Arie Luyendyk Jr is currently the most hated man in North America. A deplorable cad. A spineless creep. A professional “Dirty Rotten Snake,” according to his Wikipedia page, which was updated (a lot) in the late hours of Monday evening, following the not-so-final finale of this season’s The Bachelor—a three-hour spectacle that ended with a proposal and then a reneging and a whole lot of outrage.
For those with better things to do on their Monday (and sometimes Sunday, and now Tuesday) nights, Luyendyk Jr. was the franchise’s 22nd leading man—a former race-car driver-slash-party boy who now likes to wear cardigans and talk about how he’s ready to settle down. By the final episode, he had narrowed it down to two women: Becca (“solid,” “goofy but sexy,” a person who he “never ran out of things to talk about [with]”). And Lauren, a delicate flower who needed “constant reassurance” and was not particularly adept in the words department.
It was, as Becca famously put it, like deciding between an apple and a starfish, and Arie picked the apple, only to realize that what he really wanted was an exotic, pointy fish that is literally incapable of saving itself. In other words, it really was “the most dramatic Bachelor finale ever.” And our hero did not come off very well.
Still, while the rest of the world/Bachelor Nation/Twitter seems hell-bent on casting Arie as the ultimate bad guy, my take is that his actions are ultimately pretty forgivable and here’s why: this is a man who was never really “torn” in terms of who he felt the strongest about. It was always Lauren. You could see it in the way he had that mysterious almost-panic attack on their one-on-one date. In the way he spoke about the “undeniable love” he felt for her. And in the way he always seemed to be talking himself into believing that Becca was the better choice. She is a strong, confident woman and, in theory, he is a progressive man who values those attributes in the opposite sex. That is a good thing.
If you watch the finale back, it is glaringly obvious the extent to which he is fighting his those “unquantifiable” instincts. He talks a lot about how he couldn’t articulate what he loved about Lauren. I think it was more a case that he didn’t want to speak it out loud: Lauren (at least the version we saw on the show) is a fragile girl-woman with the personality of a baby bird, and the truth is that even in this modern age, some guys really dig that.
In our favourite movies, the hunk ultimately chooses the quirky Molly Ringwald character, but IRL a lot of men prefer the pretty simpleton, the damsel in distress, the Disney princess before Disney realized the importance of portraying strong capable female characters. And for that depressing fact we can blame, well men (#notallmen), but also evolution. For thousands of years, inter-gender mating patterns relied at least partly on this notion of men saving women—bringing us food, building us shelter, protecting us from saber-toothed tigers and such. The notion of marrying one’s equal is incredibly new in the context of history, which means there is still a lot of hardwiring that doesn’t line up with our modern values.
Flash back to that incredibly sexy interaction between Arie and Bekah M—the one that took place on the air mattress where the fiery 22-year-old infamously told Arie the she scared him because she “didn’t need him.” But what if he wasn’t so much scared as just not into it? For a lot of guys, a woman who makes them feel like the “big strong man” is irresistible… whether she can talk all night or otherwise.
And here’s where I think we can cut Arie a little slack. At least he tried to override those primal instincts—to go with the challenging, interesting woman, who would be his (not silent) partner and maybe even kick his butt when he needed it. In last night’s actual finale, the disgraced Bachelor explained how it was a constant battle between head and heart. I’m not letting him completely off the hook here, but let s/he who has never wished they loved someone different than the person they love erect the first billboard.
Could he have held off on proposing? Well sure, but is that really on him? When fan favourite Peter Kraus from Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette said that he was not ready to get down on one knee, he was treated like a selfish jerk who who clearly did not “respect the process.” As for the breakup that went on forever—are we seriously objecting to a long drawn-out episode that could have (and should have) been shorter…ON THE BACHELOR???
This is what the show does and before we assume that Arie was the thoughtless narcissist who chose to break up with Becca on TV just because—how about making room for the possibility that there was some behind-the-scene maneuvering that we were not made aware of (ya think?)? And that maybe, just maybe, there was something in it for Becca.
In the end I kind of feel bad for Arie. Maybe he’ll be happy with his onion-starfish (who may be entirely different IRL from the empty vessel we saw on TV). Or maybe he will soon be waking up in the middle of the night again, this time wishing he could throw her back into the ocean. It will be dark, he will feel lonely and suddenly the value of a person with whom he can talk all night long may finally, painfully become clear.