This post originally published in 2016 but has been updated.
If Ben Higgins weren’t forced to pick one woman at the end of his season on “The Bachelor,” would he have continued dating both of them? Would this season’s Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr., have done the same?
I think so.
While the show’s timeline of professing love, meeting the family and getting engaged feels more 1950s than 2010s, the concept of dating more than one person at a time and choosing between multiple options is only becoming more common, not less. And if you’re dating multiple people, it’s possible to feel something deep for multiple people.
Because back in the real world, dating multiple people, and even committing to several people, is becoming more common. Polyamory, the practice of having multiple romantic relationships, with the knowledge of everyone involved, is becoming more mainstream. In 2016, OkCupid responded to the growth of non-monogamy by allowing its users to search as couples looking for additional partners.
I doubt Higgins was ever a polyamorist trying to force himself into monogamy. However, his professions of love to both Lauren Bushnell and Joelle “JoJo” Fletcher, and Luyendyk’s to Becca Kufrin and Lauren Burnham (another Lauren B.!), are reminders that monogamy is becoming less and less common. In the 2016 season finale, Higgins chose Bushnell, but they’ve since broken up. Spoilers about the end of Luyendyk’s season indicate that he’s had second thoughts about his final pick.
For all the ways that “The Bachelor” is stuck in the past — its lack of diversity, for example, and the old-fashioned gender roles baked into the show — this however accidental and short-lived embrace of polyamory is the most progressive and interesting thing that happened during Higgins’s season. And the resurfacing with Luyendyk proves the “problem” of catching serious feelings for more than one contestant isn’t going away.
When I spent some time reporting on polyamorists around Higgins’s age, they talked a lot about what it was like to be in love with multiple people. “The love you feel feels different,” Rachel Ruvinsky, a 22-year-old polyamorist, told me, “not in terms of quantity or quality, just how it feels.”
When I spoke to Laurie Davis, online dating consultant and chief executive of eFlirt, she said “The Bachelor’s” love triangle reminds her of how her clients often have strong feelings for two people at once. If Higgins weren’t “The Bachelor,” Davis said, she would “definitely” see him continuing to date both finalists.
When Davis guides her clients through the process of narrowing two partners to one, she asks that they ponder the following questions after a date: How does she or he make you feel? Is there something here that can grow?
This line of questioning, Davis finds, allows her clients to stop intellectualizing love and concentrate on how they feel. “Love isn’t always logical,” she adds.
Nor is it always monogamous. “One clever solution to the unique dilemma the bachelor is in would be to offer both finalists a relationship — more specifically, to be polyamorous,” says Rhonda Balzarini, a PhD candidate studying polyamorous relationships at Western University in Ontario.
Bushnell and Fletcher offered Higgins different things he found attractive, leading to regret and agony over having to choose just one. Balzarini thought that Higgins saw safety and security in Bushnell (he’s said that he can confide in her) and that Fletcher offered excitement and self-expansion.
Balzarini thought Higgins could actually make a fantastic mainstream ambassador for polyamory. “Ben is boring enough to sit down and have long conversations,” Balzarini told me. And because “polyamory requires you to negotiate everyone’s needs and make sure everyone feels met and understood, it requires an extreme capacity to communicate.”
If Higgins didn’t have to choose just one woman, could the three of them conceivably carry on their relationships? Balzarini thinks they could have that capacity, but it all comes down to how they handle jealousy, something that “Bachelor” contestants already know quite a bit about. “JoJo and Lauren have been able to compartmentalize their relationship up to this point,” Balzarini says, so “they seem able to handle jealousy that may or may not occur.” (By now, both Bushnell and Fletcher are in different relationships.)
Might America be ready for a polyamorous Bachelor? Balzarini thought so. “We’re in need of some vocabulary to have these conversations,” she said, “because not everyone is practicing monogamy.”