“I think I’m falling in love with more than one person.” It’s a familiar refrain, heard on nearly every season of ABC’s The Bachelor franchise. Though the long-running show purports ideals of traditional monogamy—setting up a narrative where, in the end, there can only be one, andx a lack of a fairy-tale proposal equates to failure—it simultaneously engineers a situation wherein the complete opposite version of a relationship is not only encouraged, but successfully illustrated to millions of viewers and to the contestants themselves, and yet, is rarely acknowledged. While The Bachelor is built on, and perpetuates, the notion of monogamy as the prize, it actively displays how, sometimes, polyamory is actually the answer.
To be clear, The Bachelor never gets closer than light-years away from representing healthy polyamorous relationships, which are built on enthusiastic consent for multiple romances and a great deal of communication between individuals. However, the show reveals what some people already know: that it is possible to be “falling in love with more than one person at the same time.”
Most recently, on Peter Weber’s season of the show, the 28-year-old pilot was left clearly torn between two women, noting to his soon-to-be-ex-fiancée (Hannah Ann Sluss) during the finale of the show, “I’ve fallen in love with you, and I love you … [but] I never intended to give my heart to two people.”
Ultimately, Peter chose to leave his original choice and give love a second chance with his runner-up, but neither relationship survived. The interesting part of the breakup is that, while Weber clearly felt he had to give his other relationship a try, he also claimed to be—and, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be—still in love with Sluss. But, feeling a lack, his only option seemed to be to end things and try with his other choice, only to find the lack still there.
This kind of pivoting has happened more and more in recent seasons, notably on Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s run, but even in seasons where the contestant doesn’t overtly leave one choice for another, Bachelor relationships have a bad track record when it comes to longevity. Many factors have been pointed out as the culprits, from the unrealistic setting the show creates, to the media attention post-show, to a lack of sincerity on contestants’ parts.
While all these certainly play a role, what fails, again and again, to be laid on the table—by critics, the host, and the contestants themselves—is the notion that, despite having only one final rose, the bachelor or bachelorette has two, if not three, very real relationships that don’t just disappear at the transfer (or lack thereof) of a flower.
According to tell-all books like Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman and I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson and Deb Baer, the relationships built on the show, at least towards the end, are not just for the cameras.
So, if the “winner” of the show comes down to the flip of a coin, or a guess by the Bachelor at whom they might love “more” or have a longer future with, though they’re differently in love with multiple people at the time of the choice, is it any wonder the final relationships fall apart? How can a switch simply be flipped on an entire romance that, under different circumstances, would have been just as likely to work out, without every relationship suffering the repercussions?
For weeks while on the show, the contestants are encouraged to pour their hearts, secrets, and vulnerabilities out to the central Bachelor or Bachelorette. The relationships formed are intrinsically tied to one another, built together and occupy emotional space in those that hold them. By the end, participants imagine weddings, children, and homes. Of course, the sudden loss of one or two possible lives would be harrowing, and if the winner is the winner only by a hair … have they really won? While on the quest for the perfect monogamous ending, the contestants have tripped into something else entirely.
Given the franchise’s lack of diversity in contestants and leads, as well as their staunch refusal to display anything but heterosexual relationships on the main arms of the show, it’s not a surprise The Bachelor won’t acknowledge what it creates. But as society continues to evolve beyond the antiquated notions the show hopes to present, many others see more clearly. After all, the definition of a polyamorous relationship is “the practice of intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved.”
However distorted, all the players on The Bachelor sign up for exactly this practice, all consenting, in a fashion, for several romantic relationships to take place, all knowingly engaging in the behavior. The key difference is that, in the case of the show, the polyamory is “sanctioned” only because of the understanding that it will give way naturally to the “normal” practice of monogamy.
But instead, what becomes clear again and again, is that when given the chance to participate in multiple relationships, people will find different parts of themselves, different understandings, and different loves in different people. And when that occurs, the transition to monogamy is actually highly unnatural—much more abnormal for contestants to declare themselves given over to only one person, than to see through all of the relationships that they feel powerfully about.
Perhaps if, instead of the same tired old routine, the franchise leaned into its actual intriguing aspect— the way it manages to teach those so committed to monogamy at the start that they are actually more flexible on this point than they could have imagined—the results would be fascinating and fresh. Perhaps if, instead of burying the potential outcomes it stirs up in service of a specific societal expectation, the show actually discussed the outcomes of its own making and helped assist those involved in whatever relationship structure they choose to pursue, the contestants would no longer have to feel such a gaping lack in their final relationships, and The Bachelor could have a final product that reflected a longer-lasting, more modern, and truly, more human experience.
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