The Horror of Settling: The Bachelorette's Emotional Pornography


Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise host Chris Harrison loves superlatives. Every season is “the most dramatic” or “best” the show has ever had and, let’s be honest, who cares enough to question him whether it’s true or not? But I’d wager that the superlatives were actually justified last night during the Bachelorette‘s Season 9 finale, because it was definitely the first time the show has ever shown anything remotely close to what the real trajectory of a relationship looks like. And it was not pretty.

A recap for those who don’t watch (and a spoiler for those that do and are behind): Last week Bachelorette Desiree — herself a reject from a previous season of The Bachelor — was rejected by her clear top pick, Brooks, and the whole thing aired unedited. It will go down in history as one of the most heartbreaking breakups ever depicted on television.

What happened? Brooks just didn’t love Desiree. In fact, he gave her the best and most normal, honest answer you can give someone when breaking up with them: I’m just not that into you. That’s the get out of jail free card but no one ever uses it. It’s easier to use qualifiers: This isn’t a good time right now; it’s not you, it’s me; I need to work on myself… Perhaps that softens the blow, but having someone tell you they just don’t love you is the most clear-cut thing you can hear. They don’t love you and there’s nothing they can do about it. It stings, but the game is over.

After her breakup with Brooks, Chris Harrison wondered aloud, “Will she be the first Bachelorette that ends up alone?” During the next thousand hours of the finale, Desiree proceeded to cry more than perhaps ever on the show before. It was excessive. She was left with two remaining choices — Drew and Chris — but after re-watching many of her postmortems with Harrison, it seemed basically impossible that Desiree could “find love” between these two runner-ups in the next few days. All she could do was cry. She had said goodbye to a person that she had just admitted that she was in love with, who she said was the only one she’d really wanted to go on dates with. The future looked bleak.

Des next chose to breakup with Drew, who was a very sweet man-boy with a “mentally handicapped” (Des’s words, not mine) sister whom his parents described as their angel from heaven. Drew took his heartbreak like a trooper, spewing out more truth, to the point where the show seemed like it had become a different kind of television show, one where people actually behaved the way people in life do. “You don’t have to be sorry to not love me,” Drew told Des. “It’s not something you control.” And later: “I don’t expect a perfect life.”

Which left Des with just Chris, the rebound man who had no idea he was one. It’s not as though Des didn’t have feelings for Chris; she’d always described having a strong physical attraction to him (which was super weird, given that he insisted upon writing and reading horrible poems aloud to her). But given her recent admission that Brooks was the one she’s really always wanted, it was bizarre to see Desiree act as if Chris was her big swooning love.

So spoiler alert if the rest of this wasn’t already: Chris proposed and Des accepted. To watch him propose to her is to watch someone make a drastic life choice at a time when they should be alone in their room doing more crying. If you think Des was crying tears of happiness when Chris proposed, good for you. In actuality, it was the face of a woman who was so so tired of the fact that, in her words, “No one has ever loved me as much as I loved them.”

In the After the Rose special, Desiree describes her Journey to Love™ thusly:

I actually think sometimes you do have to go through the hard and the difficult to see the good…it’s an incredible thing that I was able to experience and I think a lot of people go through it. That’s why I think it was special to actually go through heartbreak in order to see the beauty in love.

To some, the fact that Chris and Desiree are now engaged and that she is moving to Seattle to be with him is a sign that The Bachelor franchise is just as crooked as ever. Desiree picked someone while under emotional duress, and let’s be real, their odds of staying together are not high. She may call him “the greatest man I’ve ever known” but her horrible poker face and lip tremble when she had to see Brooks for the first time said otherwise. She’s settling in the hopes that it will turn into something more.

Maybe Desiree has found real love, and maybe she did indeed manage to do so moments after getting dumped by her first choice. That’s what the show wants you to believe anyhow; every season, the franchise pushes the illusion that love is safe and that no matter what, they will find the right person, with minimal to no heartbreak. These contestants get to spend a few months pretending that dating isn’t absolute torture and that — not some fairytale proposal — is the show’s real fantasy. But Desiree’s decision to settle, or whatever better word there is for what she’s doing, is hardly a fantasy ending. It’s incredibly common, actually. It felt too pedestrian for network television because, inasmuch as anything on this show can be, it was actually kind of real. People get their hearts broken, they compromise, they roll with it.

Luckily, next season looks like a return to the usual Bachelor antics. They’ve chosen a Desiree reject, Juan Pablo, as the new Bachelor, a man of whom Chris Harrison said, “In the history of this show, no guy has made a greater impact with less screen time.” He’s Venezuelan, a single-dad/former soccer player and looks to be a totally fine person. He does not look like a man, however, who is going to get his heart broken on national television, who will just roll with it and pick someone else. Which is good, because that already happened once and we’ve had enough reality with our reality television for a long time.

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