The Bachelorette ended last night, as The Bachelorette often does, with a proposal. Shawn, a man whose visage is the missing link between Alf and Ryan Gosling, got down on his knee and asked Kaitlyn for her hand in marriage. He put a big honking ABC-sponsored diamond on her finger and they happily declared their love to the camera. Somewhere, maybe in the office of US Weekly’s on-staff Wiccan, sand began running through an hourglass: when it’s through, they will break up, get a cover, and Kaitlyn will soon be seen canoodling with professional athletes. Or, whatever, maybe they’ll get married.
The Bachelorette franchises have been going on for so long now there is hardly ever anything new about them—just different people, running the same lines. Eventually, the bachelorette will choose this hunk or that sweetie-pie or sometimes she will choose herself. But this season, Kaitlyn took a big swing at the double standard that surrounds the franchise, the one that lets bachelors smooch around, while remaining “good guys,” and keeps bachelorettes from doing the same without risking edit-bay (and then public) opprobrium.
Kaitlyn, a self-identified “make-out bandit,” made out with many of her suitors and slept with Nick, one of the last two suitors, in the middle of the season. This was a contravention of protocol that constituted the season’s serious drama: How much tearful guilt would Kaitlyn feel about sleeping with Nick, while professing to feel no guilt at all? How much shade would Chris Harrison throw her way, under the guise of just being curious about how she feels? Could Nick want to share the secret of their tryst so badly that the secret would take on physical form and poise on his tongue like a pebble, willing itself to be spat out? Could Shawn contain his disgust and disappointment while maintaining the perfect swoop in his beautifully buffed hair?
Ultimately, despite Kaitlyn’s dedication to tonsil hockey, The Bachelorette found a way to fold her exuberant mouth explorations into its pre-existing understanding of ladylike romance as being mostly chaste. Nick, the man she had slept with, the man with whom she had so much intense chemistry she could never stop talking about that chemistry, was sent home, thus dealing a blow to pre-rose-ital sex. Maybe a woman sleeps around these days—but not with the one.
If you take the big picture, Nick had to be sent home for various structural reasons. He was one of the final two contestants on the last iteration of The Bachelorette, and showed up in the middle of the current season, knowing and digging Kaitlyn a bit, and asked to join the show. Had he won, The Bachelorette would have tacitly admitted that the C-list celebrity circuit was a better matchmaker than the show itself.
Furthermore, his victory would have been karmically insupportable. After being dismissed by Andi, Nick publically asked her how she could “make love to him” when she did not, in fact, love him. In the context of The Bachelorette, where up until then sex was like the sun, shining down on everyone, but never to be looked at directly, Nick’s comments were rude, sour, and intended to shame. Nick, more than anyone, embodied the grossness of The Bachelorette’s sex issues, in which men can happily have sex with woman for a game show, but women should only ever make love, if that. Based on his past behavior, Kaitlyn’s mother, like nearly every other woman in America, decided he sucked.
In a way, Nick’s behavior conjured Kaitlyn’s season into being. The disdainful—but attention-getting!—public reaction to Nick may have pushed the producers to provide a season edited, relatively positively, around a woman who wants to get her kiss on. Were Nick to have won this season, he would have been benefitting from his own villainy and hypocrisy. And so, instead, he got his heart smashed: Kaitlyn allowed him to begin his proposal preamble before dumping him, the ultimate humiliation The Bachelorette has available to it.
But by losing, a version of the point Nick had so grossly made to Andi one season ago, that a Bachelorette really shouldn’t be sleeping around, won. Kaitlyn ended up picking the guy, Shawn, she had not slept with (or maybe she did; they didn’t tell us on camera, anyway), the guy who had unhappily borne her promiscuity. Shawn didn’t exactly take it well—much of this season focused on whether he would quit or lose it over Kaitlyn’s kissing—but he did take it. After all of Kaitlyn’s kissing and sexing, the relationship that won out, remained, in its oddball way, pristine. This season, The Bachelorette found a way to accommodate casual sex: it exists, and it’s a good time, but it’s not a way to find the real thing.