I’ve been an avid fan of “The Bachelor” franchise for nine years. It’s my guilty pleasure show, and I always look forward to unwinding on Monday nights with a glass of wine and petty drama. “The Bachelor” claims that every season is “the most dramatic season ever,” but they actually followed through during Clayton Echard’s season finale.
Fans knew that the 26th season of The Bachelor, starring 28-year-old medical sales rep and former Mizzou Tigers tight-end Clayton Echard, was going to be a unique season from the start. In the preview, fans saw at the “Men Tell All” reunion during Michelle Young’s season of The Bachelorette that Clayton admitted to telling three women he loved them and being intimate with two of them.
Though it’s the norm for the lead to have sex with multiple contestants near the end of the show (though past contestants have found this arrangement uncomfortable, more on that later), an “I love you” from a lead to a contestant is almost always reserved for the proposal at the end of the season. Clayton having sex with two women and telling three women that he loved them was a recipe for a dramatic season finale, and the two-night finale didn’t disappoint.
How We Got Here
The fantasy suite episode of The Bachelor franchise is often the most dramatic of the season because it involves overnight dates where the lead has the chance to get physically intimate with contestants without cameras around. The fantasy suite episode features the final three contestants, and this season’s final three were Rachel, a 25-year-old flight instructor from Florida; Gabby, a 30-year-old ICU nurse from Colorado; and Susie, a 28-year-old wedding videographer from Virginia. Fans knew going into the season that Clayton was going to tell the final three women that he loved them, but we didn’t know which ones he slept with.
The fantasy suite week began with Rachel and Gabby getting the first two dates, while Susie remained anxious over the idea of getting engaged to a man who just had sex with two other women. The conversation was reminiscent of Madison Prewett telling Bachelor Peter Weber the same thing two seasons ago, and to say that the conversation was awkward would be an understatement.
You could argue that Susie should have said something about her love and sex non-negotiables earlier or that she should have predicted what was coming because she was on The Bachelor, but I don’t think we should judge her since we’re not in her shoes. Being a contestant on The Bachelor seems incredibly stressful and emotionally draining, and I think saying “she knew what she signed up for” negates any of the emotions she was feeling in the moment impacting her decisions.
Plus, it's not a strange or extreme desire to not want your about-to-be-fiancé-in-a-week to not have sex with other women. Seems basic Relationship 101 to me. If you knew the man you loved slept with not one, but two other women the week before he proposed to you, would you be cool with that?
Susie left after she expressed to Clayton how she felt about him being intimate with other women and saying he loved them, leaving Clayton crushed. He said he “loved her the most” and didn’t know how he would go forward with Rachel and Gabby. The problem is that he had already told Rachel and Gabby that he loved them and had sex with both of them, leading to what The Bachelor host Jesse Palmer dubbed “The Rose Ceremony from Hell.”
The Rose Ceremony from Hell and a Group Breakup
Before we get into the infamous rose ceremony, I want to make it clear that this article is not meant to shame Rachel or Gabby for sleeping with Clayton on their fantasy suite dates. Both women seemed genuine in their feelings toward Clayton, and they didn’t deserve for Clayton to mislead them (let’s be real, he wasn’t really in love with three women at the same time) into thinking that they were the ones for him. It’s important to remember that, historically, the lead only tells the contestant they get engaged to that they love her. I’d argue that he misled them and only said he loved them to get them into bed (more on that later), so Clayton is the one at fault here.
After Rachel and Gabby arrive at the rose ceremony, they realize that Susie isn’t coming when Clayton enters the room. He proceeds to tell them that Susie left the night before, that he told all three women he loved them, and that he was intimate with both Rachel and Gabby. Understandably, both women felt betrayed and walked away in tears.
Clayton spoke to Rachel and Gabby about the situation after both women calmed down, and then proceeded with the rose ceremony and told them that he understood if they didn’t want to accept the rose. He calls Rachel’s name first, and she accepts. He proceeds to call on Gabby, but she denies his rose and he walks her out. Before Gabby leaves, however, he convinces her to give him another chance, and she accepts the rose.
Both Rachel and Gabby go on to meet Clayton’s family, and it’s a positive experience for everyone. Despite introducing them to his family, Clayton drops a bomb by telling his family that he can’t stop thinking about Susie. After his family tells him that she probably won’t take him back (side note: I adore Clayton’s parents for holding him accountable, unlike *cough* Peter Weber’s parents, who acted like he could do no wrong), he asks her to meet his family and take him back. She tells him she needs more time, and Clayton decides to break up with both Rachel and Gabby AT THE SAME TIME!
Yes, the breakup was as brutal as it sounds. Gabby got angry with him and said she felt misled (because, like, she was) and that she didn’t believe he loved her because why would he treat a woman he loves like that? (You tell him, girl!)
Does Clayton Even Know What Love Is?
During the After The Final Rose special, Gabby went on to tell Clayton that she had moved on and that watching it back made her feel like he had led her on and betrayed her. She felt like he wasn’t malicious, but he was dishonest, that his “transparency had conditions.” She also suggested that he was pitting the last three women against each other in “competition” over who was the best “woman.”
She further explained to Clayton that when you tell someone you love them, then “you’re assuming responsibility to protect them, to care for them, and to not hurt them, and you didn’t do any of those things.” (At which the audience erupted in applause.) She handled the whole thing gracefully and with wisdom and maturity, and I can’t help but admire her for it.
Rachel was far more sad than angry. She called herself “collateral damage” in Clayton’s “most completely selfish journey” for love. She accused him of having a lack of “empathy” and of being “disrespectful.”
Of course, Clayton apologized, and tried to explain away his mistakes, to which Rachel replied, “I just don’t believe you.” (And the audience erupted in applause again! The girls came off WAY better than Clayton in this special.) She also accused him of being dishonest, saying he claimed to be transparent, while “leaving out the most important things.”
Rachel said, “I don’t even know what your version of love is.” And I think that’s one of the crucial questions here. Does Clayton know what love actually is? Does he understand there’s a difference between love, infatuation, and lust? Does he know how a man truly in love with a woman acts? My guess would be a resounding no.
Did Clayton Drop the L Bomb Just To Get Laid?
Like Gabby, Rachel told Clayton how she felt misled during the After The Final Rose special. When she was given the chance to have the final word, she asked him the question that has lingered in the back of every Bachelor fan’s mind: did he tell her he loved her just to get her into bed?
Clayton, of course, denied this, but Rachel doesn’t believe him, and I don’t think I do either. Unfortunately, Rachel and Gabby aren’t the first (and won’t be the last) women who feel this way.
Rachel said Clayton “compartmentalized” each of his relationships with the last three women, but women’s brains and emotions just don’t work that way for love or sex. Women’s brains produce more oxytocin during and after sex, which causes feelings of love, closeness, and attachment. This makes it difficult for many women to separate sex from love.
Furthermore, women often feel pressured to have sex to prove their love for a man or to make a man fall in love with them, but that’s just not how love works – especially for men. Men can “compartmentalize” and separate sex from love.
Rachel and Gabby probably felt safe and loved enough to be intimate with Clayton, and a part of that likely came from him saying that he loved him, leading each woman to believe that they would end up with him in the end. They didn't, which goes to show that sex alone doesn’t magically make a man fall in love with you or want to stay with you.
What about Susie?
The finale left many fans (myself included) wondering if Clayton only chose Susie because she wouldn’t sleep with him. Only Clayton knows the answer to that question, but I think it’s important to explore. After he dumped Rachel and Gabby, he wrote a note to Susie asking her to meet with him. He asked for her to give their relationship another chance, but she told him that it was over. For the first time in the history of The Bachelor, the final rose was denied and the lead went home single.
However, it didn’t end there. Susie reached out to Clayton when filming wrapped to see if he was okay, which eventually led to them rekindling their relationship. Susie and Clayton are currently dating, and he plans on moving to Virginia to be with her. This twist shocked Bachelor fans (I may or may not be using this article as a coping mechanism to sort out my thoughts because I’m still baffled), but it’s not the first time that a relationship has been rekindled after filming wrapped.
Two seasons ago, Bachelor Peter Weber and Madison Prewett briefly rekindled their romance after she left his season when she found out he’d been intimate with two other women (yes, the deja vu is real). They broke up shortly afterwards due to "fundamental differences" in their values, and I believe Madison dodged a bullet because Peter turned out to be the human embodiment of Peter Pan syndrome.
What Madison and Susie have in common is clear: they both refused to settle for a man who wouldn’t commit to them by not having sex with other women. Seems like a no-brainer for people who claim to want to find a spouse, right? Ironically, both men chased after the women who dumped them. While I can’t read Peter’s or Clayton’s mind (and I don’t want to), but I can’t help but wonder if they wanted these women more because they wouldn’t sleep with them. I’ll never know for sure, but it definitely contradicts the narrative.
The Bachelor finally fulfilled their promise of “the most dramatic season ever” this week with the season 26 finale, but we can learn lessons from this train wreck. The narrative that women need to have sex to prove their love to a man or to make a man fall in love with them is not only tired, but it’s not true. Women have been suffering under this narrative for far too long, and it’s time to throw it in the trash where it belongs.
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