A 38-year-old woman is about to be the central object of desire on a nationally televised, zeitgeisty reality TV dating program.
This shouldn’t be a revolutionary ― or even mildly surprising? ― statement, and yet, it kind of is. On Monday, it was announced on “Good Morning America” that the new lead of “The Bachelorette” would not, as followers of the franchise had come to expect, be one of the final four contestants on Peter Weber’s season of “The Bachelor.” Instead, the gig is going to Clare Crawley, a 38-year-old hairdresser and “Bachelor,” “Bachelor in Paradise,” and “Bachelor Winter Games” alum. She’s had two failed attempts at finding love on the franchise, first as Juan Pablo Galavais’ runner-up on Season 18 and then with fiancé Benoit Beauséjour-Savard on the lone season of “Winter Games.” But now, she’s ready to take the lead and find her perfect mate, who’s most likely not going to be a 22-year-old social media influencer. The shock factor!
Crawley is now the oldest “Bachelorette” star in the show’s history. Prior to her casting, Rachel Lindsay’s season aired when the attorney was 32 years old, and Kaitlyn Bristowe, Jillian Harris and Meredith Phillips were all 29 when their journeys began. Also, the first-ever star of the series, Trista Rehn, was 30 when she fell for her now-husband of 16 years, Ryan Sutter.
Crawley said she thinks her age and life experience make her more prepared than most to headline her own season. “A lot of people put it out there as this negative thing,” Crawley told “GMA” anchor Lara Spencer when asked about her age, quipping that she could almost be some of the current Bachelor contestants’ mothers. (Of the three remaining bachelorettes competing for Weber’s heart, two are 23 years old.) “For me it’s more years under my belt, more learning and knowing what I want, what I don’t want and what I won’t settle for.”
Some fans expressed disappointment with the announcement, especially given that the choice means yet another season with a white lead (Tayshia Adams was also reportedly up for the role), though it’s worth noting that Crawley’s mother is Mexican.
Many “Bachelor” fans were thrilled, however.
“I am completely shocked that #TheBachelorette decided to cast a lead in her late 30s, and holy shit am I excited about this FINALLY,” tweeted Twitter user Alex Hernandez. “Clare as The Bachelorette coming in to absolute OBLITERATE these 22 year old Instagram influencers. What a legendary move,” tweeted another “Bachelor” viewer.
Sharleen Joynt, who was on Juan Pablo’s season of “The Bachelor” with Crawley in 2013, also tweeted her support of the pick publicly: “She deserves it, is 100% sincere & I’ve always felt she’d make a fantastic lead. Bonus: bring on more folks in their 30s, hopefully 40s! IT’S TIME.”
For the uninitiated into Bachelor Nation, it may seem confusing that casting a woman over 30 on an arguably retrograde reality television show would elicit such excitement. But “The Bachelor” franchise ― and dating-focused reality television writ large (see: 34-year-old “Love Is Blind” supervillain Jessica) ― has a tendency to frame women over 30 as desperate hags undeserving of sweeping love stories. On this season of “The Bachelor,” one woman turns 26 during filming and refers to herself as “so old.” During the previous “Bachelor” season, women over the age of 27 were deemed “cougars.”
Crawley herself faced some pretty gross age-shaming during Season 2 of “Bachelor in Paradise,” when she was caught in the middle of a very mild love triangle with Ashley Iaconetti and Jared Haibon, who were both 26 at the time. (The two are now married.) “Does any 26-year-old really wanna go out with a 34-year-old?” Iaconetti told the camera. “Her eggs are almost dead.” She also repeatedly referred to 34-year-old Crawley as an “old lady.” (Spoiler alert! Your eggs don’t just spontaneously shrivel up and fall out of your body when you turn 30!)
In some ways, aging “The Bachelorette” up instead of casting a 23-year-old finalist from Pilot Pete’s season is simply a reflection of our current culture. In 2016, only about 20% of American adults between 18 and 29 were married ― a stark contrast to almost 60% in 1960 ― and the median age of first marriage for women has risen from around 20 in 1960 to 28 in 2019. This means that not only are more women getting married well into their 30s, but that they are spending years, if not decades, building independent adult lives that are not organized around marriage.
It’s this lived experience that viewers will have the opportunity see play out on the upcoming season of “The Bachelorette.”
Of course, there is still a chance ― even a likelihood ― that “The Bachelorette” will use Crawley’s age in some ham-fisted, insensitive, overly-dramatic storyline. But with this show, baby steps forward are better than no steps at all. And Crawley seems ready to dive in head first, like the incredibly smart, driven, stunning, actively-looking-for-love woman she is.
As she told Spencer on “GMA”: “This is about me now, and I’m ready for it.”