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“The Golden Bachelor” Caps a Year of Second-Chance Romances

Before the final reveal of any Bachelor season, the franchise briefly halts its frenetic march toward matrimony. During the show’s recurring “The Women Tell All” special, the eliminated contestants gather to dish about the drama that developed as they collectively dated one man. Typically, the women revisit moments both heartfelt and salacious, rehashing their intra-group fights and reflecting on the pain of romantic rejection. They tend to dwell on their past slights, often to the point of utter absurdity; sometimes, they don’t seem ready to move on, whether from the man himself or from their time in the Bachelor Nation spotlight.

The Golden Bachelor, the franchise’s first-ever season led by a man over 40, flips this script. On this season’s installment of “The Women Tell All,” the cast of women—all of whom are 60 to 75 years old—talk about their time dating Gerry Turner, a 72-year-old widower from Indiana. Like contestants from previous seasons, they gamely reminisce on the moments of conflict, hilarity, and connection that emerged during their journeys. But unlike the 20- and 30-somethings of Bachelor history, the women of The Golden Bachelor look toward the next chapter in their own (off-screen) love stories. “Having met you, I now realize that finding a gentleman in our generation—it’s not just possible, it is probable,” one woman, a 75-year-old retired executive assistant, tells Gerry. “I am more motivated now than I was even before to find my guy.”

When The Golden Bachelor concludes later this month, Gerry will presumably follow franchise tradition by proposing to one of the two remaining women. Even if he does tread that familiar territory, this season’s departure from The Bachelor’s other rigid conventions has already made it a remarkable addition to the reality-dating landscape, and to broader trends in the romance genre. The Golden Bachelor is one of several recent works that explore the process of finding love after 50, all of which bring depth, humor, and eroticism to a pursuit that most pop culture frames as the exclusive domain of young people. Along with the romantic comedy What Happens Later (which Meg Ryan wrote, directed, and stars in), and Season 2 of the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, this new Bachelor complicates the idea of romance as a neat, linear story that begins with youthful intrigue and ends with late-in-life grief.

That’s not to say The Golden Bachelor is without mourning—the ubiquity of grief is among the show’s most striking elements. But the love story between Gerry and his wife, Toni, which began when they were high-school students, didn’t conclude with her sudden death in 2017. The texture of the life they lived together—the adolescent infatuation, the decades spent as spouses and then parents—shapes all of Gerry’s interactions with the 22 women he meets on camera. Far from being an isolating factor, the transparency of Gerry’s affection for his late wife endears many of the women to him because it invites honest discussions of the loves they’ve lost too.

On an outing with one competitor, Gerry describes his failed attempt to date after his wife’s death, prompting the woman to share how difficult the time period after she lost her own husband had been: “I loved being married, so I tried to start dating, after like, a year,” she says. “And I feel like maybe I tried to find it maybe a little too soon.” In another scene, a woman bursts into tears after putting on a wedding dress during a group photo shoot—however lighthearted the activity was intended to be, the memory of her wedding day strikes a nerve. Afterward, when she opens up to Gerry about the unexpected emotional toll, she finds both connection and catharsis while speaking about her late husband.

On And Just Like That, grief is a similarly knotty romantic motivator. After the death of her swaggering financier husband, Mr. Big (played by Chris Noth), in the series premiere, 55-year-old Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) spent most of that season dealing with the aftermath: organizing an appropriately chic funeral, selling their massive home, and suffering one final crisis of insecurity after discovering that Big’s will allocated $1 million to an ex-wife. Season 2, which aired earlier this year, finds Carrie in a less consuming phase of her mourning. More than a year after losing Big, her pain hasn’t faded, but the prospect of entertaining a new paramour no longer feels as daunting.

When she’s ready to date again, it’s the promise of rekindling an old flame that lights Carrie up: She reaches out to her ex-fiancé, Aidan (John Corbett), initiating a reunion that feels both like a continuation of their relationship in Sex and the City’s original run and like a wholly new romantic endeavor. Carrie’s grief opens up not only the possibility of their reconnection but also a catalytic reorientation of her perspective on love. No longer tethered to the man whose attention she spent her 30s chasing, Carrie openly wonders whether yearning for Mr. Big had blinded her to the gentler, deeper love offered by Aidan. That’s a massive realization for someone of any age. In Carrie’s case, that reconsideration also challenges her two foundational Sex and the City relationships, as returning to Aidan in her 50s upends the earlier resolution of what had felt like a more conventional boy-meets-girl tale.

Part of what makes Carrie and Aidan so fascinating to watch after their extended hiatus is all the life that’s happened in the interim. Romance, no matter how familiar or fulfilling, doesn’t supersede the duties of parenthood. And thankfully, And Just Like That doesn’t shy away from showing how Carrie and Aidan’s separate commitments affect their ability to start over—a realism that also manages to retroactively smooth over some of the bizarre immaturity that the Sex and the City characters exhibited in the two movies, which took place during their 40s.

These works emphasize the obstacles that arise when two people try to share not just feelings, but also obligations and losses. In What Happens Later, Meg Ryan plays Willa, the free-spirited former girlfriend of Bill (David Duchovny), a suit-and-tie business type who unexpectedly reunites with Willa while stranded in a regional airport. The film, which was released in theaters earlier this month, slowly reveals that their surface-level differences weren’t the death knell for their relationship; rather, it was the pair’s starkly different attitudes about parenthood. Any contemplation of what might have been—or what could still be—must be filtered through Bill’s fears about his fractured relationship with the daughter he had after splitting up with Willa. The tension between prioritizing children’s needs over romantic bonds shows up throughout The Golden Bachelor too: One woman leaves midway through the series taping to support her daughter, who is struggling with a severe case of postpartum depression.

These are weighty issues to contend with while trying to win over a potential partner, made all the more intense when magnified by the grief of having lost a spouse. And of course, not everyone is interested in searching for love anew; plenty of divorced and widowed older women say they don’t want to remarry or cohabitate with a man ever again. But despite the traditional-seeming values that these recent works espouse, they still mark a notable shift in depictions of aging. The on-screen relationships are as whimsical, humorous, and lusty as they are solemn. These works present real-world barriers to romance, but they don’t lose sight of how aging can also help cultivate the tools needed to overcome the hurdles that life presents. Without the lessons Carrie learned while doggedly pursuing Big, the loss Willa suffered during her college relationship with Bill, or the depth of Gerry’s devotion to his late wife, these characters—real or fictional—might not have found the determination to nurture love on their own terms.

If that sounds a bit sanguine, so be it. As one former Golden Bachelor hopeful described the competition, in a sharp pivot from the typical “not here to make friends” reality-show speech, “It’s about love, but it’s also so much about hope, and friendship, and what life offers all of us.”

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