The Bachelor franchise graced us with five hours of television this week, thanks to back-to-back episodes on Sunday and Monday nights. This is far too much Bachelor for me to process. In a nutshell: Britt continued to be super fake, Carly ratted her out to Chris, and when provoked Britt self-destructed in an “I need to be your first priority if we’re dating” hissy fit that would have been appropriate in real life but definitely was not on this television show—let alone in front of two of Chris’s other girlfriends. And then there was this whole other weirdness with Becca and her never having loved anyone before and how she’s not into physical intimacy, which would be interesting if it were about asexuality but isn’t because, again, this is The Bachelor. And then Kaitlyn made Chris rap. It was uncomfortable.
But. BUT. Two things worth talking about went down in this crazy marathon of rose-giving and back-stabbing. It turns out Chris and Jade both have dirty little secrets: Iowa sucks, and Jade revealed her “nude modeling” past, aka posing for Playboy.
Iowa sucked way more than anyone could have expected because, interestingly, Chris’s small hometown of Arlington was destroyed by the recession. Arlington is no one’s romantic fantasy of small town life; it’s generous to even call it a town. The ladies drive through it entirely by accident while looking for Chris’s house, and it was surreal to see them stroll along Main Street past empty storefront after empty storefront. Arlington, Iowa simply does not exist. This is real America, no helicopter dates or hot air balloon rides. It is a ghost town, where the thing locals do to have fun is leave.
In a show so into millionaires and fairy tales, the bleakness of the Iowa visit was striking. I can understand Britt’s unfiltered panic at the thought of living the rest of her life there: she’s used to waiting tables in Los Angeles and there isn’t even a restaurant in Arlington. Kaitlyn, Jade, Carly and Britt attempt to sugar coat their situation, but the producers don’t. Suddenly Chris’s anxiety over not being enough for any of the women fighting for his love makes sense. Is Chris really worth a lifetime of nothing but cornfields and a single sad church? Is there a chance he will wind up alone?
And then there is Jade. I found out about Jade’s history of nude modeling (which I will refer to as sex work) a few weeks ago on Twitter, and it was only inevitable for the franchise to set up a shaming, uncomfortable confrontation about it. I was really, really nervous about this, guys. This is not a show where female sexuality thrives, and Chris’s whole mystique is being from Small Town America. I won’t link to Jade’s photographs because she seems to regret them, discussing with heart-breaking sincerity how much they have impacted her past relationships.
Before telling Chris, Jade practiced by letting Carly in on her secret. Carly kicked off the judgment parade in a confessional: “It’s one thing to be a guy and to be like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ And it’s quite another to be like, ‘Hey Mom, don’t Google my wife.'” As someone who has met the parents of multiple SO’s and wondered exactly how much their folks had turned up about me on the net, I cringed. Carly’s comment is bitchy but rooted in real, daily experiences of sex workers, sex performers, and even sex writers like me. It’s painful to wonder if your partner’s family will make assumptions about who you are and how much you deserve their son before you’re even introduced.
Next Chris met Jade’s family, and the air was thick with tension as we realized everyone in the room but Chris knew what was up. Jade’s brother was super weird, calling her a “wild mustang” when asked what he thinks of Jade settling down. Still in the dark about the Playboy situation, Chris internally thought well that is an odd thing to say about your sister.
Chris also praised Jade’s “small town values” and everyone watching—Jade’s family and the rest of America—was like oooooh boy. It seemed a set-up for an epic showdown. How much was Chris in love with an idealized version of Jade as his shy and sweet Cinderella, and how much was he in love with her? How much would he be willing to accept that violated her image? Because the editors packaged her just like they packaged Widow Kelsey: Jade was propped up and framed as the docile, insecure girl-next-door consistently overlooked to make her big reveal even more dramatic. Jade’s gimmick was being unworthy, and it wasn’t a gimmick she got to control. This narrative was written by the producers and by American culture.
But as we’ve seen all season, real people don’t fit narratives. In a wonderful interlude, Jade and her dad had a lovely heart-to-heart. “I want you to have somebody who supports who you are,” Mr. Jade’s Dad said. “I would love for you to be settled down with somebody who doesn’t put you down for being you. You deserve that.” Dad talks make me cry like a little bitch every time, readers. Every time. This is exactly how parents should act about their children doing sex work. Their conversation set the bar for how Chris should receive Jade’s confession. If he didn’t take it well, he was a dick, at least in my mind. That was lost on other viewers, at least according to the sleazy treatment Jade received on Twitter.
The moment arrived. Jade told Chris she modeled for Playboy. “It’s hard for me because I’ve been judged on it a lot… I’m really afraid of it changing your opinion about me.” She showed him the pictures and they watched video clips together on a laptop. He looked so, so uncomfortable, a frozen smile glued to his face. I steeled myself for second-hand humiliation and rage, invested in their conversation for reasons I couldn’t identify. I was fully prepared to be disappointed in Prince Farming, unworthy of his Cinderella.
“I was not expecting this. I really didn’t see this coming,” Chris said in a confessional inter-cut with their conversation. Jade pulled up a full frontal photo and he averted his eyes, laughing nervously. “I didn’t know whether to look or just—kinda look and you don’t know what to say, you don’t know what to do, you don’t know how to feel. It feels really odd and for a moment feels inappropriate.”
The conflict of Cinderella vs. Playboy model reared its head: “At this point I’m a little shocked. Jade seemed like a very innocent, somewhat shy girl. I never would have expected something like this to be a part of her past.” (It should be noted that confessionals are occasionally filmed after the entire series has happened and a narrative arc decided upon based on how events unfolded. It’s very possible these confessional moments were semi-scripted and recorded after the fact to keep people guessing. Just something to keep in mind.)
Jade stopped the video and asked for Chris’s opinion, and all of America held its breath. He was about to break up with her, right? He was about to talk about looking for a mother of his children, right?
“When I get done blushing, I’ll… no, I mean it’s,” he started, with classic Chris eloquence. He took a drink of his water bottle and then resumed, “I judge you for the person that you are, and why you’re here, it’s not because of… Something like that would never make me think any differently of you.”
YES. YES. CHRIS IS A GENTLEMAN. CHRIS IS A WINNER. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.
He continued, “Don’t feel bad about that. I mean, you are a beautiful woman and it’s not something I feel would affect our relationship in any way. I know you for who you are, and I respect you…. I’m looking to fall in love with a person, not their career or certain things they’ve done in their past that they may not be proud of. It’s too hard to find a soul mate to be like…” at which point he trailed off, gesturing randomly, his brain tired after so many more words than usual. Then they kissed.
But wait, it gets better.
“It’s important for her to know that I don’t consider this a deal-breaker,” Chris said in a confessional. “It doesn’t mean she can’t be an incredible mother and an incredible wife. Yeah, it’s something that she’ll have to deal with, and if I were to marry her, that I’d have to deal with, especially in conservative Iowa… it would definitely create some challenges. But if she’s my soul mate, I would stand behind her no matter what happens. That goes without question.”
It wasn’t until that moment that I connected the dots and understood why I cared so much about Chris’s reaction to Jade’s nude modeling. It wasn’t only about feminism and slut-shaming and sex workers’ rights. It was about my own experiences of disclosing to partners things that I was ashamed of. It was about those moments when I worried my sex writing would be a deal breaker for my hopeful-politician crush. It was about telling the cute guy at the party that sure we can leave together, but he should know I have herpes. It’s about how being told this does not define you is my real idea of love and romance.
And people wonder why viewers get so invested in this show…
Unfortunately Jade was eliminated at the next rose ceremony after all. But Chris stressed that his decision had nothing to do with her past. “I’m sorry. I think you are an amazing person. The only fact is that things have moved faster with some of the other girls. That’s really all there is to it. It’s nothing about what you said, you know that, right? I don’t know if I’m making the right decision… You’ve been a gift to me, just to have you in my life.”
In case we didn’t believe Chris’s it’s not you, it’s me line, he was visibly crying as the limo swept her away. And maybe Chris was lying, maybe her Playboy past was just too much for him to handle. But never once did he judge her. Nor should he.