"It's been a very rough past few months."
That might be the understatement of the year for The Bachelor star Matt James, whose season did not have a happy ending. He asked Rachael Kirkconnell if she wanted to date him and possibly, someday be his future wife, but then he had to break up with her when it turned out she was not quite ready to date a Black man.
Then, on After the Final Rose, he was confronted by the Black woman he dumped for the woman with the racially insensitive photos, and had to unpack the burden placed on him as the first Black male star of the franchise. We should have known when he walked out there with that beard that practically screamed, I'm single and I'm going through it." He was not doing well!
Instead of having to talk all this through with Chris Harrison (who did not do a good job when trying to comfort Matt after his mom's anti-pep talk), Matt was able to sit down with guest host Emmanuel Acho, the star of the web series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. "Uncomfortable" is certainly a word for some of the conversations that happened tonight, but there were more convos we were hoping to hear.
Michelle was positively glowing as she took the stage immediately after we saw Matt commit to Rachael. She revealed that she had tried to ask Matt for two minutes to talk after their devastating break up, but Matt had refused.
When Matt joined her, he said there was no way to justify not talking to her, and he somehow didn't realize how hurt she was. Michelle still cares for Matt, of course, but he's far in the rear view mirror because, as we learned at the end of the show, Michelle is one of the new Bachelorettes!
Instead of taking a long break like the franchise maybe should do, we're getting two full Bachelorette seasons in the same year, with Michelle's season airing in the fall.
"The First Black Bachelor"
Matt got his own interview time next, and admitted to Emmanuel that there was "a lot of pressure" and he was under a lot of scrutiny as the first Black Bachelor. He felt like he was not just being asked to find love, but he was being asked to take on the weight of "everything that was going on in the country" regarding social justice.
He said that he wasn't necessarily thinking about the pressure of the role, but more about how he came off to people.
"I think it's just what we're conditioned to do as Black men, making people comfortable with your Blackness and going above and beyond to show that in stature and in personality, you're not as threatening as you come off as," he said. "Those are the type of things that I was thinking about."
But in the end, he didn't regret the experience.
"I was able to learn a lot about myself through getting to meet so many wonderful women who were there for love," he said, and it was "liberating" to feel comfortable telling someone he loved her.
The Break Up
According to Matt, the few weeks after the filming were like an extended "honeymoon period." Even when he first heard the rumors of Rachael's racially insensitive social media behavior, he tried to support her and believed they really were just rumors.
When he realized the rumors were true, things changed, and he had to face the fact that there was a huge piece of his life that she would never understand. He knew she had work to do and she needed the space to do it, so he broke up with her.
When Matt joined Rachael's interview, he didn't have a whole lot to say. He spent a lot of time saying nothing at all, and the silence was almost louder than the actual words.
But Matt did make it clear that he wasn't just concerned over something she had done three years ago. He was concerned that he had to explain to her now why something she did three years ago was wrong, and he's still having to explain it to her, even as she's pleading with him that she'll never love anyone else the same way.
"I didn't sign up to have this conversation," he said. "And I knew that I had to take a step back for you to put in that work that you outlined that you needed to do, and that's something that you gotta do on your own, and that's why we can't be in a relationship."
"I don't wanna be emotionally responsible for those tears," he later added. "'Cause the work and reconciliation that needs to be done is work that I can't do for you, and I know that you're capable of doing it. The last thing I want is for people to be calling to have you canceled or people to be calling you out for things. I really want them to call you in, and I want you to do this work because that's the best thing that could come out of this."
Double the Bachelorettes
At the very end of the show, Emmanuel announced that both Katie Thurston and Michelle would be the next Bachelorettes, with Katie getting her own season in the summer and Michelle in the fall.
Michelle said she first worried that they would be the Bachelorette at the same time, but once she understood the timing, she was in.
"I was here for it," she said. "I'm excited that I get to have somebody to bond over with this and share notes as we go."
Katie said she's ready for love, and not the "temporary kind."
"I'm talking forever, my husband, and I'm in a place in my life where I'm the best version of me," she said. "I've seen it work before. Why can't it work for me?"
What Was Missing
There was a noticeable lack of acknowledgement of why Emmanuel was hosting the show instead of Chris. Throughout the show, we got voiceovers from Chris promising a shocking ATFR from Emmanuel, but no onscreen explanation as to why Chris wasn't there other than a brief mention of his defense of Rachael during Michelle's portion of the interview.
Rachael was questioned and held accountable for her part in this mess, so why was Chris not also on that stage? He needed the same lesson Rachael was being taught about why an antebellum ball is currently offensive and was also offensive in 2018, and instead, it just felt like they had Emmanuel there for a fun switch-up.
There was a lot of good here, and there's no way Chris could have sat down with Matt and had that honest conversation about being a Black man on TV. But they can't just pretend that if circumstances were different, Chris wouldn't have been the one having the convo anyway.
ABC has announced that Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams will be taking on host duties for The Bachelorette, but no other future plans with Chris have been shared. If he returns to the franchise, let's hope there's a larger conversation in store for him, too.
The Bachelor airs on ABC.