clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Bachelor finale celebrated a toxic myth about how romance should work

He chased a woman who dumped him; it was anything but romantic.

Colton Underwood and Cassie Randolph of ABC’s “The Bachelor” face each other and hold hands in front of a backdrop of a gigantic rose.
Colton Underwood and Cassie Randolph of ABC’s The Bachelor were guests on Good Morning America on Monday, March 13, 2019, airing on the ABC Television Network.
Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

The Bachelor, ABC’s long-running dating reality show, had quite an eventful 23rd season, featuring a highly anticipated fence jump, an outsize fixation on virginity, and an unprecedented twist in its finale.

Typically, the bachelor chooses between two final contestants in what usually culminates in a dramatic marriage proposal. But this season, bachelor Colton Underwood opted to dismiss the two women who remained on the show during the last episode so he could pursue a third woman who had already rejected him.

Underwood was seemingly so enamored of Cassie Randolph — a contestant who had exited the show in the second-to-last week of the season — that he went rogue and literally jumped a fence surrounding the Bachelor set after she broke up with him. “I’m not gonna stop fighting for you,” he declared before her departure.

His actions appeared to send producers into a panic as they combed part of the Portuguese neighborhood near The Bachelor’s production headquarters in search of him. The quest to track him down was only slightly fraught, though as Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk points out, “The truest horror-movie twist buried at the center of this Bachelor season is that it’s really scary when a man goes into a rage, stalks off into the night, and voices his intent to chase after a woman who’s already dumped him.”

Underwood ultimately emerged from the spectacle as determined as ever to pursue Randolph, a sentiment he expressed in an interview with Bachelor host Chris Harrison the next day.

“What if the bottom line is she’s just not that into you?” Harrison asked, a possibility that Underwood wrote off quickly. “I feel like I can read people pretty well and I think she loves me and I think she’s scared to admit that,” he said. “I feel like Cassie completes me right now.”

Randolph was one of only three women remaining on the show when she decided to leave after telling Underwood that she wasn’t sure if she was prepared for the kind of commitment he wanted. (For those unfamiliar with the show’s premise, The Bachelor starts each season with 30 possible contenders, and the group gets whittled down week by week until there’s just one person left.) After processing the shock of their breakup, Underwood eventually decided he needed to say goodbye to the two women still left on the show, in order to win Randolph back.

“I hope she’s not at peace with her decision, because I’m not,” Underwood said in a testimonial.

The Bachelor’s finale highlighted a clear discrepancy in the way Underwood and Randolph seemed to feel about one another

The only problem? Randolph really, really didn’t seem to reciprocate his enthusiasm. As viewers saw in Tuesday night’s season finale, Randolph was nearly speechless when Underwood showed up at her door and informed her that he had ended his relationships with the two women who were left on the show when she departed.

“I know that there were other girls here and something told me that they were further along than I ... they were ready for something that you wanted,” she said, alluding to the marriage proposal and subsequent engagement that often caps off each season of The Bachelor. “I didn’t know if I would get there and I didn’t know if I did get there if it would be real ... and I just wanted to be sure. They could give you that and I couldn’t and I wanted you to have that.”

The stark contrast in their initial feelings — at least as edited by The Bachelor — was so evident that it spawned dozens of memes.

Randolph had said throughout the season that she didn’t know if she and Underwood were on the same page when it came to the level of commitment he was looking for, and highlighted their different relationship desires as a key reason for her departure. After she broke up with him, she said on the show that she was just excited to be heading back home.

Underwood, meanwhile, claimed to be so love in with Randolph that he just couldn’t accept her rejection — and declared that he would win her over by repeatedly reiterating and “showing” her how he felt.

First, he tracked down where contestants were staying in Portugal and pleaded with her to reconsider dating him, downplaying the concerns she had. When she worried that he might “resent” her for not being on the same page as he was, he said that dealing with these kinds of differences was a normal part of the “compromise” and “sacrifice” involved in a romantic relationship.

He also repeatedly explained that he was confident he could persuade her to love him.

“I wanted you to see how much I’m willing to give up and give to us,” he said to Randolph at one point, adding later, in a testimonial to the camera, “If things go well, Cassie could be in love with me by the end of next week.” Ultimately, in the face of skepticism from his own parents, who he visited during a trip to Spain as part of the show, he appeared to convince her.

“More than ever, I feel how much Colton loves me and I think I’m starting to kind of accept it and it made me excited about the kind of relationship we could have,” Randolph said in a voiceover aired during the finale. (The two have since given numerous media interviews highlighting the strength of their relationship.)

The idea of a man pursuing a woman who once rejected him rests on a familiar rom-com trope: that of the “chase”

If Underwood’s approach feels familiar, that’s because it is.

Immortalized by countless romantic comedies, the idea behind this approach simply involves a man wearing a woman down, despite her protests or expressions of disinterest, until she ultimately decides she’s open to a relationship. It’s one of the most troubling tropes in films like Say Anything, both because of how much it undermines a woman’s voice and agency, and because it often winds up indirectly endorsing negative behaviors like stalking.

It’s also a myth that operates on a set of longstanding and gendered assumptions. As Megan Garber explained in a 2016 piece at the Atlantic:

Many [rom-coms] assume a fundamental passivity on the part of women, and, relatedly, a fundamental assertiveness on the part of men. For any romantic coupling at all to take place, they argue implicitly—and, indeed, for the human species to have any hope of propagating itself—men must exert themselves, and women must gratefully accept them. Before Mars and Venus can fall in love, many rom-coms assume, Mars must first make Venus do the falling.

This framing, one that the show applied to Underwood’s behavior, centers heavily on the idea that a woman’s disinterest or confusion is simply part of the “chase,” and that with enough persistence, she can ultimately be won over with sufficient affection and romance.

What it doesn’t consider, however, is whether the woman in question is interested in being pursued at all.

Granted, the nature of The Bachelor — a highly edited reality TV program — means there’s a lot we don’t know about how things actually went down between Underwood and Randolph. Everyone involved might have been presented in a skewed light, or been swayed by the show’s producers. We can’t say for certain. But currently, despite all the back and forth, Underwood and Randolph now appear quite happily coupled in the wake of the finale.

“I thought I made the right decision in leaving,” Randolph told People magazine. “But Colton fought for me. And he has shown me what a healthy relationship looks like.” Randolph also said in the interview that she was originally worried that she wouldn’t meet Underwood’s expectations for the kind of relationship he wanted when he left The Bachelor, and that was what initially prompted her to break up with him.

Her explanation makes a lot of sense: There are plenty of confusing emotions to navigate in any relationship, let alone one that’s unfolding on national television in front of millions of viewers, and plenty of people change their minds all the time.

That said, the idea that men need to go after women, simply because they know what’s right for them — better than the women know themselves — sends the wrong message to pretty much everyone.