After the Final Rose Unpacks Racism, Betrayal, and Deal-breakers in Love

A shocking “After the Final Rose:”

Anyone who is a fan of the Bachelor franchise and who watched After the Final Rose on Monday, March 15th had the opportunity to witness a very different scenario than the usual light and airy Bachelor fare.

Watching both Rachel K. and Matt J. speaking to the excellent guest host, Emmanuel Acho, you couldn’t help but notice the waves of emotional devastation emanating from the once-happy couple.

Rachel couldn’t stop crying as she shot furtive glances over at her former beloved, and Matt — almost never at a loss for words — was often utterly speechless. He sat there, staring into space, his eyes deadened from the overwhelming grief and pain.

Matt James — the first Black Bachelor:

These are difficult times under the best of circumstances, with the pandemic still roaring and the losses piling up. Issues of racism and the fight for equity and justice are justifiably front and center in the media. And in the middle of it all, the Bachelor TV franchise decided to have the first man of colour as its star this season.

In Monday’s show, Matt told Emmanuel that he had felt considerable pressure being the first Black Bachelor, because it wasn’t going to be just about him finding love — it was going to be about him representing all Black men in America to the show’s viewers.

He admitted that it was a lot for him, but then he said that it had been worth it for the opportunity to meet so many amazing women and to potentially find love. So, when he did find love with Rachel, he felt that he’d made the right choice to go on the show. Until, of course, when the news broke about Rachel’s past activities.

Watching this poised young woman on the March 15th show, I have to give Rachel credit. She admitted how ignorant she had been and how she had never taken a moment to think about what she had been doing or the effect her behaviour would have on racialized communities. She openly stated, with all of America watching, that she should have been more a lot more thoughtful, back in 2018.

Rachel was ignorant but not malicious:

When Emmanuel mentioned the photos of her attending an Antebellum-themed plantation party in 2018 and asked her if the thought of these photos surfacing during the taping of the show had kept her up at night, worrying, she admitted that she hadn’t thought about the photos at all — such was her ignorance.

She owned up to everything she had done without excuses or defensiveness. It seemed like she had entered into the process with ignorance and insensitivity but she had come out with awareness accountability. This was impressive, but even so, Matt couldn’t get past her actions.

Judging from the shell-shocked expression on his face, Matt was destroyed by the betrayal. On the show, he told Emmanuel that aside from Rachel’s actions in 2018, her initial lack of awareness about how her actions would have affected people of colour was what had made him feel that she couldn’t understand his experience as a Black man in America. And clearly, he couldn’t live with that.

This is a true tragedy, born of America’s willful ignorance about the impact of systemic racism on communities, individuals and couples. It also comes from an equally stubborn unwillingness on the part of many Americans to learn about their own implicit bias.

Rachel was just one more young person who happened to be clueless about what racism — in general, and specific to her own actions — really entails.

How not to be a racist:

It’s not enough to have BIPOC friends or even a BIPOC love interest. In order to not be racist, you have to understand the implications of your White privilege in your day-to-day life and you have to comprehend how your actions might affect those in racialized communities. Most importantly, your behavior can’t just be not hurtful; it has to be actively supportive to these communities.

To give Rachel credit, when asked by Emmanuel what she was doing to change, she said that she is doing a lot of learning but also, she admitted that, no matter what she learns, it won’t count unless her actions begin to change.

My heart broke for both of these young people. It seems like Rachel truly loves Matt and that she was still hoping for a reconciliation. When she reached out to take his hand in a difficult moment but then within seconds, he pulled his hand away, it was a cringe-worthy moment not just for them but for everyone watching.

Everyone messes up:

We all make mistakes. We can all be insensitive, selfish, petty, or ignorant at times. After all, we’re human. It’s unfortunate that Rachel’s ignorance about racism coincided with her falling in love with a Black man on national TV. The world got to watch the consequences of her mistakes while her heart broke — in public — into a million pieces.

And poor Matt, whose haggard face showed every last bit of his suffering — he confessed to Emmanuel that he “hadn’t signed up for any of this.” He’d gone into the process to find love for the first time and he thought that he had found it — only to have the rug pulled out from under him. He was so devastated by Rachel’s actions that he simply couldn’t get past them.

We can’t judge Matt for his choices. He is a Black man in America whose new White girlfriend was just shown to have a history of racially insensitive behaviour, and he couldn’t deal with his prospective life partner not understanding what this must feel like to him. I imagine it was like adding insult to injury, and anyway, we can’t begrudge him his authentic emotional experience.

Matt might still love Rachel but even so, sometimes a romantic partner can do something that’s a deal-breaker and we just can’t get over it, no matter how hard we might try.

In my psychotherapy practice I always tell my patients that in love, there are two lists we need to honour: the things we can’t live without, and the things we absolutely can’t tolerate. I tell them that everyone’s heart is different, but everyone is entitled to whatever happens to be on their lists.

If Rachel’s betrayal is on Matt’s list of deal-breakers, no-one should judge him for it. It’s simply what’s in his heart and like anyone else, he’s entitled to his feelings.

Sometimes, in life, we get lucky and we can mess up royally with minimal consequences. Other times, we pay a steep price. We can never know how things will go because it’s never up to us. in the case of Rachel and Matt, her ignorance and insensitivity happened to have devastating consequences for two people, and my heart goes out to both of them.

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Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series

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