After 33 seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” viewers will finally see a bit more diversity. Yes, as viewers know, Rachel Lindsay, a 32-year-old attorney from Dallas, is the first African American lead. But what many might not realize is that she’s also the oldest Bachelorette the series has ever cast.
Of the 13 seasons of the show, the median age of the Bachelorette has been 27 years old. This tracks closely with the median age of first marriage in the United States, which is 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men.
Usually the franchise gives Bachelors pools of younger women, while the Bachelorettes typically choose from men who are older than them. For example, last season’s Bachelor, 36-year-old Nick Viall, had a pool of mostly 20-something women and ended up with 29-year-old Vanessa Grimaldi.
So in another break from tradition this season, Lindsay’s men are, on the whole, younger than she is. The median age of the 31 men vying for Lindsay’s heart this season is 30 years old. That’s a mere two years — not an Emmanuel Macron-size gap — but small changes can have larger effects on a show that’s so formulaic and entrenched in its old-fashioned rules of engagement. Just as it’s refreshing to see that race barrier (finally!) start to break down — giving the cast the potential to join the 17 percent of U.S. newlyweds who have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity — it’s also refreshing to see ABC decide that 32 isn’t too late for a woman to find love. And that she’s not limited to men who are older than she is.
But don’t expect Bachelor Nation to suddenly be enlightened and present a season free of racially insensitive or ageist comments. Remember during the finale for Nick Viall’s season of “The Bachelor,” when Lindsay got to meet a few of her future suitors and one of them — Dean, who’s white — introduced himself by saying: “I’m ready to go black, and I’m never gonna go back”? Yikes. Awkward. Lindsay reacted gracefully on live television, but some on Twitter viewed the comment as fetishizing the first African American Bachelorette.
And that was before the season even started! As others have pointed out, Chris Harrison’s Facebook Live introduction of the contestants this season wasn’t without innuendo. He introduced DeMario by saying the 30-year-old African American contestant might be “too smooth.” On Ravishly last week, Jagger Blaec wrote that she “will be watching and hoping that this season of The Bachelorette isn’t going to be the microaggressive, messy trainwreck we all know it has the potential to be.”
The season has the potential to cast Lindsay — whom Harrison described last week as “a little bit older … and obviously very accomplished” — as an old maid, and her contestants as similarly over the hill. For example, in Harrison’s introduction of the contestants last week, he referred to Bryan, a 37-year-old chiropractor, as “ancient in Bachelor-speak.” While introducing a few more 30-something men, Harrison said, “I like this! Everybody’s getting closer and closer to me.” (Harrison is a 45-year-old divorced father of two.)
Two other examples of ageism that stand out come from the contestants themselves: In 2005, runner-up John Paul Merritt said of “Bachelorette” Jennifer Schefft, who was 28 when she picked Jerry Ferris: “I think Jen made a mistake,” Merritt said in his limo-ride farewell. “I think six months from now she’ll regret it. Jen’s going to wake up, she’s going to be 32 and [still] looking for a husband … looking for someone she knew was there and passed up, and it will be too late at that point.” In the end, Schefft and Ferris didn’t work out, but she did get married … at the ripe old age of 32. More recently, there was an inter-contestant feud on the 2015 season of “Bachelor in Paradise,” when 20-something contestants portrayed 30-something contestants as “cougars” who were desperate to find love. These comments could be chalked up to the younger contestants’ bitterness about being rejected.
But when this long-running franchise rarely casts women over 30, it is reinforcing the idea that single 30-somethings will remain that way. Here’s hoping this season won’t treat its 32-year-old star, and her handful of “ancient” contestants, as if they’ve aged out of the chance to find love.