyance -- or, more often, invisibility.

That's what's different about "The Golden Bachelor." Because in that show, older people are seen. They're not just our parents and grandparents, the person in line behind us at the grocery store or at the table across from us at a restaurant.

They're not extras in the film of life. They're the stars.

I hope that television producers (and audiences) don't learn the wrong lesson from the success of "The Golden Bachelor." You don't have to be in love to be important. You don't have to remarry in your 70s, don't have to "get over" the death of a spouse.

I worry that seniors who absorb the message of "never too late for love" will become easier marks for romance scams or feel bad if they can't find their soul mate late in life. Instead, they -- and, more urgently, we -- should explore what it means to truly see the elderly.

Being sexy is nice. Falling in love is nice. But it's even nicer to be important, to be understood as serving a crucial role in our culture and our world.

After all, we'll all grow old some day -- if we're lucky, that is.

What "The Golden Bachelor" should teach us is that, though taut buns and unlined faces may disappear with old age, a person's value never should.

And if we learn that, the show was worth its weight in ... well, gold.

To learn more about Georgia Garvey, visit GeorgiaGarvey.com.


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