Judging by the level of outrage against reality-show contestant Jen Schefft, you'd think she'd had sex with an underage schoolboy or walked out on her husband and kids. "I hate her," read a post on realitytvworld.com "She deserves to die an old maid!" read another on America Online. Labeled "heartless," "insecure," "fake," "totally messed up" and a "spoiled, self-serving, gold-digging sorority chick," the event planner from Chicago didn't bother with doing the usual round of postshow interviews.
Her crime? On the season finale of ABC's The Bachelorette, in which Jen, 28, was expected to choose a man who might one day become her husband, she ended up turning down everyone and leaving the show alone. In a live broadcast in front of a booing, mostly female studio audience and more than 11 million TV viewers, after a buildup in which she spent six weeks whittling down a pool of 25 eager suitors, Jen turned down the last, bewildered contender. Art-gallery director Jerry Ferris, 29, was so smitten with her that he had penned the words to a love song that ABC played on the show right before Jen gave him the ax. Harsh.
A disaster for reality TV, went the speculation. As even the New York Times weighed in, calling Jen "curdled" and "deranged," some speculated that the loveless finale would bring the demise of the entire Bachelor/ Bachelorette franchise, which already had dwindling ratings and has so far led to just one marriage after eight tries.
Amid all the booing, however, I am one bachelorette who cheered. As a single woman who would love to meet my own Mr. Right, I was definitely surprised that Jen jilted everyone. When it's tough enough for a single gal to get one date at times, it's hard to imagine spurning not just one but 25 good men. At 37, I have Internet-dated, speed-dated, office-dated and even dated the guy next door. I have come off yearlong dating dry spells only to find myself juggling three maybes at once. I have survived enough romantic catastrophes and near misses to know that I'm ready for a lasting relationship--if I can find one.
But watching Jen apologetically admit that none of the men on the show were right for her was strangely liberating. She reminded me that as much as the legions of single women like me want to find a mate, you can't force it. In a way, Jen did us a favor by demonstrating that single gals aren't all a bunch of Bridget Joneses, desperate for love. By showing us that Mr. Wrongs are a dime a dozen, reality TV for once felt real.
You don't hear that very often because there's a whole industry devoted to exploiting the anxiety of single women. We are constantly deluged with messages that we really should get it together and find a man--and the sooner, the better. Why else would so many angry viewers be predicting that Jen will wind up an old maid? How else to explain the 25 bridal magazines at my local bookstore, including one that boasts "over 900 wedding gowns" on its cover and another that is 810 pages long? Why else would there be dozens of dating books with titles like How to Make a Man Fall in Love with You, Why Men Love Bitches and the current best seller for truly masochistic single gals, He's Just Not That into You? We claim that The Rules is silly, but most bachelorettes I know have at least skimmed it for pointers.