If there’s any time my friends and I resemble the precision and ritualistic exactitude of a Japanese bullet train, it’s Monday at 8 p.m. When the clock strikes, we unwrap the cheese, uncork the Pinot and affix our eyes to the glossy TV screen for two—sometimes three!—hours of unintentional tragicomedy as The Bachelorette unfurls with wildly contrived abandon and we wine-buzz our way through the entire 120+ minute thing.
This Monday night, during the Season 13 finale, our routine was no different. Until suddenly, it was.
For those unfamiliar with the show, the ultimate episode typically features the lead—in this case, 32-year-old Texas lawyer Rachel Lindsay—deciding between the two men left standing in the showdown for her lifelong affection. While determining this romantic victor, she often walks empty, winding pathways in some Woody Allen-esque European town, utters generalizing voiceovers that contain chiffon-thin lines like, “I could picture my life with him … but also him …” and basically leaves us wondering whether this woman will find true love at all. (When it’s The Bachelor, the weepy struggle is portrayed with a shirtless montage of said protagonist soap-scrubbing in the shower, looking toward the sunlit horizon of a corn field, leaning longingly against a balcony because yes, he is very thoughtful and also conflicted.)
Anyway, as earlier alluded, the entire affair didn’t quite play out like it usually does for our guileless heroine, Rachel. Instead of saying farewell to one unlucky fellow and “hey, we’ve known each other a month and didn’t even date exclusively but let’s get married, k?” to the other, she’s confronted with a break up … then left to hang forever with the other guy. Marriage-averse Peter—whose official ABC bio should have been a burning red flag because he’s afraid of “heights and deep water,” so how you gonna make that leap of faith, Petey??—told Rachel he loves her but can’t put a ring on it … yet.
To paraphrase the entire scenario, Peter says in the now-defunct couple’s very last confrontation, “I can’t make a promise [of marriage].” After Rachel rebuffs this as a lack of eternal commitment, he replies cold as the fantasy suite champagne they’ll never open: “Go find someone you’ll have a mediocre life with … because I will give you an amazing life and an amazing relationship.”
They cry, they kiss, tears trickle down her cheeks and his, landing with sorrowful tribulation betwixt their un-parting lips. It’s hard in this poignant moment not to think of Peter’s just-spoken words, recited to the woman he (actually probably) loves: “I don’t know what I want to do … tomorrow. Because that is one day that means the rest of my life.”
In the end, it does, and Rachel goes with Bryan, a chiropractor from Miami. Upon realizing Bryan was the final choice by default because Peter and Rachel were through, Twitter lit up with disdain over the Bachelorette’s inability to look past the diamond Peter refused to knee-bend her way. Hey, Rach! Can’t you just be cool with letting love sparkle?
Collectively, viewers across America came to one conclusion: Rachel had settled. Further proof arrived by way of the finale’s next 30 minutes, which saw Peter sitting awkwardly on the couch next to Rachel in their first meet-and-greet since the break-up convo. He mentioned how after their cry fest, her fallen false lashes sat in his room for two days, reminders of the lashing his heart endured when she pulverized it with her goodbye. Still, the discussion only further painted Peter as a man not yet ready for marriage, so Rachel chose someone who was.
The public outrage over her decision is proof positive we’ve all had experiences with a guy or girl who has clearly settled; even if the glaring lights of national reality TV didn’t shine a spotlight on the situation, we understood it to be wrong.
And so too does science. Since 1939, Harvard University’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of more than 700 participants, analyzing blood samples, conducting brain scans and sifting through self-reported survey answers in order to determine the happiness of this test population. Here’s what Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, concluded: “The clearest message we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
The Grant and Glueck study found that when a person has someone to rely on, the nervous system relaxes, the brain remains healthy longer, the body and mind both experience a reduction in physical and emotional pain. “It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” Waldinger explained. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
To bring this affair back to The Bachelorette finale, the study might prove that a Neil Lane diamond encircling a ring finger doesn’t necessarily corroborate with sustainable happiness. For Rachel’s sake, let’s hope it does though, and let’s hope she really did love Bryan the Chiropractor this entire time despite the fact that a day before his proposal she was in a hotel room crying her damn eyelashes off with Peter. Whether Rachel and Bryan make it down the aisle, there’s solace to be had in the fact that the real brilliance of this episode was never in its ending but in the universal truth the ending brought to light.
Love isn’t a convenience, we might together sing as a small man wearing a velvet jumpsuit plays the harpsichord by our side. Love is messy, it’s imperfect, it’s a something else that’s almost as difficult to define as it is to find. Except even if devoted Bachelorette fans nationwide can’t figure out exactly what it is, the very fact we’re certain Rachel let love go is affirmation we believe it exists.