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I didn’t realize that I was so heavily invested in the relationship between former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe and her chosen suitor, Shawn Booth, until news of their breakup hit the front page of People.com in November 2018.
A wave of disbelief hit me first. An audible inhale, with a “no” on the exhale, caused my coworkers to peer over at me, with fearful anticipation, wondering which famous person’s death I was about to reveal. They seemed relieved when I explained that it was not a death, but the most devastating breakup of our generation. One unnamed, particularly cruel colleague replied, “Um, it’s not like it’s Brangelina.”
Their indifference struck me as cold, but also made me wonder why this couple — this match made in reality-TV hell — affected me on such a personal level.
My own relationship to The Bachelorette was on-again, off-again, depending on the interest level of whichever person I happened to be living with at the time. In the early days, I watched passively with my mom, but in college, my sorority held all-out viewing parties that once included a surprise cameo by Chris Harrison (ah, the perks of living in LA). It was during this phase that we watched Kaitlyn as the second runner-up on Chris Soules’s season of The Bachelor, and then as the Bachelorette. Post-college, my roommate and I occasionally made the effort to watch together, but only because I had pitched my boss a short-lived weekly fashion recap of each episode. Without these connections, though, I paid no attention to the drama. By 2018, the year of Kaitlyn and Shawn’s demise, I hadn’t seen the show in two years.
As most of Bachelor Nation knows, the fun of watching 25 men or women vying for the heart of an aspiring social media influencer is not in rooting for their love, but rooting for the producer-designed villains, the ones who are in it for “the wrong reasons.” I never became invested in the couples’ lives after the show — even the ones who remained together for years afterward. Sitting at my desk after reading “The Bachelorette's Kaitlyn Bristowe and Shawn Booth Split,” looking like the frown-face emoji personified, I wondered, wait, why do I care?
I thought back to watching Kaitlyn’s season when I was 22 and about to graduate from college. I had never been in a relationship, and was still licking my wounds four years after my high school crush tried to ghost me after one date despite the fact that we still had classes together. At that time in my life, I understood giving The Bachelor a chance — ”why not” being the prevailing mantra of my early 20s anyway.
And that’s when I found a kindred spirit in Kaitlyn. The Kaitlyn I saw on TV reminded me a bit of myself: We were both awkward, we both had an inappropriate sense of humor, and we both suffered from a snortle that was beyond our control. Whereas most women on the show reminded me of all the LA transplants I encountered on a much more regular basis than I cared for — the kind that flitted around the Bungalow in Santa Monica, the ones seeking Flat Tummy Tea sponsorships and a televised first wedding — Kaitlyn seemed unconcerned with public opinion. She filled the (now-extinct) role on the show of the amused bystander tickled by the absurdity of the production unfolding before her eyes. Her snortles taunted those with “sincere” intentions.
But also, she seemed a little desperate for love.
And then there was Shawn. The handsome-in-a-Johnny Bravo-way personal trainer landed on a “groundbreaking” season, in which the contestants voted for either Kaitlyn or Britt Nilsson, another contestant on Soules’s season of The Bachelor, for the coveted Bachelorette title. But he only had eyes for Kaitlyn — and he had proof. In an endearing introductory spot in the early episodes of what would become Bristowe’s season, he resurfaced a Snapchat (simpler times!) he sent to a friend while watching Kaitlyn get dumped by Soules. He drew a heart around her face on the screen with the caption, “Don't worry Kaitlyn ... I'm coming for you.” A handsome jock with a heart! And a sense of humor! Chivalry, I thought, is alive and well — and maybe there’s hope for me yet.
Together, Kaitlyn and Shawn felt real. I became invested in their relationship not for the artificial romantic moments staged by the producers, but for the chemistry between two goofs who would dare each other to streak across a golf course (to my delight, Shawn obliged), or laugh at asinine inside jokes until they cried. They got engaged during the finale in 2015, but in interviews they stated that they were going to take things slow and build their relationship before walking down the aisle. How rational, I thought. Occasionally they would surface in the celebrity magazines on my radar for making funny quips on social media, only cementing their status as the lovable goofs.
I didn’t personally keep up with either of them on social media in the years that followed their televised engagement, instead letting my image of their relationship become something of an ideal: two extremely beautiful dorks who found love in a hopeless place. Stowed in the back of my mind, they morphed into something untouchable, something I took for granted as true and endless love, something onto which I projected all of my hopes for my own cliched happy ending.
I was six months into a new relationship — my first that had lasted more than a month — when People broke the news/my heart. According to the outlet, the breakup was a longtime coming, as Shawn had recently opened a gym in Nashville, and hadn’t been accompanying Kaitlyn on her trips to visit her family in Canada. Their busy schedules, it seems, had caused tension, making Kaitlyn rethink her priorities. Seeing Kaitlyn and Shawn fail, and fail so publicly, was devastating, as if someone told me that nothing good can last. That a solid foundation of mutually understood weirdness, as I had found in my boyfriend, wasn’t enough.
And then, a few months after leaving Shawn, Kaitlyn found love again. This time, it wasn’t televised, but I assume that she’s still goofy, and that the man she’s chosen to love is too — and maybe this time, it can work.
But I’m no longer putting my unrealistic expectations on a reality-TV couple. For now, I’m focusing on where I am with my own partner, now of almost two years, and relying on no one’s dorkiness other than our own.
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.