The Bachelor isn’t the show that heterosexuality needs, but it’s the one it deserves right now.
That’s the lesson I’m choosing to take away from this week’s messy season finale, which finds a lovelorn Pilot Pete torn between two very similar-looking brunette women: professional model Hannah Ann Sluss and former foster parent recruiter Madison Prewett, who is still upset about all the hanky-panky that went down during Fantasy Suite week. For religious reasons, Madison is waiting until marriage to have sex, so when Peter told her that he had done the deed with at least one other woman, she started having reservations about potentially getting engaged to him. Will love conquer all in the end? Honestly, who cares?
It’s so easy for us to get caught up in this televised drama that I think we sometimes forget to zoom out and take stock of the ridiculousness of the situation: Three people, all of whom signed up to be on a reality show in which one man dates (and often has sex with) multiple women, are now caught up in a weird, sad love triangle that unwittingly highlights so many problems with the lingering norms of heterosexual romance: the association of virginity with purity, the mistaking of toxicity for passion, the false notion that you should have to “fight for” true love.
After watching this season, I’m left asking the same question that writer Jessa Crispin—and so many people on social media—asked after watching Netflix’s new reality dating show Love Is Blind: “Are straight people doing okay?” The answer, I’m afraid, is no—at least for the kind of straight people who willingly allow themselves to be filmed around the clock. For this crowd, marriage and sex have become such overdetermined values, so wrapped up in their understanding of who they are as individuals, that they can barely seem to function, let alone make level-headed decisions.
It’s already clear that Pilot Pete will follow this same (flight) pattern, too: On the first episode of this week’s two-part finale, he so clearly wants to choose Madi even though: A) Hannah Ann has created no drama for him whatsoever; B) Peter says he loves Hannah Ann; and C) Peter’s family loves Hannah Ann. Even though Madison disapproves of his sexual choices, Peter can’t stop pursuing her. They both lead very different lives: Madison wants to be involved in ministry and Peter, as his brother reminds him, is “nonstop at the club” whenever he’s not 30,000 feet above the ground.
No matter what rom-coms have led straight people to believe, love isn’t some mystical force that can pull fundamentally incompatible people together. You do, generally speaking, have to want some of the same things out of life to spend that much time with each other, let alone get married.
That’s why shows like The Bachelor or Love Is Blind leave me feeling glad that marriage doesn’t really mean the same thing within the queer community as it does for our struggling straight pals. As a function of the fact that we were legally banned from getting hitched everywhere in this country until five years ago, we have had to learn how to form, define, and understand relationships outside the marital context. We’ve had to communicate with each other about what our partnerships mean because the prefabricated social categories weren’t available to us. Even now that same-sex marriage is legal, we tend to approach the institution with more skepticism, like fish acclimating to a new tank. We get married a lot later in life, often after we’re already settled. (My wife and I love each other very much, but we eloped in large part for the health insurance.)
So it’s always surreal to spend a significant amount of time immersed in the Bachelor world, where marriage is still positioned as this larger-than-life storybook ending rather than, say, a convenient way for governments to handle inheritance and property rights. Peter has built up marriage in his head to such an unrealistic extent that this season was always going to end in disappointment. The only real question was how, precisely, would he end up broken-hearted?
Monday night’s episode tells some of the story: Madison leaves before the final rose ceremony, apparently unable to shake the thought of Peter being intimate with another woman in the very recent past. Tuesday night’s episode will fill in the rest, but teaser trailers and internet rumors both suggest that, even if Peter gives Hannah Ann his last rose, he’ll probably end up chasing Madison anyway (even if that means some post-season filming). At this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Bachelor fan who cares which woman Peter marries, if any of them.
The real question posed by this season of The Bachelor isn’t who Peter chooses. It’s what straight people—and frankly, all of us—can learn from his many mistakes. After dozens of hours of watching TV and thousands of words’ worth of recapping Pilot Pete’s turbulent misadventures, I don’t have all the answers. But I do know this: You should communicate, prioritize compatibility, and only try to marry people who actually want to marry you.
Main image: Hannah Ann and Peter Weber in The Bachelor.