Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, sex has long been a part of ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. These series peddle in a fantasy of chaste, 19th-century courtship, under which men and women engage in highly orchestrated dates, chaperoned by cameras and host Chris Harrison, with marriage and a happily ever after as the goal. Innuendo abounds, but we all know what goes down when there are just three contesticles left, and the couples choose to forgo their individual rooms to stay in the Fantasy Suite.
Yes, they bang! Like horny teenagers who’ve just been given a football field all to themselves.
We need to start a new category of realness, though, for our current Bachelorette, Kaitlyn Bristowe, who’s revolutionizing the franchise not just with her frank attitude about sex but by being a hot mess. This is a woman who can’t contain all those hormones and make-out juices for the agonizing three more weeks it’ll take to winnow down her pool of men to three. She’s going to get some when momma feels like getting some, because this is her show, this is her life, and she can’t stop. She won’t stop.
Bless her. Bless her drunk, randy soul.
Monday night, the show finally aired the episode it’s been teasing all season, when Kaitlyn invites contestant Nick Viall back to her hotel room after a one-on-one date, and they close the door to the cameras but forget to take off their mics, which record some unmistakable heavy breathing. Let’s forget for a minute the rampant exploitation by The Bachelorette producers, who must have just been rubbing their hands with glee in the editing suite. Let us instead simply throw our support behind Kaitlyn, for that is a bold move to make when you’re dating nine guys on national television.
“Oh no someone slept with a guy they’re dating and considering marrying! Showing love for @kaitlynbristowe” tweeted Amy Schumer, who guest-starred earlier in the season and rightly called one contestant “a turd.” Kaitlyn herself tried to get ahead of the anticipated slut-shaming last night by tweeting: “Just remember, when you judge me, you do not define me, you define yourself. think about that before sending out negativity to any1 tonight.” Nick sent out six tweets defending their tryst, including: “Both men and women have an equal right to have sex without judgment #TheBachelorette #bachelorette.”
Slut-shaming, or reactions against slut-shaming, though, are the least interesting things happening right before our eyes. In Kaitlyn, we have perhaps the first Bachelorette ever to behave like a normal, relatable human being. Girlfriend is all over the place — collected and self-confident one moment and an utter train wreck the next. Because picture yourself in her shoes, and tell me the same thing wouldn’t happen to you.
Kaitlyn is a fun, funny, attractive girl living a scenario that has never happened in real life. She’s got a roomful of guys fighting over her (and gunning for D-list acting careers, let’s be honest) and two months to choose which one she’s going to marry, when most of their conversations seem to be happening in between bouts of sumo wrestling and running from her greatest fear, birds. She’s wisely spending all her remaining time making out because, raise your hand if you’d like to spend the rest of your life with a guy who kisses like a vacuum and whose breath smells like corn. Yeah, I didn’t think so.
And every time she starts to get into it with a guy, she’s pulled away to do some formal sorting hat ceremony or to make out with another guy, only to have that one cut short of completion, too. Where’s all that sexual tension supposed to go but into a hotel room romp in Dublin after downing one’s appreciation of consequences with 15 glasses of Jameson?
Just before Kaitlyn slept with Nick, she’d had a tense conversation where Princeton douche Ian who, clearly thrown on the defensive by Kaitlyn’s lack of interest in him, told her he was too “deep” for her and that he thought she was only there for sex … followed by him telling the camera in his getaway SUV, “God, I need to have some sex.” (That the producers included that aside, acknowledging that the men of the show are sexually frustrated, too, is the one respectable thing they did this episode.) I’ve seen online chatter criticizing Kaitlyn for answering the criticism by jumping into bed with another guy. But who among us hasn’t followed up getting insulted by running to the first person who shows us some kindness? In this case, it just happened to be Nick.
Her reasoning in on-camera interviews has been wise and modern. “This is forever and this is a marriage and part of that is intimacy and I’m not ashamed of that,” she said. “I totally get it and I’m like a make-out bandit right now, but I don’t judge any person or how they go about a relationship. To each his own, but if the physical part isn’t there for me, that’s a deal-breaker.” And Nick in particular, she said, “makes me feel like a woman, a desired woman.” She seems drunk on lust: “The only concern I have about Nick is that our chemistry is, I don’t know, too passionate. Is that a thing?” she giggles. That she’d want to explore that alone, without clothes, on what was essentially their third date after having corresponded electronically for months beforehand (Nick is a special circumstance — a former Bachelorette contestant who reached out to Kaitlyn over social media, then crashed one of her dates this season and asked to be let on the show, but more on that later) is pretty standard for real life. Plenty of women date and sleep with multiple men at a time while trying to find a good match.
The only thing Kaitlyn keeps forgetting is that this isn’t real life, and sleeping with Nick while she’s dating EIGHT OF HIS ROOMMATES, one of whom she hopes to marry, on national television, is kind of boneheaded. At least by the time the Fantasy Suites roll around the guys aren’t all living together and doing day-after postmortems. She also seems so blinded by desire that she’s forgotten Nick was the guy who called out the last Bachelorette, Andi Dorfman — again on national TV — for sleeping with him when she knew she was in love with another man. Is it any wonder that she woke up looking hung-over in the morning and not entirely filled with trust?
Inviting someone up to your hotel room and letting whatever happens happen is only awesome if you’re prepared for the vulnerability that will follow. Is the guy you just slept with going to stick around? Are you okay if he was just in it for the sex? Were you just in it for the sex? Are you prepared to say good-bye to the other guys you’re dating if they find out and get upset? Are you prepared for the anxiety and guilt that will come from having to keep a secret from the eight other guys you’re dating?
That Kaitlyn hasn’t thought any of this through is pretty obvious. Her lack of impulse control is both what makes her a great hang and probably sabotages a good deal of her relationships. Guilt comes up a lot in her unguarded “oh, shit” confessional with a producer the next day. “I don’t necessarily feel guilty about the act,” she says. “It’s more guilt from caring about other relationships that I have. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never dated this many guys and had to feel this guilt, and I do.” She’s worried about it ruining things with the other guys, she’s worried about Nick blabbing (he doesn’t, but he does make a strong reference to the “intimacy” of their time), she’s worried about the shame of being the first Bachelorette to implode her own season, of winding up “at the end of this having no one.”
But this doesn’t make her a slut — it just makes her real and lovable and human, prone to ill-advised decisions with potentially disastrous consequences, coupled with regret. Kaitlyn is by far my favorite Bachelorette, the first of her kind, whose flailings remind me of my own dating disasters and those of the women I know. Every contestant who’s left has felt like a dead weight. It is Kaitlyn who deserves to be worshipped, for being flawed, for having opinions, for feeling the sting of self-esteem issues and getting back up and out there anyway.
Toward the end of the episode she’s crying, seemingly terrified that Shawn is coming to confront her about the Nick situation. “You make one mistake and you feel like the worst person in the world,” she sobs, terrified at the anticipation of a reprimand and repercussions. (Although, after watching UnREAL and getting a sense of how the sausage is made, who knows when she said any of this and if she was even referring to Nick.) In one episode, she’s managed to not only shatter the 30-season franchise’s taboo on talking about sex, but also introduce the whole host of emotional issues that come with that kind of physical intimacy. If that’s not revolutionary, I don’t know what is.