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Reality dating: Letter to the Bachelorette

Oh, Jilly Bean, Jilly Bean.

If there had been a bachelor with bad acne, you would have probably given him a rose, just because you want to give everyone a chance to feel valued. You're so inclusive. At times you are a one-woman agency for the romantically marginalized. You give emotional grants. Very Canadian.

How else to explain your reasons for choosing that dweeby dude, Mark, back in the home-town Vancouver episode of The Bachelorette after the two-on-one date with him and Mike of the Slick Words and Hair? Just because Mark couldn't get a word in edgewise and later admitted to being a bit shy? Poor Mike looked completely dumbfounded as he was sent back to sea level in the Grouse Mountain gondola.

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And generosity toward the maligned can be the only reason for keeping Wild, Wicked Wes, the self-promoting Texan singer, until last Monday night. You wanted to believe in the snake after everyone else had seen his poison - including Jake, he of the Laurel-and-Hardy grin and pilot's wings, who marched back into the show to tell you Wes had a girlfriend back home. (Frankly, Jake clipped his own wings by coming back. Before that, I thought you had made a mistake by getting rid of him. He really loves you! He cares! But, yeah, he is too earnest, too perfect. And that grin - whoa! - it might be scary in the dark.)

But I digress before I even start. Which may be confounding, but it has its own logic - just like you, Jilly Bean. Aside from showing the world how Canadian gals can rock evening wear, you are disrobing the mystery of how women think - about marriage, about men, about relationships, about life.

In the past I have been a casual fan of The Bachelorette , but this year? I figure it's a version of a recession-friendly staycation, a welcome escape into distraction. Just camp out in front of the TV every Monday night with a G&T and escape into a landscape of modern love with a hottie who squeals like a dolphin, and hunks who turn into women over worries about their competitors.

Woo-hoo. It's a couchcation.

But back to you, the archetypal sweetheart with a heart of gold in a cliché world of high romance - exotic locations, champagne flutes, limousines, men in Clark Kent haircuts and no guy bling.

That you believe you can find true love in eight weeks of staged dating is commendable, even if your conviction might be part of the contract with ABC. Your focus is as laser-sharp as that of a fashionista who is determined to find the right shoes at a sample sale. Your suitors are forced into the "relationship talk" all guys dread before they have even spent the night with you. You go, girl. Grill 'em, make 'em squirm and smoke out the commitmentphobes.

You speak for many young, single women out there. A calculated pursuit of The One is some kind of unfinished feminist business (although we should never use the f-word, of course).

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Whereas an earlier generation of women had to concentrate on levelling the playing field in the work force, some women nowadays have turned their attention to finding equity in the marriage market. They want to be the active choosers, not the passively chosen. Which explains the success of dating coaches such as bestselling author Rachel Greenwald, the Harvard MBA who marketed bottled water before offering women a 15-step guide to matrimonial satisfaction in Find a Husband After Thirty-Five .

Not that you need the advice - you seem to be eating hearts like Michaëlle Jean in Iqaluit - but Ms. Greenwald's latest book, Why He Didn't Call You Back , uses exit interviews with 1,000 men to help women understand the "annoying mystery" of men's feelings about potential wives. Ms. Greenwald boldly infiltrates one of the last bastions of male power - their hearts and minds. And guess what? They are eager for kindness and compassion, too. Which explains your appeal.

It's understandable that women who have grown up in the culture of divorce want some control over their romantic futures. Many have witnessed how marital happiness can be a far more powerful factor in long-term financial and psychological well-being than a mere job. We are all reduced by our need to love and be loved. Who wouldn't want to dissect and test the potential of ever after with the clinical precision of a lab technician?

Which brings us to your final three specimens: Kiptyn, Reid and Ed.

Kiptynite, as he is affectionately known in the blogosphere, is a powerful contender, although his mom was weird and intense in the home visit, leaning in to tell you that you shouldn't have to work for your happiness. She has a point, of course, but who needs a meddling mother-in-law? And his parents gave you that taste test at the outdoor bar of their California pad. A little class snobbery going on there? Might they think their handsome son is dating down?

Reid may look like an accountant, but he has assured you, in his own backhanded way, that he is "big" during that scene in the Spanish delicatessen when he was trying to communicate with the butcher about, um, sausages or something. And he's got just the right amount of sweet insecurity. While you were off cavorting with other guys during the trip through the Canadian Rockies, he was asking a train employee if he should wear his glasses on his date with you. Ahh.

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And then there's Ed, the technical consultant who left the show when he was worried about his job back home, only to find that his absence greased the internal workings of his heart. Now back in contention, he is saying all the right things: ready to get married (check), wants babies soon (check), can envision you in Chicago with him (check). But could he just be making up for lost time?

The other day, my hairdresser was discussing the choices as if the right one would fix global warming. She likes Kiptynite. I think Reid is adorable, the sort who will always be your best friend. But Ed, oh, Ed, no wonder you couldn't stop kissing the guy. And he can admit to his own mistaken heart, which is a good sign.

But here's the thing to remember about women and how they think. While they care about you and your future happiness, they are mostly projecting themselves into your situation. (The sisterhood has its internecine qualities, remember.) They are thinking about what they would do. And they are anticipating the clash of hearts and (potentially) of loins with the detached curiosity of a passing onlooker.

You are merely an eight-week conduit of modern female angst over marriage, a sacrificial hot-tubbing experiment. We won't be there after you have made the Big Decision and bared your heart, soul, mind and bikini bod for our mindless consumption.

But, hey, have fun.

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About the Author
Life columnist

Sarah Hampson is an award-winning journalist whose work started appearing in The Globe and Mail in 1998, when she was invited to write a column. Since 1993, when she began her career in journalism, she had been writing for all of Canada's major magazines, including Toronto Life, Saturday Night (now defunct), Chatelaine, Report on Business and Canadian Art, among others. More

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