This year, I started watching The Bachelorette for the first time. Don't get me wrong, I didn't avoid it intentionally, and I don't consider myself above dating reality shows. As a bi kid growing up and trying to make sense of my identity, I used to sneak out of bed and watch episodes of A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. As a grown-up bi person still confused about many things, my partner and I have watched Love is Blind, Too Hot to Handle and The Circle, which isn't a dating show but is fascinating for its dramatization of digital relationships of all kinds.
For some reason, both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette just slipped past my awareness. We haven't had cable in ages, and I get fairly distracted with all our streaming options.
Full disclaimer: As far as I can tell, all of my impressions about The Bachelorette based on this season may or may not carry over onto other seasons, or onto the show as a whole. Like everything else this year, this season of The Bachelorette is weird. After Clare fell head over heels for Dale and called off her search to marry him, Tayshia took over and all of the male suitors who hadn't been eliminated yet just... switched their focus. After spending the first part of the season expressing their undying affection for Clare, they suddenly had to swap their dialogue for an entirely different woman, like they were robot actors in their own lives and the person cast as "LOVE INTEREST" changed and nothing else did.
As a newcomer to the show, I did not expect the whole structure to fall apart so quickly and dramatically. Watching the men struggle — or in some cases, rejoice — with the switch of the leading lady highlighted some of the strangest aspects of the show. Some of the most unassailable critiques of monogamy come from its dehumanizing tendencies and the insistence of a one-size-fits-all model into which to force romantic and/or sexual relationships. This is heightened in a show like The Bachelorette, which, unlike A Shot at Love, is based around strictly heterosexual relationships.
Or is it?
Admittedly, I'm inclined to think every story and every character are closet-queer. But for a show that is built around the prize of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage, The Bachelorette is REALLY, REALLY QUEER.
I mean, look. A bunch of dudes live in a house together trying to compete for time with the one woman they collectively desire. In doing so, some of the realest conversations, most heated arguments and most strangely intimate moments happen between men. They yell at each other, resolve conflicts, comfort one another and spend a lot of time in pairs sitting around a pool in the dark talking about their feelings. I have seen them wrestle each other in oil, play strip dodgeball, and last week, as part of an elaborate game of Truth or Dare, Tayshia made the men moan into a loudspeaker for a minute straight, mimicking and describing sex. These performances of masculinity are overtly for Tayshia, but the largest audience for them is the other men.
What's interesting to me is that for the duration of the show, queer and polyamorous behavior are accepted as part of the process of Tayshia finding the one man she will take home and never again ask to compete with other men. But why?
I keep thinking this show would be more interesting if she were just... allowed to have as many lovers as she wanted. What if there was a dating reality show where no one had to be eliminated? Sure, in one version of this, the men are all her servants, and she spends the rest of her life at a resort receiving gifts, praise and excellent meals.
But in another, they form a community based on mutual respect and trust. What bums me out the most about this show is when a contestant stretches themselves to open up in the name of forging connections and then, whenever she chooses, the floor is completely ripped out from under them. It's an all-or-nothing model that assumes that while Tayshia is building genuine, fulfilling connections with all of these men for now, at a certain point some must be dumped and all of her energy must be directed to only one of them.
Again: Why? What if Tayshia wants to go horseback riding with Brendan during the day, share an absurdly large sundae with Ivan in the evening, and then accept champagne from Ben at 2:30 in the morning? What if she only asks the people she just doesn't want around anymore to leave?
Personally, I would watch a hundred seasons of Tayshia growing old with people who love her. Of course, in this version, Bennett and Ed must leave because they are annoying. In this version, Tayshia never apologizes for crying, and no one starts rumors that don't make any sense, and men don't become so hostile to one another that they literally draw blood during playful wrestling matches. Tayshia stays forever in the alternate universe where the pandemic doesn't exist. She plants herself an entire rose garden, and it never stops blooming outside her bedroom window. ♦