Forgive me, in advance, for this brief rant about my frustration with our American need to feel guilty about things that bring us pleasure. I’m not talking about activities that could hurt yourself or someone else – adultery, violence, gossip, stalking, etc. Rather, I mean those people who always say, “My Sunday evening bath is my guilty pleasure,” or feel the need to justify their love of Justin Bieber’s music. Even if you find joy in a morning croissant or an after-work martini, which are technically not healthy for your body, if they help you get going or relax, then why feel guilty about it? Life is too short.
To lighten the mood on stressful days, my boss likes to bring up pop culture – a new TV show he’s hooked on, a popular song that’s stuck in his head, or some celebrity scandal. I don’t have cable and watch almost no TV, I listen to podcasts rather than the radio, and for the most part, I am oblivious to celebrity gossip (except those tidbits covered by The Skimm, which I am addicted to). For a long time, my boss was frustrated that he could not connect with me on these “water cooler” topics. “How is it possible that you’ve never seen ‘Homeland’/ heard twenty one pilots / watched Jimmy Kimmel?!?” he’d exclaim with exasperated incredulity. In response, I would calmly explain that I only get 60-90 minutes a day to myself, and that I try to be judicious in how I spend that precious time.Then one day, my boss started telling me how upset his wife had been about a twist on the previous night’s “Bachelor” episode. I frantically plugged my ears and begged him not to spoil it for me, as I hadn’t seen that episode yet. He was flabbergasted to discover that I am a diehard fan of “The Bachelor” franchise (I have watched every single episode since it started in 2002). Since then, my boss loves to try to shock our colleagues and clients by revealing what he calls, my “guilty pleasure.” I protest, however, that I do not feel at all guilty about it and do not see it as incongruous with who I am or how I live my life.
It is true that I like to challenge myself, to be constantly learning, improving, and achieving. But after a stressful work day, followed by reading The Economist on my commute, listening to The Smart People Podcast while I make dinner, and finally corralling my kids to eat, play together, and go to bed, my body and brain are done for the day. Often, all that gets me through the final (or even the first) hours of my day is my eagerness to find out the details of some new drama hinted at in the teaser for the next episode of the current “Bachelor”-franchise show.
My husband and I have watched “The Bachelor” (as well as “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor Pad,” and “Bachelor in Paradise”) together since we started dating. During our cross-continent long-distance relationship, he would download the episode illegally so we could watch them more or less at the same time (sometimes while on Skype so we could maintain our typical running commentary). My husband and I are both hopeless romantics and cry at every finale (yes, there are real tears from both of us, even though we are simultaneously laughing at our own sappiness). The episodes bring up interesting conversations about our own past relationships and dating adventures, and constantly make us feel grateful to have found each other. We anticipate new episodes together, share gossip about the cast gleaned from supermarket tabloids, and then cuddle, laugh, cry, and talk during the show. It is relaxing and delightful. What is there to feel guilty about that?
Sure, “Homeland” likely has a much higher production value, clearly more talented stars, and is obviously less predictable. But it is precisely the formulaic consistency of “The Bachelor” that I crave. In a crazy world where the only constant is change, I know I can count on the episode ending with Chris Harrison announcing, “Ladies, this is the final rose tonight,” followed by, “If you did not receive a rose, I’m sorry, please take a moment and say your goodbyes.”
I’m not trying to argue that “The Bachelor” is quality television, or that anyone should watch it (if you’re not already hooked, you’d probably hate it). My point is that I know I could have made better use of the 34 days of my life spent watching more than 400 two-hour episodes of “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor Pad,” or “Bachelor in Paradise.” Think of how many books I could have read! But when I think back on how much joy, entertainment, anticipation and connection the show has brought me, I know that it has been time well spent. I do not feel the least bit guilty about declaring myself a card-carrying member of “Bachelor Nation,” even though my boss tries to out me as if it’s something I should be embarrassed about.
Similarly, I do not think anyone should feel bad (or believe that they should feel guilty) for anything that brings them happiness, relaxation, escape, rejuvenation, or just helps them carry on. So go get your double chai latte and stop feeling the need to make excuses for why that $3 isn’t going into your savings account or to Doctors Without Borders. It is lucky that we all find pleasure in different ways (or else there might be nothing but romance novels in the world); we should all feel free to pursue our harmless pleasures without guilt. We have enough to worry about in our daily lives, attaching “guilt” to things that bring us joy should not be one of them.