They say you never forget your first love.
For fans of the Bachelor franchise, we’ll never forget when Eric decided to declare his feelings to Rachel in the Spanish countryside. We certainly won’t misremember when Peter said to her that to him engagement is the same as marriage. And the look on Bryan’s face when Rachel’s sister Constance asked her how it’s possible that they fell in love so quickly is burned into our brains.
But Monday night, after meeting The Bachelorette’s mother, pregnant sister, sister’s husband and a couple of other members of her Dallas-based family, we all learned something about ourselves. To be clear, I am not listing these in the order of appearance, so deal with it.
It should be noted the format was switched up a tad bit for this, so all three guys were in town while the others visited the house as well. This created a bit of a rapid-fire effect, which certainly took its toll on the family. Normally, there would have just been two. For the purposes of brevity, I’m going to combine both the parent experiences and vacation experiences of each.
I’ll also say at this point that if this were me, I would have bailed after meeting these people. Nothing personal, necessarily, but a) not being able to meet her father because he’s a federal judge, b) they are clearly mega-rich and c) they have a chessboard and a telescope in the same room. Three strikes.
Let’s get to the action.
If nothing else, this man is honest. He told Rachel last week that he wasn’t necessarily going to propose even if he won, a shocking dose of reality from a guy who had the nerve to trot out two black friends in Wisconsin to tout his bona fides on “tolerance,” as if this were the 1960s.
The picture above is of him talking to Rachel’s mother, exposing the look he had on his face almost the entire episode. It was somewhere between “I didn’t actually think this whole ‘marrying a famous black woman’ thing through” and “my God, her family is richer than mine, this is awkward.” If for no other reason than it clearly made him more comfortable, the fact that Rachel’s sister Constance’s husband is white was certainly a calming influence on the family dynamic.
His run of incredibly lucky date opportunities continued, with the two of them this time going shopping for baby clothes for Constance, obviously a win-win situation all around. He gets to talk about how much he loves kids without any actually being present and, on the back end, show up with something for the family that someone actually needs, instead of just a smile and some weak lines about being ready for the next step.
The strangest juncture came when he and Rachel finally sat down to discuss their partnership and Peter basically was unwilling to compromise his previously established values for the sake of a television program. Which leads to the obvious question of: WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING HERE, ANYWAY? … but we’ll get to that later. He contends that he doesn’t want to waste an engagement on a marriage, which is apparently a thing that dudes do.
We’re also guessing he doesn’t like the fact that she’s seen Rachel buy Bryan a Breitling and, in general, still just isn’t really all that comfortable with the fact that he hasn’t won this already. It’s one thing to be against a whole group of guys. It’s quite another when you’ve all got relationships with each other and one of you might not end up getting the proverbial prize, here.
Yayaya Peter’s so sexy and fun. He’s been treating this whole thing like it’s a forced arranged marriage, and his hair is my favorite part about him on this show.
This was a disaster right out of the gate. His pre-family meet date was a weak sauce brunch with two of Rachel’s friends, who looked and acted exactly like the type of people you’d meet at your new girlfriend’s brunch who have one too many questions about who you are for polite company. They were talking about the guy like he wasn’t even there, and the whole thing appeared rather unproductive, even for Bachelorette standards.
Things really got moving when they got to the house. Bryan’s No. 1 mistake was looking sloppy. His shirt was a little too big to be untucked and a little too casual to also be unbuttoned, giving him a look simply not befitting of a 37-year-old man whose mom is a little too attached to him. Oh, wait.
Anyway, no one in the family liked him from the beginning, and it showed. Just at lunch, he was fielding questions from all sides and at one point had to leave the table because he was under so much pressure. At which point, Rachel jumped in to point out exactly how much she didn’t appreciate this from them.
It’s worth noting that some of us have thought Bryan was a fraud from the jump. Not that he was necessarily trying to play Rachel, but this was all effectively a game for him, to up his popularity back in Miami, where he’s just another old dude in the club. Of course, that vibe plays well on TV with a bunch of other guys from the Midwest, but in the 305, he’s nothing special. He needs this to keep his playboy vibe relevant, because that “good with my hands” line is getting old.
That said, Rachel’s family made it incredibly awkward. It might be their job to protect their girl, but she’s also a grown-up who knows her way around the world. The whole thing felt gratuitous. In chronological order, Bryan was the last to visit, which made it feel like they were just ready to have these people out of their house.
No one particularly impressed, but we did get a plethora of Constance memes and GIFs, so be ready to deploy those from here till kingdom come.
This is the point where I point out that I think the word “love” should be banned from this show altogether. It would solve so many problems and force people to genuinely appreciate each other without these over-the-top declarations that add unnecessary pressure to something that is ultimately fake. I have thought this for years, and will staunchly defend that stance. Except …
Look, no one thought this dude would make it this far. He was the first person to nearly fall into Lee’s racist trap, but he made it out of that and outlasted quite a few other guys who might have had him beat on personality and emotion. And, to be even more frank, I’ve really only been talking about these other dudes for the sake of posterity, because this episode was all about Eric. Let me explain.
When this whole thing got serious, nobody counted him in. He barely made the cut to hometowns when he was part of the group date — but next thing we know, here he is, after having a legit parent reconciliation on national television. That’s important, because let’s not forget what happened to Dean, who ambushed his dad with an emotional roller coaster to the point that he ended up getting booted off the show. It was too much.
But Eric was thoughtful and patient about explaining his circumstance. His parents were separated. Love wasn’t really part of the picture. Never mind his personal circumstance of being a product of Baltimore, where the street life was a very real draw and threat at the same time. In short, he was very honest about his emotional availability. It was next to none. He’d never told a girl he loved her. The last time he’d met a woman’s family was in college at Thanksgiving, and the time before that was prom. He was at a clear disadvantage walking into that house.
Let me explain this in no uncertain terms as someone who’s been there. Eric is about as in touch as anyone I’ve ever seen in terms of being self-aware about his own insecurities regarding his family life and what he wants to get to. I’m genuinely superimpressed by his communication. It’s SO easy to psych yourself out when you see a healthy unit and sabotage yourself for the purposes of not wanting to upset someone else’s seemingly perfect situation.
“I’m nervous because going into this, I’m always confident, especially with you,” Eric says while they sip champagne atop some tower restaurant overlooking Dallas. “But it’s your family, and it’s one of those things, it’s like, I’ve never been in this process at this point. Like, about to get engaged with someone. Like, meeting someone’s family for the first time.”
At this point, Rachel seems a bit bored, if not annoyed. It feels like he’s trying to find a way to screw this up, and she ain’t got time for that. But at this point, we start to notice something in Eric we haven’t seen before. His voice is a little softer and more playful. He smiles more. He’s actually not afraid to express a little joy here and there without qualifying it. Dude is very anxious but doesn’t just have to resort to primal screams to make up for it.
When they get there, he doles out a couple of church handshakes and gets right down to business. They were openly hating since they loved Peter so much, which didn’t help his cause. Eric opened up about his lack of structured family life and says, “I’d never seen my mom and dad together.” From there, he sort of runs through it as the soft piano plays, but that sentence is important, and I say that from personal experience.
If you’ve got a parent who’s dead, or lives overseas, or is in jail, that’s one experience. But if you’ve got two able-bodied people who simply do not want to be in each other’s company and happen to be your parents, it’s a situation that affects you a little differently. For example, I have exactly one picture of me, my mother and my father in the same place at the same time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand exactly what Eric was going through in this moment, sitting in this house with a squad of people who’ve all done well to establish themselves together.
“I’m listening to Eric talk as we meet him,” Constance says. “I’m watching Eric’s reaction, I’m watching Rachel, comparing it to what she had with Peter, and I’m thinking, I don’t know if they’re on the same playing field as far as, you know, relationshipwise.”
Of course they aren’t. But that’s the whole point. Eric is really and truly trying to better his situation from an emotional health and life prospects standpoint. He doesn’t have random reservations about getting down on a knee more than once in his life. Nor is his mom going to crash-land his relationship and ruin anything.
Constance gave him the third degree, and he was honest with her about never having been in love. He notes that he’s grown to this point, which is about as honest a thing as you’ll hear on a show like this, ever. Rachel’s cousin likes Eric better than Peter. “He’s not a fairy-tale person. He’s very real,” she said.
“I love her in a way, unconditionally. I’m not in love with her, but for me, when I say those words and I give that, it means a lot to me. The way I look at it, I’m here for you no matter what,” Eric says. “I just want her to know that I can be the man I know I am.”
This is the point where I stood up on my couch in my Whaboom tank top and started applauding. Personal connection aside, I’m completely in the tank for this dude in life, never mind the show. He’s the only black man left. He’s showed his actual self on camera, and perhaps most importantly, as a result he genuinely has become a cooler dude as the show has gone on. You can’t make this stuff up. Sure, edits help. But take it from me: It’s not easy to fake it when you don’t know what it looks like to begin with.
Honestly, the rest of this episode was a bit of a blur. There’s only so long I can listen to a man try to explain his way through the cobwebs of his heart on TV before I just start crying and thinking about all the mistakes and missteps I’ve made in life as a result of fear, hubris or some dumb combination of both.
No roses were given out at the end of the episode, which featured a “to be continued …,” but the story of the day for me was Eric. When he smiled after telling Rachel he loved her, you could just feel all that weight come off his chest — not because he’d been holding it in, but because he’d been wanting to feel it.
No matter what happens in the rest of this season, we got to witness a real breakthrough for a person on television this week. Good for him, and good for anyone who respects how hard it is sometimes to show the world who you really are, because you barely know how to show yourself that person either.
Tierra R. Wilkins contributed to this report.