I’ve never been one for reality TV. Well, except for the early seasons of MTV’s Real World, that stuff was binge-worthy. I just think it’s weird to watch other people getting paid to live their life from my couch, when I’d rather be doing something with my own. But back when Emily and I were hiking the AT, we became straight-up obsessed with the Bachelorette. Emily would calculate mileage and days of food we needed to carry to ensure we’d hit town days on Monday nights, which we would then spend in some fancy B&B, drinking wine and eating cheese, brains empty, unblinking at Chris Harrison for like, two hours. I mean, it’s easy to become obsessed with stupid shit out there when what you’re really trying to do is forget about the constant pain, the bottomless hunger, and the fact you’re carrying ten extra pounds of your own cat pee flavored sweat every day.
Fame. I refuse to believe there is any other logical reason people would willingly go on a show like the Bachelor/ette. I mean seriously, isn’t it hard enough out there? How can you possibly think going on TV to fight 30 other beautiful people for one beautiful person is a good idea? Just join Tinder and be thankful for silent rejections and the ability to passive aggressively weed through the weirdos in private, like the rest of Single America. But we faithfully watched anyway, knowing full well we’d never get those life hours back.
The day finally came I was grateful for every single second I put into that nonsense. Because without that knowledge, I’d be confused as hell as to what happened earlier this year, when I unknowingly participated in my very own season of the Bachelorette. Just like on TV, I was wooed with adventures and careless freedom, endless boxes of wine, fancy dinners cooked on a propane stove, standing on the edge of the world (er, the Grand Canyon). Except there was only ever one eligible bachelor: the Purple Squirrel.
Oh, what a glorious month we shared! Living in a van, wandering from Colorado to California, no responsibilities, no worries at all, operating within the hours of the sun, the open road begging us to choose our own adventure. We hiked in Joshua Tree, stargazed in Moab, climbed around Zion. Cozy breakfasts watching snow fall in the mountains of Colorado, sunrise coffee hikes in the Arches, wine-soaked sunset dinners in Southern California. Who wouldn’t fall in love? We explored the Southwest quickly, as slow as we could, knowing I’d soon start my long walk to Canada. Knowing this would eventually all feel like a distant dream. Knowing you can never quite go back to the way it was.
Just like the Bachelor/ette and the “winner” of the Bachelor/ette must remain publicly separated until the finale episode (a significant time period in which we all know a bunch of shit happens), I started walking alone toward Canada without the Purple Squirrel. The longer I walked, the farther I walked away from whatever we had. I’m not even sure I can pinpoint when it happened. But it definitely happened. I remember at one point trying to peer back into my past life chapters thinking, wait…did I get that right? I mean, the month went by pretty quick and it was filled with a bunch of awesomeness and very little of Life in My Real World. At the time, I didn’t have to think about what made sense for my latter future, because my immediate future was hiking the PCT, where I found myself hanging out with friends I had literally just met, yet eventually knew them longer and better than I knew my supposed sig other. And I found I enjoyed them just as much, sometimes more, even. So I started thinking, maybe the Purple Squirrel was a product of my life situation and not so much the actual human.
But I felt things! I swear to you, I really felt all the things. I know this because I told other people, and they believed me! I don’t exactly gush with emotions about my romantic life, so when I gush, people notice, and I guess this time I gushed. Maybe it was because it aligned with quitting my job; I was free, excited to begin a new adventure, any adventure, so many feels rolling through. Maybe I just went with it without proper processing. Maybe I shouldn’t pretend to know what happened, maybe I shouldn’t try to figure it out. Now I just refer to it as the Bachelorette Effect:
Bachelorette World Feelings ≠ Real World Feelings
As a general rule, I don’t write about active relationships for this very reason. I know I don’t have the best track record, and I’d rather not eat my words or be held accountable for my feelings. I prefer to just tell you about them later, like they never really happened at all. You know, safety first. But, that ship has sailed and here I am, drowning just off the shore of some weird island.
When I got home from the PCT, I received an email from a reader I connected with back when I was preparing to hike the AT. She read between the lines I wasn’t writing.
By the way, what happened to your Purple Squirrel? Did he turn brown?
Man, some people just get me. Her reference made me smile, but it also made me think.
Ah, you are very observant, and that analogy made my day. I think we’re both sort of struggling to figure out what happened there. I don’t think HE turned brown, but when I got back from the hike, I just realized I wasn’t into purple anymore. It really bummed me out, because I was so excited about the idea of him. But when I got home, I just saw him in a different light, through a different lens, and I couldn’t shake it.
So the Purple Squirrel didn’t exactly turn brown; my definition of purple just…changed. I keep telling myself there’s a difference.
And now? I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I’m scared. Sad because it didn’t work out. Disappointed because I really wanted it to work. I genuinely thought it was going to for a hot minute, for the first time in like, a decade, and it sort of feels like I let myself down. Like I can’t be trusted. Which really sucks. Like, I made a choice or something, and this feels nothing like a choice. And scared of my feelings, how quickly they can change. How could I have such intense feelings about someone, just to watch them evaporate? I could literally feel them leaving my body as I hiked north. I even tried to reason myself back into them for over a thousand miles.
The worst part is, I can’t even offer him an explanation other than: I just don’t feel the same way anymore. Because that’s exactly what it is. And I can’t force something to be there when it isn’t. I can’t be with someone just because of how I apparently used to feel. Because of all the nice things I once wrote, describing those feelings. For whatever reason, I don’t feel that way now. And I can’t pretend. I am a terrible pretender, ask anyone. He didn’t do any one thing wrong. No one did anything wrong.
I just hiked 2,650 miles and came out a different person.