The 'Golden Bachelor' Divorce Came As A Shock — But The Show Did Offer A Message

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After lifetimes of love and loss, and a whirlwind journey on
After lifetimes of love and loss, and a whirlwind journey on "The Golden Bachelor," Theresa Nist, left, and Gerry Turner walked down the aisle earlier this year. Eric McCandless via Getty Images

From the first episode of “The Golden Bachelor,” it was clear that one of the overarching themes of the season was going to be hope. But following a dramatic finale and an emotional wedding on live TV, the hope that Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist offered us for finding love later in life was shattered when they announced that they were divorcing after only three months of marriage. Despite their impending divorce, the hope that I felt while watching the show remains. It’s the hope not just in the possibility of love in our golden years, but in the pursuit of happiness for a woman at any age.

Like many fans of the “Bachelor” franchise, I anticipated the premiere of the first season of “The Golden Bachelor”with an excited curiosity about how the relationships between Turner and a houseful of 60- and 70-something women would pan out. And while I always tend to get invested in the contestants — laughing at the obligatory villains and gasping at the unexpected choices for who gets a rose — I wasn’t expecting to get as drawn in by this cast of characters. At 47, I didn’t think I’d find much relatability with women old enough to be my mother.

But I was sucked in immediately. And not because of Turner, the star of the show. I’m not even sure it was because of the prospect of love. I was there for the women.

I got divorced when I was 37 after a 13-year marriage. As the single mother of two elementary school-age children, I hardly remembered how to be single, let alone how to date. When I finally gave in to the nudges of my friends and jumped into online dating, one bad date after another made me wonder if I would ever find love again — if I’d ever find happiness again. But while I waited for sparks of hope to kick in, I reminded myself that even though I was stumbling along a bumpy, unknown path as a single, divorced woman, I was much happier figuring out my new life than I was in my marriage. I was pursuing happiness, and that in itself created happiness.

When I heard the women on “The Golden Bachelor” describe their various reasons for appearing on the show and making an effort to be vulnerable and open to new experiences to find love, I saw so much of my freshly divorced self in them. I had also once felt a longing for a partner while coping with the side effects of aging. I had also once wondered if men would still find me attractive. I, too, had once feared living the rest of my life alone and had once almost given up on second chances.

I also realized at some point that I would never find love again if I didn’t open myself up to it, something that was exponentially more difficult in midlife than it was when I met my now-former husband at age 22. The emotional scar tissue from the marriage and its aftermath, the struggle to find my identity again, and the lack of time, energy and child care all combined to make the search for love so daunting and hopeless. Plus, if I opened myself up to love, I also opened myself up to heartbreak. And I didn’t know if I was willing to go through that pain again.

Knowing how hard it was for me to start dating in my late 30s, I can only imagine how the women on “The Golden Bachelor” felt when signing on for a reality show to find love, fully aware that heartbreak was a possible end result, that rejection — especially rejection that’s so public — could breed a bitterness that might just cause them to close themselves off again, maybe for the rest of their lives.

But overwhelmingly, the opposite seemed to happen. Despite being eliminated, so many of the women who didn’t receive that final rose spoke of their renewed optimism and hope, like Ellen Goltzer, the first woman to declare that she was falling in love with Turner.

“I have a new lease on love,” she wrote on Instagram after Turner sent her home. “I know I can fall in love again, and like my best friend Roberta said— never say never!!! I’m so ready to find my forever person, I wasn’t ready for so long, but I’m so ready now!”

I knew exactly what Goltzer meant. I, too, felt like I had a new lease on love when I finally went on a good first date. That led to a second good date. And then six good dates in the span of two weeks. I knew I could fall in love again. I was so ready. I was so filled with hope. I got my happy ending when I was closing in on 40 years old with a man I only could have found if I was willing to be vulnerable and hopeful.

These “Golden Bachelor” women may not have found love, but they found hope. Hope for love. Hope for happiness. Hope for trying new things. Hope for overcoming fears. Hope in not giving up. Hope at any age.

When it comes to Nist, Turner’s soon-to-be ex-wife, she apparently didn’t find her true love on the show either. But while the “Good Morning America” interview announcing their divorce may have left fans wondering what happened to the couple and their season-long message not to give up on love, I think there’s even hope to be found in their split.

I don’t say that because in the interview Nist came right out and stated “don’t give up” and “stay hopeful.” I say it because, as I learned from my own divorce, knowing it’s time to end a relationship that isn’t working is an act of hope. It is the kind of hope that comes from not wasting any more time in an unhappy marriage. Hope that better things can be found elsewhere and with another person. Hope that the lessons learned from the relationship can be brought into the next one. Hope that it’s never too late to embark on a pursuit of happiness.

Turner and Nist aren’t getting the happy ending we all thought they had, and like most viewers, I’m disappointed. Part of the reason that “The Golden Bachelor” was so successful is because we all thought it concluded with the perfect love story for two people we were rooting for. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

But the “Golden Bachelor”divorce ultimately shouldn’t override what was, for me, the best part of the show. I wasn’t just rooting for Turner and Nist to make it work with each other; I was rooting for every single one of those women to find what they were looking for. Even if they didn’t land the Golden Bachelor, these women proved to everyone watching that sometimes there’s something bigger and longer-lasting than love.

And that’s hope.