Once again, The Bachelor does its best to make us think the craziest shit you’ve ever seen in your life is about to go down. “The most dramatic conclusion in Bachelor history,” etc. etc. Instead, what we get is a more brutal, unsettling version of what happened during Jason Mesnick’s season. Much as he proposed to one woman, only to decide he’d made a mistake, back out, and go after the runner-up, Molly, so too does Arie Luyendyk Jr. do the exact same thing. Despite promising something unlike anything we’d seen before, Arie sends boring but nice Lauren home during the final rose ceremony, and proposes to the smart, lively, and vivacious Becca. It’s the “right” choice for any number of reasons... except for the part where Arie can’t let Lauren go.
And so we get the deeply uncomfortable experience of watching a supposedly happily engaged couple break up in real time (“No edits,” as Chris Harrison keeps reassuring us, as though that makes it more fun), weeks after the engagement, when they’ve been secretly living in amorous bliss—or so Becca thought. With one camera on him and one on her in a split screen, we watch as he admits that he thought his feelings for Lauren would slowly fade, but instead finds himself going to bed and waking up thinking of her. (Ouch.) Becca, quite understandably, is dumbfounded, heartbroken, pissed off, and very aware that America will be watching her fiancé dump her on national television. She handles it as best she can, but ultimately has to leave the room to go cry in the bathroom, the way any person would probably react.
At first, she makes as if to leave, but Arie assures her that he’ll leave so she can stay and take some time to deal with what just happened. And that’s where things get pretty fucked up. Having been both the dumper and dumpee in extremely committed relationships, I fully acknowledge it is harder in many ways to be the one doing the ending of the relationship, because you don’t get to be the victim. You don’t get to be the innocent one, who someone else came along and emotionally shattered. You have to live with what you did, the pain you caused someone else, and it is absolutely excruciating. And you, heartless bastard that you are, have to simply endure it. You take your lumps and leave. That’s how it works. Everybody hates it.
And that’s where this episode really becomes a fascinating demonstration of the problem with seeming “nice guys”: Sometimes, they can’t admit that even nice guys can be the bad guy, and they act shitty. Arie, to his credit, seems like a genuine and generally decent person. It’s part of what has made his season so boring; he’s a fairly average dude, and that isn’t good TV. Just like most of the best people I know, he has zero charisma in front of a camera, and that has made for some dull episodes this season. But also like many guys who pride themselves on being nice people, when he’s suddenly put in the uncomfortable situation of being the bad guy, he can’t handle it. Let’s look at the evidence:
- After a surprising, discomfiting, and emotional confession to Becca that he’s still in love with Lauren, she tells him there’s nothing more to say and asks him to leave, and he agrees. Does he leave? He does not. He follows her down the hall and into the bathroom.
- After some agonizingly long moments of silence, he finally gets the hint and walks out the door. Oh, but Arie’s not done! After a minute in which he apparently did everything but realize that the woman whose life he has just destroyed would rather chew glass than see him, he walks back inside, and through a closed bathroom door, asks the question of classic dumb guys everywhere: “How are you doing?”
- Becca again tells him there’s nothing else to say, and asks him to leave. Does he leave? He does not. Arie, genius that he is, goes and sits on the couch and waits for her. Eventually he gets back up and asks her for a few minutes of time. To her credit, Becca doesn’t immediately murder him. She sits on the couch with him while he does more apologizing, sitting WAY too close for the situation to call for it, and looks pouty. Eventually, after repeatedly leaning in to try and score a parting hug and a “you did what you had to do, I don’t blame you, it’s not your fault,” he finally realizes that’s not gonna happen, and he leaves.
And that’s the problem with Arie and countless other guys who don’t want to accept that sometimes they’re not the good guy: Trying so hard to excuse your behavior eventually turns into emotional gaslighting. If he was genuinely being a good person, he would just accept that he’s the villain in this encounter, and go. Nobody likes it, but we all accept that breakups happen. Instead, he lingers, refusing to let himself take the blame for this shitty state of affairs. He doesn’t want to go unless he can be forgiven. But that’s not Becca’s job, Arie, and you’re making her feel crappier with each passing minute that you sit there expecting exculpation.
The show bears some blame for thinking that dragging this out in such a manner wasn’t going to feel exploitative. As the camera zoomed in ever closer on Becca’s face, it became a ghoulish and cheap exercise of confusing real moments with good TV. All this protracted goodbye did was expose the way in which guys like Arie can’t accept their own behavior, thinking that just because they’re usually the most thoughtful person in the room, they shouldn’t have to bear the weight of hurting another person’s feelings. Fuck off and own it, Arie.
- Look, Becca knows what she’s doing; no one goes on a reality TV show to remain anonymous or not have their feelings toyed with for ratings. No one should feel any worse for her than they do anyone who’s been broken up with in a crappy way.
- Arie has unwittingly provided us all with a model for how not to behave, if you want to be a good person. He’s like so many guys who think they should get to pull off a Band-Aid without feeling pain—he doesn’t realize that pain is simply transferred to the person he’s oh-so-nobly trying to apologize to.
- Tomorrow’s “After The Final Rose” should be fraught with anxiety for all concerned.
- Luckily, we have Bekah M on Twitter to throw some shade for all of us: