Beyond Room 119

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Six lessons learned from The Bachelor

ARIE LUYENDYK JR.Sometime this past December, I met a solid group of girls. They were authentic, funny, thoughtful, kind, down-to-earth, and they liked to have a good time. In January, when they invited me to their weekly viewings of “The Bachelor,” my initial reaction was a cross between a laugh and a scoff. Me and reality TV? That’s cute. But I thought it would be a great way to spend more time with them, so I figured, why not?

A few weeks into it, I was hooked. I was filling out a bracket, discussing the merits of Kendall versus baby Bekah, and making fun of Krystal, the fitness coach from San Diego with a ridiculously breathy, valley girl voice, on a regular basis. When I watched the finale last Thursday, my mouth dropped open more than once in surprise, concern, and disbelief.

For the naysayers out there, let me tell you: I was once one of you. But somehow, over the course of the last two months, I became more invested in this show. Granted, I still think the premise of it is absolutely ridiculous (Who goes from zero to engaged in two months?! In what world is it acceptable to date 29 women at once?), but as I met the women, I got drawn into their stories. I never liked Arie, the bachelor for this season. He’s bland, boring, and there’s very little depth there. And I found it harder to watch the episodes near the end of the show, where multiple women’s hearts and emotions were getting invested in this person. But surprisingly, I found a few lessons through the course of this scripted, ridiculous, and laughable show.

1. Friends can be found in the most unlikely of places. In my mind, being on The Bachelor breaks the eighth amendment about cruel and unusual punishment. You put 29 women together in a giant sorority house, go on “group dates” (i.e. one dude and many women), your books are confiscated when you arrive on set, and somehow you’re supposed to retain your sanity? Not only did (most of) the women remain sane, but many of them developed some impressive friendships with each other. The finale was aired in the studio with a live audience, including some of the women from the show. It was touching to see the way they supported each other and Becca K., especially after Arie dropped her like a lukewarm potato.

2. Don’t let your past haunt your present. It became a running joke for us: What other traumatic events happened to Annaliese in her childhood? In one of the earlier episodes, she struggled on a group date with bumper cars because of something terrible that happened with them when she was younger. Later, she had trouble playing with dogs on another group date because of another traumatic experience from her youth. Annaliese was so haunted by these experiences that she couldn’t let go of them and enjoy the moment. Needless to say, she didn’t make it very far.

3. Call out the crazy ones. Without a doubt, Krystal was the villain of the season. Between her aggressive hunt for Arie’s affection, her disrespect for the other women on the show, and the childish temper tantrums, she made very few friends. In the beginning, most of the women either tiptoed around her or ignored her. By the middle of the season, some of the more vocal women (go Kendall and Caroline!) were calling her out on her behavior and letting her know, in no uncertain terms, that it wasn’t right. Standing up to a bully can be hard, but at the end of the day, someone has to do it.

4. When you care about someone, take the risk and be vulnerable. Kendall, one of my favorites, embodied this one best. She recognized that she had a hard time letting people in, and she was open about this struggle with Arie. She found it hard to share her feelings and open her heart up to possible heartbreak. But in the end, she valued what she and Arie had, and she cared enough about the potential of what could be to overcome those fears and let him in. When we take a risk, it may not always lead us where we want, but chances are it will take us where we need to be. (In Kendall’s case, Arie couldn’t get over that she wouldn’t be ready for a proposal after two months (gasp!) and sent her home. She’s better off for that.)

5. Everyone has a story. This has long been a key element of my personal philosophy, and I think it’s what actually hooked me. Every single woman on the show had their own story, their own experiences, their own backgrounds, and was a unique individual. Granted, some of them were sent home before we got to actually know them or their stories. But for the women who stayed, we got to learn a little bit about what made them tick. We heard Chelsie talking about life as a single mom. We learned that baby Bekah, despite being the youngest on the show, had a maturity and insight beyond her years. We witnessed Becca K.’s pain as she shared about her father dying of cancer and how her tight-knit family overcame that together. Sure, the show is about as unrealistic as you can get and there never seemed to be much substance to anyone’s relationship with Arie. But throughout the season, we got to see glimpses of who each of these women truly are – and that’s something that can’t be faked.

6. No matter how many cool places the ladies on the show get to travel to, one should never apply to be a contestant. Seriously. I may or may not have been tempted to apply after watching this season. Not because of the inane, five minute conversations upon which absurd ideas of love were based, but rather, because of the travel opportunities. In this season alone, the show went to Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Tuscany, Pisa, Paris, and Peru. One of the women went on a one-on-one date to Machu Picchu, which has been on my bucket list for ages. I was a little jealous until I actually read the eligibility rules, and decided I’d rather travel without hidden cameras, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you don’t believe me, just read rule number ten here.

There you have it, folks. On one hand, The Bachelor represents some of the worst of American television. Trivial conversations, fake friendships, and unrealistic and unsustainable views of love abound in this show. However, when we look a little deeper, I think we can find some nuggets of wisdom that we can all use in our own lives. And if you think you might be able to learn even more by being on the show, I mean it: Take ten minutes and read those rules to see what you’re signing up for. At the very least, you’ll get a few laughs out of them.

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Tears. They used to be something I was ashamed of, something I felt like I had to hide. To me, they were a show of vulnerability, and it was a show that I wanted very much to keep private. To let someone see you at a low point is to invite them to be present with you in your pain, your sorrow, and your suffering. All this requires both trust and letting down some walls – or at the very least, providing some type of ladder so someone can surmount those walls.

I’ve changed in a lot of ways over the past few years, and my mentality about crying has been part of the shift. I don’t cry on demand, nor do I cry on a daily basis. However, I no longer go to such lengths to hide it (turning on the fan to hide the sound, waiting until I was in the shower, carefully blotting my eyes to avoid the mascara on my eyelashes…the list could go on and on). Now, sometimes I willingly invite someone into that space with me. Don’t get me wrong – I still find value in processing things by myself and in feeling the pain that is present at a given moment. I believe that, at times, it’s important to do this by yourself, for it is often in the silence when we can hear most clearly.

And yet, sometimes internal processing can only get you so far, and this is something that I’ve come to terms with only recently. Sometimes we just need to know that someone else cares and is walking our journey with us, and that knowledge can make the path a little brighter. We don’t need that person to solve our problems for us; we only need the gift of their presence. Often, however, we need to take the first step to invite someone in to walk with us.

I’ve had two recent experiences with letting someone in, and both involved a fair amount of tears. The first one was a while back, when I was having a hard time one night for a particular reason. Cognitively, I knew it would pass and that with time and reflection, I would heal and be stronger for it. But in the moment, the heart doesn’t care about any of that, and I’d learned enough at this point to listen to the heart. I spent some time alone in my room with a roll of tissues and clutched Big Mama, the teddy bear that has accompanied me through my tears since I was about six, as I listened to Josh Groban sing straight to my heart.

I was in there for a while and then I realized that although I was a mess, at that moment, I needed to be with someone who cared. Indeed, it was because I was a mess that I needed someone. I knocked on my roommate’s door, climbed into her massive king size bed, and she just listened to both my tears and my words. At the end of it, nothing had changed about the situation, but my entire frame of mind was better simply because she was present with me, listening and caring.

The second experience built on that. Last night, a friend asked me a somewhat pointed question about something I’ve been struggling with lately. I knew without a doubt that if I started to talk about it, I would end up in tears. I could have deflected, and though he would have noticed the avoidance, he would have accepted it. But I’ve learned many a lesson about trust and vulnerability, and I decided to answer his question – albeit with the preface, “Heads up, I’m pretty sure I’ll tear up at some point with this.”

The beautiful piece about this exchange was that the only thing my friend did was be present in that moment with me. He didn’t try to solve my conundrum, he didn’t insert himself into the situation, and he didn’t offer heartfelt (but unhelpful) platitudes. Instead, he was just there. At one point, as tears slid down my face (as promised), he reached over and instead of wiping them away, just touched them.

This experience resonated with me as I read my daily devotion this morning. It was discussing Christ, his love for us, and the suffering that we encounter here on earth. And then the author wrote something so beautiful:

“Henceforth, when we feel the hammers of life beating on our heads or on our hearts, we can know – we must know – that he [Christ] is here with us, taking our blows. Every tear we shed becomes his tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but he makes them his.

He may not yet wipe them away, but he makes them his.

My friend didn’t try to wipe my tears away, but instead was there with me. In a way, he made my tears his through his empathy. One of the most valuable gifts we can give someone is being truly focused on them and in the moment. That presence and intentionality makes it safe to left them in – safe to be vulnerable, safe to share, and safe to cry.

Suffering and pain are never fun, but if we allow them to, they can purify us. They can have meaning. Christ may not always take our pain away, but he bears that load with us, and in doing so, gives us the opportunity to draw closer to him. It’s up to us to decide how to respond to that invitation.

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Words from my bestie

This one’s resonating with me this week for a couple of reasons. My man JG always knows just what to say.

I’ve tried to hold this back so long
And we’re always such a good thing when it’s gone
Would it be alright, if we just left our heads tonight
Take me away from this old game
Of saying that we’re both too much the same
Would it be alright, if I just stayed with you tonight
And before I go, will I ever see you again
She said love only knows
Love only knows
If we’ll give into fear and chose life undercover
She said love only knows
If it’s special enough then we’ll chose one another
We’ll chose each other
You were the secret I loved to keep
The name I would only sing in my sleep
Would it be alright, if we just lose ourselves tonight
And if you let go, will you reach out again
She said love only knows
Love only knows, if we’ll give into fear and chose life undercover
She said love only knows, if it’s special enough then we’ll chose one another
We’ll choose each other
And I can’t breathe without you and I don’t
And I can’t live without love and I won’t
And I won’t
Love only knows
If we’ll give into fear and choose life undercover
She said love only knows if it’s special enough then we’ll choose one another
Love only knows, how your arms pull me in like the tide pulls me under
She said love only knows just how long we can run before we lose each other
And we need each other
And I can’t live without you and I won’t