Last night on The Bachelor, the contestants were asked to write a short story about a “first time” in their life. After a few tales about college hi-jinx and first impression roses, one woman, Elyse, stood up and revealed that Colton Underwood, at 26, is the first younger guy she’s dated. Her competitor Demi called this act “so brave.” Later, as Colton and Elyse discussed their age difference, she told him the contestants over 27 had bunked together and dubbed their room the “cougar den.” Colton gave Elyse the group date rose, praising her for opening up and being so “vulnerable.”
Elyse is 31.
31! As I pointed out in my recap last night, that is still much younger than last year’s then 36-year-old Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. It’s younger than both times Brad Womack was the lead, first at 35 then at 38. And definitely younger than the oldest Bachelor in the show’s history: season six’s Byron Velvick, who was 40 at the time. The average age of the Bachelor is 31. The same age as Elyse.
Wanna know the age of the oldest Bachelorette? I mean, no, but I’ll tell you anyway: 32. (That honor goes to Rachel Lindsay.) The median age for the Bachelorette is 27.
Her delivery was off, but maybe Demi was right after all when she snipes, “There’s no advantage to being an older woman here.”
Women (and even some men) on social media agree: The Bachelor has an ageism problem. “The fact that being in your upper 20s qualifies you in the cougar den in Colton’s Season is very concerning,” one woman wrote. “Like I haven’t even accepted the fact that I’m an adult and now I have to accept that I’m a cougar?”
Another joked, “Colton is giving Elyse the rose because she was “brave” and “vulnerable”. She admitted she was over 30.”
Some took the “cougar den” in stride, like this user who tweeted, “Apparently on #thebachelor they designated a room for 27+ women called the “cougar den”…WELCOME TO THE DEN BITCHES. WELCOME TO BEING AWESOME AND KNOWING WHAT WE WANT.”
While others directed their jokes (and probably a little anger) at Demi, who was the main instigator of the older vs. younger women debate. “I will show up to every birthday every year for the rest of Demi’s life to remind her she just got a year older,” one person wrote. “Don’t doubt me, I’ve got time.”
The Demi jokes are good and fun, but let’s not skim over the fact that she’s part of a wider problem. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette has a storied history of casting mostly early-20s women for their 30-something Bachelor, and vice versa. (One notable exception: Rachel Lindsay’s guys were younger than her on average! Leave it to the first woman of color Bachelorette to break multiple barriers.)
I don’t expect the show to suddenly change this practice for every season to come—it’s all about the baby steps when it comes to The Bachelor—but it would be nice to have a world where a woman’s age isn’t a big reveal or a plot device. This goes both ways: Remember all the so-called controversy about 22-year-old Bekah Martinez being too young for Arie last season? The numbers might be different, but the argument is the same: restrictions are being placed around whether or not a woman’s age is “correct” for the guy she’s dating.
If we could stop focusing on that so much, there’d be more time to discuss the really important things. Like my new hero, the woman who told Colton she’s not ready for kids, “just a bunch of dogs right now.”
Anna Moeslein is a senior editor at Glamour. Read her Bachelor recaps here.