Monday night was the most anticipated night in bachelor history and the closest an episode has come to living up to ABC’s perennial hype. We’ve been waiting for the #fencejump all season, and the fact that it came with a fantasy suite AND a breakup is almost more drama than our little reality-TV-loving hearts could take. For anyone who didn’t tune in, here are the spark notes: Colton didn’t sleep with Tayshia. Cassie’s dad flew 12 hours to tell her in person that a marriage should be a lifelong commitment (a belief system few bachelor contestants subscribe to). Colton, not privy to her dad’s pep-talk, told Cassie he loved her. She told him she wanted to go home. He proceeded to convince her to stay, for about 20 minutes of screen time, by telling her he wouldn’t stop fighting for her. The climax: She leaves and he finally hops the aforementioned fence.
After reading everyone’s hot takes yesterday, I was surprised. Most twitter users, writers and viewers are standing with Colton, collectively expressing a “poor guy” sentiment. And of course it is heart wrenching to watch someone confess their unrequited feelings in front of millions. Cassie cried, Colton cried, and at least 50% of America flashed back to a time in which we too tried to badger someone into loving us (or at least not leaving at 2 a.m.). But Colton is an adult, and an adult living in a post #MeToo climate at that. Why hasn’t anyone told him that love by atrophy is not best practice anymore?
Before we dive into his dismissal of Cassie’s feelings, let’s take a look at the rest of the episode, which is centered on his virginity. Colton has been a great sport about the scarlet V-card throughout this process, but as the concept of losing it becomes less abstract, his references are losing their charm. Colton jokes to the camera that sex “can’t be that hard, right?” and alludes to having done “everything but.” In a clip that aired again and again to build anticipation, he predicts the fantasy suite being “caring” and “passionate.” But his palpable nerves leading up to his first overnight, which culminates in an experience Tayshia describes as “interesting,” hint at the fact that he does, in fact, think it’s that hard. At the end of their date I can’t help but think that his virginity may have more to do with immaturity than chastity.
Enter Cassie, the woman with the face scientifically engineered to break hearts. Colton says that she makes him feel at ease and he can truly be himself. Out shopping in Portugal he, being the silly guy that he is, puts a stuffed octopus on her head and calls it a hat. She makes a joke about being Medusa. He swoons.
On a more serious note, Cassie gets concerned that her dad didn’t approve when Colton asked for permission to marry her. Colton has been called out for his antiquated decision to ask for each contestant’s father’s permission to propose, but judging by this tweet, he doesn’t grasp the difference between a conversation and permission. Either way, shouldn’t said “conversation” involve a mother as well as a father? After all, he met Caelynn’s mom and stepdad in North Carolina. The point here is that he is displaying this performative respect for the women by way of their families, while he has demonstrated very little respect nor empathy throughout the season. He invited Hannah B. to meet his family and then sent her home. He expressed strong feelings for Caelynn and, again, sent her home that week. He essentially exposed ex-girlfriend Aly Raisman’s sexual hangups by insinuating her abuse was part of the reason his virginity is still in tact.
Fast-forward to the evening portion of the date, Colton is almost foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the fantasy suite with Cassie and calls her “the one,” despite Hannah G’s scheduled date the following day. Chaos ensues and it’s clear to the audience very early on that she is trying to GTFO. Colton, however, won’t take no for an answer.
Here’s the thing: If everything went as it did — if he confessed his love, offered her more time, explained that an engagement wasn’t a necessity, told her love doesn’t work on television timelines, and she maintained that she wanted to go home (all of which happened) — and he had given her choice the respect it deserved, then I would be in the “poor guy” boat as well. But he didn’t.
“The last thing I’m going to do is give up,” he says when she reveals that she’s not in love with him. He vocalizes that he doesn’t understand her doubts but doesn’t actually ask her a single question. He then resorts to speaking in slower, more curt sentences. “I. want. to. be. with. you.” He acknowledges that she hasn’t verbalized her feelings, but he has surmised from their time together that she loves him. She says I don’t know and he cuts her off, “I fucking love you”.
Finally, in a single moment of clarity, she breaks through her “likes” and “ums,” and confidently asserts to Colton, “I can’t do this.” He tells her that he doesn’t care if she’s going to leave, he’s going to fight for her. To be fair, she is saying no as tactfully as possible so as to spare her reputation (which may already be a lost cause), but Colton is a shining example of how one man’s ego can make communication nearly impossible. Of course, this iteration was fairly innocuous. Gayle’s interview with R. Kelly is this dynamic taken to extremes.
But we can’t live in a world where Aziz Ansari is chastised for missing signals and Colton gets pitied for it. Colton’s actions aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, but the age-old mentality of refusing to give up a romantic pursuit is tired, especially in a show that claims to prize openness and vulnerability above all else. She’s not playing coy, she’s just not that into him.
Perhaps the formula is broken. Kaitlyn Bristowe paved the way to talk about sex openly on the show, and this season, sex (or lack thereof) was a cornerstone. Ben Higgins was the first contestant to express his feelings to more than one woman, and Colton dropped the L bomb right and left (though it remains best practice to save that word for the final episode). Everyone remembers Peter and Rachel’s epic romance, which was cut short because he couldn’t commit to the warped bachelor timeline. It’s clear things need to change much faster than they are. Mothers need to be involved in crucial conversations. The show’s duration should be longer to allow a real chance for a lasting relationship. And, dare I say it, maybe it’s time to stop pursuing the All-American, good-on-paper bachelors, who have little personality and even less sexual experience. Maybe they’re not the best examples of respectful men after all.
Whatever aspects of the franchise need to change, we can all take this as a cautionary tale, reminding us to ask questions and respect answers. At the very least, you won’t look like a bumbling idiot. And best case scenario: You make it to the fantasy suite portion of the date.
Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless.