The Golden Bachelor shines optimism on a sometimes bleak dating landscape: ‘It’s never too late’

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The famous Bachelor franchise is about to debut a whole new twist – The Golden Bachelor – which will follow a senior’s search to find his perfect match.

On 28 September, viewers will be introduced to the spinoff’s first-ever leading man: A 72-year-old father and grandfather from Indiana, Gerry Turner. To coincide with the theme of the dating show for seniors, all of the bachelor’s potential suitors will be 60 years old and older, unlike previous cast members and leading men, who’ve been in their 20s and 30s.

The significant age gap between new and previous contestants brings something different to the franchise, a new level of maturity in the journey of finding love, according to the program’s host, Jesse Palmer. As a result, The Golden Bachelor has the potential to restructure the franchise for the better, with the hope that older contestants may be able to depict what a mature, happy, and healthy relationship looks like – even amid the expected steamy reality TV drama.

Ever since the first season of The Bachelor aired in 2002, the program has followed the same format, with approximately 25 women competing for one man’s heart as contestants are eliminated one by one as new episodes drop. Each season concludes with the leading man engaged to the final contestant. The franchise has also gone on to introduce spinoffs, including The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise.

Ahead of the premiere of The Golden Bachelor, Turner has opened up about his own journey, telling Good Morning America that “it’s never too late to fall in love again”. The new reality star was previously married to his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years, Toni, who passed away in 2017 after suddenly falling ill. Upon diving into his second chance at finding a partner, Turner will be meeting 22 different women – all in their sixties and seventies – who are competing for his heart.

According to Palmer, the new cast will bring something to the show that hasn’t been seen before. During an interview with E! News, he said that, while the contestants will “face the same difficulties [and] challenges” as previous contestants, they do so with “a different maturity level”. He went on to offer a possible explanation for the difference, continuing: “I think that just comes from experience in life and emotional maturity as well that the women, that Gerry, have. And the way that they decipher problems, the way that they think about some of the situations that they’re in – whenever they face adversity, it’s pretty interesting.”

Ultimately, the love stories that will emerge among the older cast may shine a positive and thoughtful light on relationships that Bachelor fans haven’t seen – at least that’s what relationship experts are hoping for.

Speaking to The Independent, dating coach Sabrina Alexis Bendory, the author of her own relationship guide, You’re Overthinking It: How to Find Lifelong Love by Being Your True Self , explained that, even amid the heated moments that exist on reality TV, the cast will likely showcase new ways to navigate the challenges of dating. She also explained how and why their dating approaches will likely differ from previous younger contestants.

“I think that it has the potential to be very dramatic, but maybe we’ll see different conflict resolution skills. We’ll also see a little bit of what it looks like to be more self aware, and just have a better sense of who you are,” Bendory said. “Because they’re so much older and they’ve been with themselves for so much longer.”

Gerry Turner (ABC)
Gerry Turner (ABC)

Susan Winter, a relationship expert and the bestselling author of Older Women/Younger Men, agreed with Bendory, as she suggested the experiences and advanced maturity of the contestants will be beneficial to them when looking for love.

“As we get older, we begin to know who we are, and we know what we want,” she told The Independent. “Gerry and the show’s contestants have already experienced major philosophical changes. They have a consistency and predictability about the platform of their thoughts and behaviour. They have a code of ethics that may not have transferred so well into our current generation.”

She suggested that their past relationships will also be a factor, as they may have been in more long-term, sustainable relationships than their previous, younger cast members.

“They’ve probably had two to three long-term relationships where they’ve had to communicate, negotiate, establish healthy boundaries, and been willing to compromise. They’ve had hard conversations with their previous partners,” Winter explained. “So that longevity factor is skewed towards the positive outcome of getting engaged on the show.”

According to Winter, another thing to keep in mind about these soon-to-be reality stars is that they could be straight shooters. Given the knowledge that they’ve gained from their life experiences, Winter suggested the contestants may not have patience for nonsense, and that they will be able to clearly and positively convey that.

“They are who they are, or they should be able to tell you who they are, what they want, how they roll, and their level of expectations,” she explained. “They know what will tick them off, they know what won’t. That level of self awareness and clarity is really helpful when you’re presenting yourself to a prospective partner.”

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean viewers should expect a drama-free season when The Golden Bachelor airs on 28 September.

 (ABC)
(ABC)

“I think that with the other Bachelor seasons, there is that element of people who are just looking for fame, looking for exposure, looking to build their social media followings. I don’t think that we’ll see as much of that,” Bendory speculated. “But at the same time, it is a competition show, and you are pitting women against each other to win over one guy. That framework alone is just a recipe for a lot of drama and maybe to bring out the worst in people.”

Over the last 22 years, the framework of The Bachelor is one of the things that’s kept people watching. In a similar vein to most reality dating shows, viewers have been attached to the drama, ranging from arguments between contestants to the heated breakups before the season finale. Although this drama is common for reality TV, Bendroy acknowledged that the spats aren’t necessarily an accurate depiction of stable relationships. In fact, she said that a true happy relationship isn’t always as hot and heavy as it seems on TV – but that the reality isn’t a bad thing.

“A lot of the time, we mistake the drama as: ‘Oh love is supposed to be that way, because that’s what I’ve seen. And that’s how love is always portrayed,’” she said. “But really, love is actually pretty boring, just in that when you meet the right one, you recognise each other. There’s no drama, it’s just effortless. While relationships take work, the work is not in figuring out: ‘Oh, do we want to commit to each other?’ If you’re in the right place in your lives, and it’s the right person, things come together pretty seamlessly.”

If you’re an avid fan of the TV franchise, you may be aware that relationships on The Bachelor haven’t always been built to last. Specifically, only three out of all 27 Bachelor couples are still together, while five out of the 20 Bachelorette couples are still together. Could The Golden Bachelor increase the success rate of finding love within the ABC franchise? Winter hopes so, as she argues viewers could use a little hope.

Gerry Turner with his two daughters and two granddaughters (ABC)
Gerry Turner with his two daughters and two granddaughters (ABC)

“You can’t just have an ongoing trauma surrounding your concept of love. We all lose hope,” she said. “Life requires hopefulness. It requires somebody somewhere to get a happy ending, right? We need to hear those stories. It’s a long shot. It’s a risk, but let’s see how the season turns out.”

In addition to, hopefully, showing us examples of positive relationships, she also hopes The Golden Bachelor lessens misconceptions about falling in love beyond a certain age. Winter acknowledged that love can happen within any time period, whether it comes after being single for 10 years at the age of 60, or after splitting up with your spouse of 20 years at the age of 50.

She also suggested that the new series could shine a positive and candid light on the challenges that women face when dating at an older age.

“As women, we keep bumping up against the constant reminder that we’re not young enough, our face is not flawless, our body’s not perfect. And because of that, we aren’t wanted. I think we’re going to see some very interesting conversations about ageing, what it does to a woman’s self esteem, the psychology of ageing, our self-worth,” she said. “It could be brought up in many ways, whether it’s women talking to themselves, to the camera, or to each other about it.”

Bendory agreed with Winter’s hopes for The Golden Bachelor, and reiterated that the path to finding love moves at its own pace, and there’s absolutely no problem with that.

“Everyone’s train comes differently. Some people are getting married at 22, for some, it happens later in life,” she said. “Anytime you’re fighting against your current reality, you feel like it’s not supposed to be this way.

“So you just have to accept that you are where you are right now. And if you want to get out of it, there are ways to be proactive and to find someone. All you can do is take control over that, which is under your control. For that which is not under your control, you just have to relinquish.”

The Golden Bachelor premieres Thursday 28 September at 8pm ET.