John & Joseph Photography Inc.
Jenny Mollen
February 12, 2016 12:55 PM

Filling a courtyard dripped in flowers and chandeliers with my ex-boyfriend and 10 of his ex-girlfriends as I proceed down a large staircase in a giant gown looking flawless and expensive is pretty much my darkest fantasy.

Three weeks ago, I got to see Jade Roper do just that.

I’d never been invited to a Bachelor wedding – and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Up until my experience hosting After Paradise, I didn’t think of the contestants as real people who got “real married.” They were characters. No, they were tweets.

I watched each season with judgment, rolling my eyes at the romance and looking for the jokes. My favorite part of each episode was the breakup, the breakdown, and the pensive limo ride home. Jade, to me, was simply the “Wild Mustang,” the girl who posed for Playboy, the girl who wasn’t the girl covered in mascara and left for dead in the Badlands.

Over the course of Bachelor in Paradise, I fell in love with a different Jade, a humble, soft-spoken girl who stood up for her friends, didn’t wear makeup and took a chance on Tanner Tolbert.

Their dynamic wasn’t something you could stage or force. They didn’t need an awkward helicopter ride around Cabo or an intimate dinner on the beach surrounded by silk pillows; watching them talking on a bed about “what happens next” was enough. I believed them. I believed in them. So, when they extended an invite to their nuptials, I was thrilled to say yes.

My sister, Samantha, escorted me down to Dana Point for the big day. When we arrived, we were instantly ushered to the top of a staircase and told to wait in line as camera crews filmed our entrance. Taking my place in line, I was surrounded by former contestants. J.J. tapped me on the shoulder to let me know he still didn’t have a job, Sarah Herron gave me a hug and Clare pretended to not see me. I felt like I’d been locked in Madame Tussaud’s after midnight and all the mannequins had come to life to kill me.

There was Shawn Booth and Kaitlyn Bristowe, Ben Higgins, Trista and Ryan and even that girl who was left for dead in the Badlands. I guess she didn’t die.

As I walked down the circuitous staircase into the party, a wave of insecurity took hold. The kind I imagine each of the contestants feels the first time they walk into the Bachelor mansion with nothing but a name, a job title and a glass of white wine. Did I wear the right shoes? Am I wearing too much makeup? Does Clare really hate me? Is Neil Lane judging my wedding ring? Does Nick Viall think I’m hot? Why are most of these people 10 years younger than me? What happened to my 20s? What did breast-feeding do to my boobs? Should I get lip injections? Highlights? A facelift?

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I would have assumed I was going crazy were it not for my sister turning to me and asking, “Do you think we should go back to the room and apply fake lashes?’ ”

“Definitely” I said, slamming a Chardonnay and scurrying toward the exit.

Back in the room, the reality that we weren’t reality stars set in and we were able to process what was happening to us. We’d entered a Bachelor vortex, where even the most self-possessed people can turn around and give a blubbering confession to the camera about how inadequate they feel as humans.

For the first time, I could see how and why these people come off the way they do. It isn’t their fault, it isn’t the prodding of producers or even the hope for fame: It’s the environment and the paranoia it breeds.

Smoothing down our newly glued lashes and armed with the understanding that we weren’t actually in Dana Point looking for love, Samantha and I returned to our seats for the ceremony. We sandwiched ourselves on lawn chairs between Chris Soules and Andi Dorfman as we watched an incandescent Jade walk down the aisle.

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Chris Harrison, along with Jade’s soon-to-be husband, Tanner, waited anxiously at the altar. For all the eye-rolling I’d have done watching this kind of production from home, I found myself silent and at times even moved to tears by how truly authentic the whole thing was. In a hot tub filled with drama and Joe Bailey’s you-know-what, Jade and Tanner managed to find true love and get “real married.”

Family, friends, and exes co-mingled on the dance floor as Seal popped out of nowhere to sing the only Seal song I know. I glanced once more around the room at the many familiar faces, with newfound compassion and even a little respect.

Then I bid Bachelor-land farewell and took that pensive limo ride home.

Jenny Mollen is the author of the upcoming book Live Fast Die Hot, out June 14.

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