Last night's season finale of The Bachelor was bizarre, even by that show's standards. Juan Pablo -- presumably -- told one of his two final girlfriends, on their final date, that he barely knew her, but loved "f*cking her." After expressing how disrespected and uncomfortable she felt, that woman, Clare, spent the rest of the day wrapped in Juan Pablo's arms on top of a picturesque cliff in Saint Lucia. Going against, as she later claimed, her "gut instinct," she stayed with him until the bitter end, stumbling through a black sand beach in her high heels and glorified prom dress, all to be sent home without a ring: a true nightmare, for this is what, as we were constantly reminded, "every girl dreams of."
Nikki, conversely, was not sent home, though she did not get a ring, or an "I love you." What Nikki got was an expression of interest from Juan Pablo. He wanted to keep seeing her, he claimed, but was not yet ready to propose. The show ended abruptly after that, with minimal music to highlight the "awkwardness." I'm surprised it didn't immediately cut to a clip of host Chris Harrison, eyes wide, yelling, "NO PROPOSAL?!?!? YOU SHOULD ALL BE HORRIFIED!!!"
Hour three of the season finale brought us a live question-and-answer session with Juan Pablo, who proved himself, as usual, to be the rude and unsympathetic character all Bachelor fans love to hate. The show's producers had clearly decided weeks back to cast Juan Pablo as "the villain," and editing as well as the confrontational nature of his conversation with Chris Harrison solidified this role.
Juan Pablo's mistreatment of Clare -- that night in the ocean and that day in the helicopter -- under the guise of "honesty," was mentioned several times. The next issue upon which Chris Harrison capitalized -- to highlight JP's villainy -- was the fact that Juan Pablo and Nikki, while still "together," are neither engaged nor in love. Never in Chris' 12 years hosting the show, he claimed, had he seen anything like this. Chris was incredulous about the fact that while Nikki had professed her love for JP, he had not returned her affections. He seemed unable to stomach the notion that the two had no "plans" for the future, such as living arrangements or marriage preparations. America, Chris insisted, had come along on this romantic ride with JP and Nikki -- and for what? No Neil Lane diamond ring? No televised fairytale wedding?
Are we really, Chris Harrison wondered, supposed to be interested in two people trying to make things work after just two months together, the majority of which were spent with multiple other girls? How can we be interested in these two people if they will not give us viewers what we "deserve," which is apparently the gratification of hearing that yet another straight, white, conventionally attractive man and woman are "in love?"
There are myriad reasons to loathe Juan Pablo. His refusal to say "I love you" to Nikki is not one of them. In publicly shaming Juan Pablo and Nikki for not being "in love" and engaged -- apparently the only two ways American audiences can understand relationships -- Chris Harrison and his bachelor cronies are reinforcing antiquated and dangerous conceptions about love and how we define it. Forget Juan Pablo's crude comments, objectification of women, and overall sexist attitude: he won't tell Nikki he loves her!
Of course, at the end of the day, this whole song and dance is about money, and the more over-the-top and public Juan Pablo and Nikki are with their "relationship," the more The Bachelor franchise stands to profit. But can't this ridiculous television show stop, for just a single moment, to look at what it is promoting as "acceptable" forms of relationships, with marriage as the only end game, and an unreciprocated "I love you" as the worst possible outcome?
Follow Aliza Polkes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aluzajane