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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

The Prize for Rotten Judgment: Weaponizing "I'm in Love" for the Bachelor Nation Bedroom

How the Producers Ate Clayton's Emotional Immaturity for Breakfast and Made Us All Hate Declarations of Love on a Love Show


Spoilers for: Clayton's current season of The Bachelor, through Fantasy Suite week.

Every good millennial bitch I know is a Disney's Hercules fan. Clayton reminds me of the live-action hottie--affable, strong, and foolhardy. Clayton's journey has ultimately turned more into the parable of Meg--his Hades the producers pouring poison in his ear. Meg insists "at least out loud, I won't say I'm in love." She knows the earth-shattering, world-reshaping weight those words carry. Clayton did not, suspended as he was in the sauce of sweet and sour drama.

Sweet, innocent, clueless Clayton. This fragile hunk of a He-Man has come under fire ever since he was announced as our latest Bachelor. A moldable Midwestern milksop--a producer's wet dream! Wet with tears, that is.

Fantasy Suite week was the peak of Clayton's producer-deployed manipulation. Clayton, or Clay-Dough, as my favorite Bachelor recap podcast Love to See It with Emma and Claire loves to call him, got royally screwed by the producers,

The producers used Clayton's fresh-baby-lamb-in-love legs to walk him off a cliff they built.


When Bachelor Nation goes to bed, evangelism battles feminism.

Sometimes the lead only sleeps with their final pick, and sometimes they sleep with everybody. Hannah Brown (the famous mold-breaking Bachelorette shown in the gif above) defended her right to cavort with multiple suitors by insisting: "Jesus still loves me." The show loves to hump its Christian values evangelical fan base while simultaneously selling and encouraging the implicit promise of sex with many people. Holy hypocrisy!

If you want to proceed with chastity until monogamy or marriage, you're in the wrong place. If only Susie's Clayton had known. She expected Clayton to anticipate her NEVER-STATED-OR-SHARED expectation that: if she was his final pick, he would not sleep with anyone else. As the third date of three on fantasy suite week, this expectation set the stage for one of the most awkward break ups in Bachelor history, imo.

Bachelor Nation is effed in the head about saying: "I love you."

It was common practice, until mold-breaker Ben Higgins took the stage in season 20, to never hear the word "love" uttered from a Bachelor. The intelligence behind this withholding strategy is clear--say less, imply more, let each contestant's love for you grow without the assurance of reciprocity mere days before potentially breaking their heart. What happens when you authentically fall in love with multiple people and wade in an acidic pool of producer pressure to share or be dumped? In the case of Clayton, YOU TELL THREE WOMEN YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH THEM and allow each of them to assume they are your number one pick.

Let's examine the various weights of Bachelor and Bachelorette Love Lingo:

#1: I'm starting to fall in love with you--I'm not afraid to be vulnerable, I'm feeling this for real.

#2: I'm falling in love with you--It's on like Donkey Kong. I hope you're on board.

#3: I'm in love with you--You better be my person, or this is gonna suck. This is probably gonna suck.

#4: I love you--If you break up with me now you will leave me a husk of myself on national tv.

And yet, he did.

Let's break down the break up on Clayton's steamy Fantasy Suite Week.

  • Rachel, Clayton's most physical connection was date one. Rachel had already told Clayton she was falling in love with him.

  • Rachel and Clayton dive deep into the center of inactive volcano in Iceland. Very cool. Rachel needs Clayton to use the "L" word in one the four plays I list above, or else she's not comfortable spending the night.

  • Clayton tells Rachel he's falling love with her. They go to the Fantasy Suite.

  • They bang. It was "nearly perfect."

  • In the most romcom moment of their v. romcom relationship, Rachel runs to the edge of the balcony as Clayton departs and calls out: "I love you!" On instinct, AND CERTAINLY WITHOUT CONCERTED REFLECTION UPON THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS WORDS, he yells back: "I love you too, Rachel! All the time."

  • Huh. Guess Rachel's his final pick then. Right?

Me too, Rachel.

  • Gaby and Clayton go on Fantasy Date two. As Gaby and Susie discuss during Rachel's date, Gaby overtly articulates the importance of sex to her relationship and how comfortable she is with Clayton exploring all his connections. Susie respectfully disagrees.

  • Gaby and Clayton ride a dune buggy on the black sand beaches of Iceland. Looks cool, but stressful. Gaby lets Clayton know she is all in. Again.

  • Without requesting it or seemingly challenging it from him at their dinner date, Clayton professes to Gaby how strongly he feels about her and how he knows he is falling in love with her. This is huge for Gaby, who again expected nothing.

  • They bang in a yurt. It looks awesome. The yurt. Not their banging. We always cut before things get too biblical.

  • Clayton, of his own accord, and IN A NEARLY IDENTICAL VOCAL TONE TO HIS DEPARTURE INTERLUDE WITH RACHEL yells out as he leaves Gaby: "I'm falling in love and it feels so good!" Special for Gaby, sure, but for us, it feels like he's recycling the same moves with slightly less intensity, confusing everyone in the process.

Hope you agree with yourself next week, Gabs.

  • Susie's made her mind up. If Clayton has slept with anyone else, it's over. Fingers crossed. Let's hope he didn't.

  • They go to a geothermal spa. Honestly, I thought I'd be jealous, but those cold pool plunges look like pure misery. Susie and Clayton physically reconnect. She pushes past her nerves. She told him that she's falling in love with him weeks ago. Hope restored, she thinks that maybe he's her person after all!

Are you though, Susie?

  • They start a romantic dinner, and for Clayton the stakes have never been higher. We learn, after watching him "make love" to his two previous darlings Gaby and Rachel, that Susie is the one he loves the most and the one he can most clearly picture a future with. Uh-oh.

  • Clayton begins the date by professing his love for Susie, clarifying that it's not about falling, at this point, he's "in love" with her. Susie's bugging eyes immediately yuck his yum, and she goes on to FINALLY SHARE HER IMPLICIT ULTIMATUM. He flounders, confesses, then he pleads with her to reconsider, finally culminating in him sharing, for all the nation's ears to hear, that he is most in love with Susie out of all of his remaining queens. Ouch. Way to scorch the earth upon which you just dropped seed, my guy.

  • Susie leaves. Clayton has a few embarrassing ass-hat moments before she does, where his anger and dismay mingle, but honestly, I don't blame him for any of it. I don't blame Susie either.

  • Clayton is alone and apparently "broken."

I blame the show. This beast of a menace upon public entertainment, this show that I nuzzle with love each week, DOESN'T ACTUALLY WANT ITS CONTESTANTS TO FIND LOVE.

They want twists, turns, deceptions, and half-truths. They push people to share their hearts who don't yet understand the content of what they are feeling. They structure date schedules (Susie last) to deploy optimum mayhem. They make romantic idiots of us all, and we have to scrap for every rare happy ending.

Sweet Teddy said it best on "The Women Tell All." Now that Clayton's said those magical words, and made of his language an impossible shit sandwich, I just hope he's okay. That's zero to He-Man love for you.

And, complex monster that I am, I can't wait to see what happens next.


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