Something rare happened recently on The Bachelor: a contestant’s family called out the star of the franchise, Ben Higgins, for being a dick. Jojo’s two obnoxious brothers were the villains of the “hometowns” episode, accusing Ben of having her “brainwashed”—quite hypocritically, as it turns out. Jojo Bros #1 and #2 expressed doubt about his motives and concern that their sister’s heart would be broken by the man currently dating three other women. Shitting on the star of the franchise as he tries to prove his genuine feelings for your sister is widely considered a rude move on The Bachelor, but in light of Ben’s double “I love you” confession on the most recent episode, I’m surprised no one is discussing the obvious: that Jojo’s brothers were right. Ben Higgins is an asshole.
To be more specific, Ben Higgins is a softboy.
As described by Alan Henson on Medium, a softboy “wears a plain t-shirt or sweater and orders cheap beer backed with bottom-shelf whiskey. He is neither Bro nor Nerd… He doesn’t want you to know he has feelings. He wants you to know that he has feelings and he is completely okay with that.”
Ben is not a terrible person. He has proven again and again that he has remarkably high emotional intelligence compared to previous Bachelor stars, respecting women as they have catty meltdowns and quickly seeing through who is full of shit. Despite keeping around some women longer than seemed necessary (Olivia, Lace), he is honest with women when he does not anticipate the relationship working out (Emily, Amanda). He is very honest. Sometimes too honest. Let’s have a moment of silence in honor of Caila, whom he dumped by saying, “I am in love with two women here, and I just couldn’t say it back to you.” TMI, bro.
Where Ben fails is in forgetting that he is the only party on this TV show who is playing with a full deck of cards. Arguably the star of the franchise is just as manipulated by the producers as the women competing for his affection, but he is afforded far more agency. It was Ben’s decision alone to tell first Lauren—gasp!—and then Jojo—GASP!!—that he loved them. It’s a longstanding rule of the franchise not to reciprocate those three little words until a winner has been chosen; in fact it is the only real ethical tradition of a show steeped in emotional exploitation. To tell a contestant you love them too soon is to give them false reassurance that they are safe, only to snatch it away and pulverize their ability to trust anyone ever again… and all of this on national television.
This isn’t to say that this hasn’t happened before, but never so egregiously and, well, unapologetically. In the moment, telling Lauren and Jojo that he loved them must have felt so right. But to love someone is to put their needs before your own, and in that respect Ben has failed miserably. Our earnest young Bachelor knows he has set himself up for a difficult breakup. Having competed on the show before, he understands how it feels to believe you are safe and then suddenly have your heart broken. He is the ultimate softboy: empowered to feel his feelings at the expense of everyone else, aware of the recklessness of his choices but making them regardless.
Hanson writes, “The Softboy knows this behavior is selfish and cruel… He feels shame. He does it again… He is emotionally intelligent but does nothing with this knowledge. He is aware. He is still a dick.”
Telling both Lauren and Jojo that he loved them was romantic, honest and hurtful as hell. Ben knows perfectly well that there can only be one. He bungled his only responsibility as Bachelor: to hurt the women who gave up their lives to meet him as little as possible. Ben may not be an aloof, womanizing asshole like Juan Pablo (remember Juan Pablo?!), but his ultra-empathetic transparency can be just as douchey. And when he inevitably picks Lauren on the season finale, we hope Jojo’s brothers can contain their rage. We all know a softboy can’t hold his own in a fight.