Last December, I was at a friend’s holiday party, when talk turned to the new season of The Bachelor, starting in January. Normally, I tune out in these moments, like I do when someone begins quoting statistics in a sport I don’t follow, or a commercial comes on the radio. It isn’t that I’m uninterested in romance; I just have never thought that The Bachelor was the way to find it.
But this time, I couldn’t tune out, because my friends were telling me that one of the contestants had gone to a small, Christian liberal arts college in my city, a school many of them had attended. I filed this fun fact away and moved on.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at an event sponsored by this university, when I heard a bit of buzz. The Bachelor had aired its final episode, and the woman from that little university had been the last one standing. Suddenly, her face was everywhere, in the grocery store and online. Normally, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but now I was curious. I had chosen to leave my city and go to a very similar college in central Indiana, spreading my wings for the first time. If I had made a different decision, I might have lived in a dorm with this woman, or taken classes with her. I had always thought that the people who chose to go on The Bachelor were very different from me. I wondered if it was true.
As I began watching season 20, I was surprised to find that the first person I related to was The Bachelor himself, Ben Higgins. He is from Warsaw, Indiana, about an hour and a half away from where I went to school. As he talked about growing up in the Midwest, I felt like I was listening to any one of my male classmates from college. I might not have known Ben, but I knew many people who were very like him.
One of the things that struck me immediately was that he was concerned about not being chosen. Even though he was in the position of power in the show, he was hoping that he would find mutual love, that someone would want to choose him, just as he would find someone to choose.
As the show progressed, there were lots of opportunities for Ben to choose people. Each week brings individual and group dates, private conversations, and long-stemmed roses that he gives to women who will be staying for the next episode. The roses can be given out on the individual dates, or to one woman after each group date. Those women feel secure that they are safe from being sent home. They are chosen, at least for now. The drama heightens as we near each “rose ceremony” in which Ben slowly, painfully calls out one name at a time, leaving others out entirely.
I watched with the fascination of a researcher, pausing now and then to take notes. We may express it differently, but I had something in common with everyone on this show: I too wanted to be chosen. I too want to be special to one person, singled out.
As the show moves forward, the emotions heighten. The goodbyes go from disappointment on the first night, to tears, anger, and humiliation. By the final episode, there are only two women left, and they have both declared their love for Ben, and he for them.
I might not be filling out an application for The Bachelor, but there are many ways that I’m putting myself out there, hoping to be chosen. My heart still skips a beat each time I see “It’s a Match!” on my screen, and I start talking quickly when I encounter an attractive man in the grocery store line, buying Sriracha. I know that there is far more to life than marriage and romantic partnership. I am chosen nearly every day, for writing assignments, to do Scripture readings in church, to spend a Friday night with a friend, or as the recipient of a phone call, just to talk. These things are finite and it matters that I am chosen, but sometimes I find myself expressing an idea that I heard over and over again while watching The Bachelor: it’s great to be chosen, but I want to be the only one who is.
I can’t be the only one who has ever wrestled with this idea as it relates to God. I know that God’s love for me is richer, more powerful, and more wonderful than anything I can experience with another human, but then, so is God’s love for everyone else. I feel a little like the petulant Dash, from The Incredibles when his mother tells him that everyone is special. “Which is another way of saying no one is,” he mutters, under his breath.
When Jesus is styled as The Bridegroom, this idea becomes even more of a struggle for me. How would I feel if my bridegroom was also planning to marry many other people? Taking polygamy out of it, how would I feel if my boyfriend was dating someone other than me, perhaps multiple people? This is why I’ve never been very comfortable with Jesus as Lover, or as Bridegroom. It feels a little too much like Jesus as The Bachelor. He loves me, and what we have is real, but in the end, won’t He have to choose just one?
Unlike The Bachelor, Heaven does not have only one final rose to give out. There is room there for all of us, I know. But I’ll admit that thought leaves me a little cold sometimes, like listening to a love song you thought was written for you, only to find that it was written for a much larger audience.
If I’m honest, I’d really like to be the only one chosen at some point in my life. I’d like someone to look at me and tell me that there is no one else for them. I know that this doesn’t always end well, people cheat, they lie, they divorce; there are no guarantees that someone who says: “I choose you,” will not later say: “I don’t choose you anymore.” Still, I can’t stop my heart from wanting to be singled out, for wanting to hear someone respond to the phrase “forsaking all others,” while looking at me.
At the end of this season of The Bachelor, there was a proposal, and an acceptance. This could have started in many ways. What if she had gone to college in the Midwest, like I did? What if they had met on one of the planes she boards daily, as a flight attendant? Things could have happened the same way, though probably without the high-end formal wear and cameras from every angle. It could have happened like so many other couples who choose each other and don’t choose everyone else. Many leave a string of people they don’t choose, and who don’t choose them, in their romantic wake, the unusual part is doing so in only a few weeks.
To choose one person, you have to not choose everyone else (sometimes with all of your might). You close your arms and your heart around them, and you declare that though you will love your family and your friends, you will not love anyone quite like you love this person that you have chosen.
This, perhaps, is a way into my understanding of the love of God. There are people that I love, in my finite, small way. I don’t love them all the same way, because they are so unique. My love for my brother doesn’t diminish my love for a dear friend. Loving differently is not the same as loving less. God might love other people just as much as God loves me, but I have to believe that if my love is different depending on the person I’m loving, God’s love is not less nuanced. The Divine Love that I experience is different than the love that God shows each other person because I am different from each other person.
God’s choosing does not leave behind a string of broken hearts, the way that our human ones do. I’m sure that a great fear, when commencing on a show like The Bachelor, is that there will be more than one person you would like to choose (like Ben found, on this last season). But with God, I don’t need to be afraid that I will be sent packing in tears. I do not need to worry that Heaven is full, or that the choosing will come undone, and words of love will be taken back, or compared to love felt for another and found wanting. My specialness does not need to depend on the not-specialness of others; there is enough for us all.