Like a loyal suitor, I have tuned in weekly to The Bachelorette. Like any good romantic, always hopeful, I wait in excited anticipation to see what will happen next.
I resumed watching the TV series, The Bachelor, after my husband died in March of 2011. I noticed something had changed over the past 10 years. There was a whole new demographic of suitors on the show, including Emily and Michelle, who were both single moms. Emily Maynard, however, was not only a single mom; she was an only-parent, like me. Emily’s fiancé, race car driver Ricky Hendrick, had been killed in a plane crash five years prior.
Just over a year later, Emily is now The Bachelorette. I find myself tuned into her station, eagerly waiting, hoping, for her fairytale ending. The fact that the stories on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette don’t often turn out happily ever after, are just as much reasons for me to watch. I’ve come to learn that there is no quota for brokenness in life, and from where I’m coming from, that makes the characters in this reality series relatable. At the same time, I pay attention that even though hearts are broken on the show, life goes on when the cameras shut off, and love is often found off the air.
This particular season, I have found there are elements of Emily Maynard’s particular story that move my core, resonate with my heart, find me saying “aha” to the TV screen as I listen to her interviews, and, as was the case this week, feeling angry and tearful that anyone would dare make her, or her daughter, feel less than the treasures they are as a packaged deal.
What exactly caught my throat? Surprisingly, it isn’t the fact that Kailen referred to Emily’s 6-year-old daughter as “baggage.” That is degrading, yes, but is a reflection on his perspective and character, not the value of Emily or her daughter. No. What put a lump in my throat was the same thing that made Emily question every man left standing. When the hard times came, who had her back?
Could Emily handle the situation on her own? She could, and she did. She confronted Kailen, she protected her family, she defended her daughter, then she put on a brave face and went on with the show. But, this battle was supposed to be different. This was supposed to be the battle where someone who loved her stepped in to help her fight. Instead, it was just another one she fought alone.
Imagine running a baton marathon. Each member of the team is responsible for sprinting their leg of the race. The runner puts their everything into their part. They can do it, because their individual section is short, and when they reach the end they hand the baton off to their partner to run the next leg of the race. Now imagine the runner putting their all into their dash. They get to the end, hold out the baton to pass it to their partner, but wait, no one is there. The race still needs to be run for the team, so, although their body feels spent, they put mind over matter and press on. That is what it’s like to be an only-parent.
Now imagine having someone who says they are joining the team, they are going to help the runner finish the race. Relief washes over the tired athlete. They feel hope, rejuvenation. Finally, rest is in sight. The athlete sees a partner in the distance. As they draw near they hold the baton high for the pass, but wait, what happened? Where did the partner go? Disappointment sits on exhaustion. That is what it’s like to get one’s hopes up as an only-parent, only to realize they’re still running alone.
Knowing someone has one’s back is more than just filling a need. In Emily’s case, she has proven for over six years she can make it on her own. What it’s really about is filling a deep longing that desires a partner to fight some battles too, not only for the only-parent, but for the team as a whole. It’s about picking up the baton and running a leg of the race for the team, and in the end, sharing in the victory celebration.
Being an only-parent isn’t about lugging “baggage.” The gift of a situation like ours is it can teach one what they are made of; which for many is a gift left unwrapped. My hope is that partners to only-parents will learn they are also made of more than perhaps they ever knew, and see that “baggage” as a box that holds the keys to an exciting adventure, that could entail a happily-ever-after victory celebration ending.