Well, another season of The Bachelor has come and gone, and it wasn't short on highlights. Now added to the annals of Bachelor lore are the great dolphin/shark debate, Nanny Raquel's cheese pasta, Corinne's platinum vagine, Nick's turtleneck, and far too many utterances of the phrase "emotional intelligence." But the best thing to come from Nick Viall's Bachelor season wasn't its most meme-able moments. It was that the show finally shattered its long-running fantasy and got astonishingly real about love.
For as long as I've been watching The Bachelor, its love stories have been tied to some grand, fairytale romance. Its premise hinges upon the idea that you can find lasting love in a world where 25 women compete for one man, and extravagant, cross continental dates are the standard. But, as a reality series, The Bachelor is more a social experiment — something its viewers have always been acutely aware of, given its dismal success rate for post-show relationships.
It was refreshing, then, that this season seemed to shed many of the false pretenses that have forever defined its narrative. It subverted its problematic villain edit — something quite literally ripped from storybooks — was more open about sex than ever, and, perhaps most importantly, made it clear that, when it comes to marriage, love is not always enough.
That may sound harsh or bleak or cynical, but talk to any long-term couple and they'll tell you that relationships take work. They're messy, complicated, imperfect, and Nick and Vanessa seem to be the first Bachelor couple to admit that — or at least the first that producers have chosen to show.
From the beginning, it was clear Nick and Vanessa's "journey" wasn't conventional. For their first date, they went on an epic zero gravity adventure that ended with Vanessa throwing up. It wasn't cute, but it was certainly real, and it set the tone for the rest of their relationship.
As the season wore on, Nick and Vanessa didn't shy away from having hard conversations. They talked about flaws and sacrifice and struggle. They were realistic about the fact that they were both strong-willed, stubborn people who lived in separate countries, and, to find their happily ever after, they'd have to compromise. Vanessa even admitted she wasn't sure she was ready to get engaged after dating for just two months — a valid concern, though one Bachelor contestants rarely address.
Then, when Nick and Vanessa appeared on After the Final Rose, viewers were quick to point out that they didn't quite look like the elated, over-the-moon couple they'd seen get engaged only minutes before. Instead, they were straightforward and stoic, speaking matter of factly about the challenges they'd faced off camera. When asked if they'd started wedding plans, they were honest: they hadn't set a date because they weren't sure they'd last, as much as they may hope to.
Nick and Vanessa never had the kind of aggrandized, idealistic love story The Bachelor has built its franchise on, but that's what makes it so much more believable. They know that they have faults and problems and many hurdles still to come, but they want to face it together, and that's more romantic than any fantasy. Whether you love them as a couple, or preferred Nick with Raven or any of the other girls, you can't deny that the realism of their relationship and struggles was the best part of Nick's season.