Our stories are the same… you and I. We both met someone we loved, started a family, only to have love transform into something deeper.
But it wasn’t magic. Not the miracle of birth. Or watching my son take his first breath. Not any one breath made the transformation… but all of them put together. Now, with greater depth and focus, I’ve moved from reflecting on love to being engaged in it daily.
And this is where you and I differ. You see I did my self-reflection in quite a unique way, on quite a unique stage, oftentimes in quite unique outfits (if any outfit at all). I did my self-reflection on reality TV, syndicated on a global scale, all in the name of “love.”
For quite a while, people would ask me, “Was your time on ‘The Bachelorette’ good to you?” And I would say, “Yes, but only because I was good to it.” You see, I treated every day on the show like a job interview, preparing the night before for the “stickiest questions.” I tried to treat everyone with appreciation and dignity, knowing the production staff spent sleepless weeks nurturing our pursuit of love (and not so visibly our personal development). I tried to do good every day, so yes, it was good for me.
And now that 6 years have passed and people have become more interested in my sister’s journey on “The Bachelor” & her two seasons of “Bachelor in Paradise,” I have shifted from finding meaning and identity through my time on “The Bachelorette,” and more time making sense of it.
So allow me to introduce myself, my name is Zak Waddell. I was one of the final four contestants on Desiree’s season of “The Bachelorette.” That means she met my parents and I uttered the forbidden words “I love you” (maybe even in the same night). It means I traveled to Germany, Spain, and a Portuguese island closer to Africa than Europe. It means I made good friends, witnessed more boy drama than I could stand, saw behind the curtain and found the Wizard was a curly headed madman who could press the truth from people like oil from an olive press. I drank a lot of good beer, had sardines for breakfast, and sipped whiskey alone with my journal, hoping ideas would swirl to form words (and sometimes cheesy songs).
One thing I observed is that love can take many forms as it develops into something deeper. In the beginning, it is well socialized. We follow certain beliefs about ‘what love is,’ like the kind in Disney movies or the story of how our grandparents met. We become so consumed in meeting the expectations of these beliefs that we lose sight of love’s wonder & awe. We stop asking questions and just follow the herd.
This certainly wasn’t me on “The Bachelorette.” I was too busy self-authoring my own definition of love. Most interviews went like this, “So Zak… I hear you talking about love as an abstraction. Define what you mean by ‘love.’”
And I would go on and on. Imagine how painful it was sitting on the other side of the curtain,
It’s kind of like walking through a fine art museum and being paralyzed before the most beautiful painting. And then having the woman in the painting reach through to take your hand. You can leave with her… but at the cost of removing her from the museum thereby never sharing her beauty with others.
This was my identity, talking to hear my own voice at times, always authoring a new definition of love to fit my shifting reality.
I wasn’t a deep thinker, just a curious one. But curiosity on its own leads to lonesome wandering. My experience on “The Bachelorette” provided a platform for dialogue. It got me out of my own head, and into conversation with others. My ‘wonder & awe’ didn’t just loop and re-loop through the same bumpy vinyl. It bounced the needle off a live human being.
When I think back on my relationship with Desiree, I think ‘fast.’ I’ve been cooking a lot of bread this month while home with our newborn. You can bake a pretty impressive loaf with only 4 hours of rise. You can plop it in a preheated Dutch Oven and in 30 minutes have a loaf that looks like artisan bread. The crust is golden brown and crusty. It is nicely scored with your own custom signature. It breaks apart with an impressive release of steam. The only problem is it’s often dense & lacks the complexity of flavor.
Maybe I am just a noob at making bread, but I can’t help but infer “rushing it” has its drawbacks. Yeast needs time to do its delicate dance among fields of flour. As the CO2 makes an exit, it leaves behind intricate chambers where the density once was.
You see, it is the process of “The Bachelor” that causes the fast-rise. So many relationships fail after the show, because the couples are left with so much density… so little flavor. Luckily, Desiree and Chris were able to deepen their relationship through a second round of fermentation. And lucky for me… I have a story of my own.
When I met Elizabeth, I was still in hiding. My appearance on “The Bachelorette” was a few weeks from airing and the next Bachelor had not been selected. I was told, “Zak… you are 1 of 3 in the running.” But so was my good friend Juan Pablo. So instead of waiting for the news 1,346 miles apart, we celebrated together the night he got the call.
My love-at-first-sight story is watching Elizabeth emerge from the Trinity River at a concert in Fort Worth. Although this won’t paint the “Birth of Venus” in your mind, the muddy water looked beautiful against her skin. I had to speak to her, even though she was with another guy. And so I did.
I didn’t get her number. I didn’t even hear her name correctly. But I searched for her.
Although it didn’t make sense that I would stumble across her again by hanging around Fort Worth, this was my plan. One month later, it happened.
At this point, the show had aired and she had been watching. But it worked against me. In her mind, I just went on the show to get exposure. She assumed I was just a fly-trap for narcissistic tendencies, so it took some convincing. Hesitantly, she took down my number.
Yes, she texted me. We took things slow. We traveled. We met each other’s friends. We met each other’s family. We traveled to get engaged. We traveled again to get married. And when our heads stopped spinning, we found ourselves grounded with a baby… now two.
So what’s next? Well, it’s making sense of love in a new way. A way that deepens my understanding daily.
I imagine this transition will be familiar to many of you, but alien to others. So whether curiosity or familiarity lead you to our next meeting, I invite you to come with me on a journey to transformational growth. I will be writing here at InspireMore to explore ways in which we can deepen our experience of reality, not conform to the “reality” you see on TV. I believe the opportunity for a deeper pursuit of truth is present in every interaction… but it requires pressing further in interactions with others. Together, we can transform ourselves in an effort to collectively transform our world.
Let’s do this together!