Last night, millions of television viewers watched in rapt fascination as an array of shrewd, ambitious, upwardly-mobile famous people made impassioned pleas for the American people's understanding and support. I am referring, of course, to the season finale of The Bachelorette, during which Hannah Brown's fledgling engagement to Jed Wyatt imploded when she learned that at the moment he proposed to her, his secret girlfriend was eagerly looking forward to his return home to Tennessee. Although I am not a relationship counselor, I feel confident asserting that these are suboptimal conditions in which to make a lifelong matrimonial commitment.
A brief recap, for anyone who elected to spend Monday evenings this summer not watching attractive people mangle the phrase "I love you" beyond recognition: About midway through the season, People magazine reported that Jed, a struggling Nashville singer-songwriter, had been dating one Hayley Stevens for about four months before filming began. Jed, Haley says, promised her he only was going on TV in search of a bigger platform for his music. "He was always so reassuring,” Stevens told People. “He told me, it’s not real. It’s acting.” A note he allegedly left—"Someday we will be thankful for all of this. You know where my heart will be"—would seem to confirm that Jed viewed his tenure as less a quest for love than a galaxy-brain plot to boost his Instagram following.
Jed's plans for a graceful, harmless exit were foiled, however, by the fact that poor Hannah—unaware of his obligations back home—really, really liked him. And with each passing week, he did all the things frontrunners do: He told her he was falling for her, and (of course) sang songs professing his love, and met her parents, and introduced them to his, and went on an overnight fantasy suite date, surviving the cut each time. By the time he picked out an honest-to-God engagement ring and asked Hannah to marry him on national television, he was in way too deep to casually reveal details about the still-unresolved status of his most recent relationship. Thus, in what was supposed to be the happiest moment of his life, Jed's face was clearly that of a man whose brain had still not fully processed the mess from which he'd have to extricate himself.
In retrospect, the signs that something was amiss are clear, as Hannah noted during last night's tearful aftershow. Early in the season, he actually confessed to her that his initial interest in being a contestant stemmed from a burning desire to move beyond composing jingles for dog food ads, but that he had since abandoned that craven purpose and embraced the Journey To Find Love. (The aforementioned girlfriend went unmentioned, though.) Jed's family members strained to be polite during their meeting with Hannah, but they also spent the entire time trading uncertain "Uh, did he tell her or do we have to do it?" looks which, at the time, unfortunately went over her head.
Also, the fact that Jed took his fucking guitar everywhere for two fucking months—he even sang an original proposal song to Hannah in the moment before he got down on one knee, which nearly prompted me to form a remote-shaped hole in my television—was probably a hint about where his heart was all along.
Viewers, whether or not they were aware of the People story before the finale, didn't have to wait long to see Jed get his comeuppance. Hannah, as leads often do, promptly discovered these unflattering details about her spouse-to-be after rejoining the Internet-connected world, and cameras were on hand to capture every moment of their dramatic breakup. In a particularly devastating sequence, when Hannah pressed Jed on whether he had ended things with Hayley, his verbatim response was, "I ended it in my heart and not verbally," raising questions about whether Jed understands how human communication works. He also tried excusing his behavior by appealing to the intensity of his feelings, marking the 39,403,290,219th consecutive time in history that "I lied to you because I love you sooooo much" has failed to earn the absolution the lie-teller sought.
Once upon a time, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette claimed to document real-life searches for love. But over the course of their two decades on the air, both shows, perhaps inevitably, evolved into something different: Appearing on them for selfish reasons became acceptable, as long as you paid lip service to the original premise. Jed's initial admission to Hannah—that he tried out for the proverbial Wrong Reasons—was a watershed moment for the franchise, because its celebrity culture subtext finally became celebrity culture text. For a few fleeting weeks, it seemed that there would be no more limits on what future leads and contestants and showrunners and fans would tolerate in the name of producing entertaining content.
The revelations about Jed's scumbaggery, however, re-established at least one of those rapidly-eroding norms. Chasing a sham engagement in an effort to achieve modest online notoriety is still acceptable. Chasing a sham engagement in an effort to achieve modest online notoriety while lying to a secret girlfriend and a television fiancée about it, however, is not.
Last night's finale ended with Hannah affirming that her engagement to Jed was over, and shyly asking runner-up Tyler Cameron, who she dumped hours before her ill-fated engagement, if he'd like to get an off-camera drink sometime. He accepted, to enthusiastic applause from the studio audience. It is almost as if going on TV is a good way to become famous, but true love is something best pursued in private.
Originally Appeared on GQ