Ahead of the season finale of “The Golden Bachelor” tonight, we caught up with Joan Vassos of Rockville, MD on life, love, the possibility of a Golden Bachelorette and her favorite DMV date spots.
Talking on Zoom with Joan Vassos of The Golden Bachelor feels like chatting with your mom’s coolest friend: she’s warm, wise, stylish, and could probably teach you to cook something sophisticated moments before joining you on the couch to watch The Bachelorette.
Vassos contains multitudes and it was a delight to speak with her for District Fray about her experience on the show, dating in the DMV, and the power of vulnerability. Seeing her face light up when speaking about the hope she gained from this experience – especially forming friendships with the other women competing for Gerry Turner’s heart – feels like a warm burst of optimism.
And before we go any further, let’s clear up a key question: contrary to what show’s website indicated, Joan lives in Rockville (not Rockland, which we’re not sure exists). A proud lifelong Marylander, Vassos grew up in Montgomery County, raised four kids with her late husband John in Potomac and Bethesda, and settled in Rockville after he passed away in 2021. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
District Fray: How did you end up all the way on the other side of the country to be a contestant on “The Golden Bachelor?”
Joan Vassos: I was out to dinner with a friend of mine. We were sitting at a bar, eating dinner at the Stanford Grill [in Rockville]. And I was just kind of getting in the mindset. My husband had been gone for about two years. And I know everybody said one year is the magic number. That certainly wasn’t true for me. When I was thinking it’s time to get back on the horse, and maybe start dating, I was looking around the restaurant [at all the couples]. I said to my friend…”it’s going to be really, really hard to meet somebody organically.”
So I left the bar [that night] thinking “that’s kind of a bummer.” And I really didn’t want to do a dating app. And I sat down in my family room and I turned the TV on because The Bachelor was on and the first commercial said, “we’re taking casting calls for “The Golden Bachelor” – if you’re in the second part of your life, and you are looking for love fill out this application.” [It felt like] the world is talking to me, the universe is telling me to do this. So I did it. And here I am.
District Fray: What was your experience like on the show?
It was amazing. I didn’t know what to expect at all because [on TV] you certainly see what happens on the show: the rose ceremonies, the big family room where everybody’s sitting around on the sofa, and they’re getting interviewed. But that is just one teeny part of it.
You get to form these really wonderful relationships with the bachelor. So I got to know Gerry really well. And that was a really great experience, especially for me, because I went into it not sure that I was ready for love. I slowly got to know him [during filming]. And I decided that I was ready for it. He kind of brought that out of me, he was a very open and caring and very vulnerable person. And he made it okay, so I felt like it was okay to be that way [too]. That kind of opened up my heart a little bit.
And the other great thing was I got to be there with these twenty-one other amazing women. When you’re at this stage of your life, when you’re in your 60s or 70s, and you’re single, you’re kind of out on an island by yourself. There is not a lot of us. Finding a group of friends in one place and getting to live with them and share this experience did my heart good. It was a phenomenal experience.
You use the word “vulnerable” to describe Gerry which sounds really important. Can you say more about what the word means to you?
I think that to get below the surface of a relationship, you have to be willing to not be perfect and not keep that armor up. And I think that’s what we all tend to do until, you know, you’re given the opportunity and you trust somebody. [Trust can take] a long time. Gerry kind of wrote the book for us. He went out there and he showed his vulnerable side. And it made us feel like we could do the same thing.
And as far as the women on the show, we came [in] with rich histories. We’ve all lived life. None of us expected to be in our 60s-70s and single, so something lousy has probably happened to us in our lives…we came there with these stories, not knowing each other, but you live in a house together and spend a lot of time together, and you start opening up…so we became very fast friends, probably way more than you would out in the wild away from the mansion or away from bachelor nation. We bonded really quickly.
Are these lessons [about connection and vulnerability] something you’re taking into the next phase of your dating life?
Yeah, I think I am. I’ve kind of had the hard shell up a little bit, because I really wasn’t ready to find love. Now that I know what it feels like, and it feels really good. I went there saying “I wanted to find love,” and I left there craving that feeling again – that comfortable feeling where you can be vulnerable, and you really just loved being with somebody and you’re picturing your future. That felt really, really good. And it was really hard to leave. And it was very sad for quite a while. But now that I’m kind of getting past that, I do crave that feeling again. Now I really, really want it. I know how good it feels.
A lot of fans felt your pain so viscerally when you had to make the decision to come home and help your daughter right after she had her baby. It sounds like she went through such an ordeal. I hope she’s doing better.
All good now, but it there were some dark days there. She had a high-risk pregnancy and a very hard delivery ending up with a C-section. And then I left her eight days later, which I felt very nervous about doing because she wasn’t in a great place at the time. When she sent me a text saying that she was not doing well, I knew I had to go—she wouldn’t have said that unless she really needed me. She knew what an opportunity this was. She wouldn’t have said she needed me if she didn’t. So I knew right away I had to go.
I’m glad she’s doing better. That’s tough to recover from.
Super good now. The baby is wonderful. Best baby in the world. [writer’s note: spoken like such a proud grandmother]. She and her husband have gotten their parenting groove going now and all is good.
The show filmed a few months ago. What does your dating life look like now? What are you looking forward to?
I’m kind of holding off on dating while the show is airing. And then I think I’m gonna take it slowly. I still don’t really know how you meet somebody organically…so I think I’m going to have to try online dating, but I am not on a dating app [now]. And I am not dying to do that. Honestly, I’m hoping the universe will do something for me again.
I mean, it worked once. Why shouldn’t it work twice? And I understand what you’re saying. A lot of singles of all ages in the D.C. area often bemoan challenges with dating here. What is your advice for them?
I feel like you have to be really open and you have to give a lot of people a chance to find the right one. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. And I am going to have to start living that advice that I give my kids!
Everything that’s worth having, you have to make an effort to do so I think it’s time that I start making an effort or very soon [after the show is done]. Then I’m going to give it the old college try.
Would you consider being the first Golden Bachelorette?
That is a good question. Gerry is a really hard act to follow. He did this very well. [I’m not positive that audiences would be as receptive to an older woman dating a bunch of men] but I would love the opportunity because I think bachelor nation does a phenomenal job of picking the right people to be on the show. They did a great job picking a really good variety of women to meet Gerry and he really did have connections with quite a few of us. So I trust bachelor nation, they do a good job. I think if they brought me 22 eligible bachelors, I could leave with a ring. I think I would like the opportunity but like I said, Gerry’s a very hard act to follow. And I’m not positive how receptive the world would be to an older woman dating a bunch of men. I don’t know if there’s a double standard there. I could be completely wrong. [writer’s note: if there is, I’ll be first in line to advocate for the first Golden Bachelorette, especially if it’s Joan!]
Well, it was a couple seasons at the very beginning before Trista was the first Bachelorette.
And she was phenomenal. And she found love.
Well, I would love to see [the first Golden Bachelorette] happen.
It’s an incredible opportunity.
Switching gears a bit – if the producers gave you a blank check for a dream date in the Rockville area, cameras or not, what would you have them set up for you?
Oh wow, that’s a hard one. It would probably be something in D.C. or maybe even Annapolis. I love Annapolis. It’s lovely to walk around. You have the water, you have the Chesapeake Bay, there’s great little bed and breakfasts and cute little hotels so I would probably go to dinner or do something fun in Annapolis – maybe one of the weekends when there’s a boat show because those are fun. [Or in D.C.,] I love all the monuments. I could walk around the monuments all day. So I could do a great day in D.C. and probably end up BLT, my favorite restaurant in D.C.
The season finale of “The Golden Bachelor” airs on ABC on Thursday, November 30 at 8 p.m. Keep up with Joan Vassos on Instagram @joan_vassos.
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