I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
The pool haunts me. Or, more specifically, it’s what happened in the pool: In the final moments of the 13th season of The Bachelor, Jason Mesnick and the woman he loved jumped backwards into it fully clothed. It is a brief, five-second montage: they clutch at each other, mouths open with laughter, the water lapping over the side before the final credits roll. Mesnick had just asked Melissa — the final Bachelor contestant — to marry him. “I am completely in love with you,” he told her, as he lowered to one knee and presented her with a Neil Lane diamond ring and the corniest line of all: “will you make me the happiest man in the world?”
Corniness aside, it really does look like that’s true in the pool. She’s draped over his shoulders in many of the shots, her perfectly white teeth gleaming, her wet hair charmingly plastered to her face. In typical Bachelor fashion, it is eternally magic hour, and the golden light just before sunset beams off her cheekbones. After they get drenched, Mesnick’s toddler son jumps in too, equally gleeful. No matter how cynical you are about love or reality television or The Bachelor franchise, this kind of excitement, this thoroughly ecstatic celebration is hard to watch without a smile.
“I’m going to be a Mesnick!” Melissa exclaims joyfully. Except, it turns out, she wasn’t.
Every single season of The Bachelor claims to be the most dramatic in the history of the show, but Jason Mesnick’s actually was. It was so emotionally fraught that he got a whole phrase added to the Bachelor Nation Lexicon. Any good fan knows that the “final rose” is the last rose given out on a night, that the “fantasy suite” is where the top three contestants finally get to bone the leading man or lady, and that only one woman can survive the dreaded “two-on-one” date. Mesnick’s season was such a wreck, filled with so many shots of him sobbing with his head hung over a balcony, that those kinds of breakdowns by men were henceforth called “pulling a Mesnick.”
Maybe I would have forgotten all that — forgotten his tears and his tribulations, how hard it was for him to decide which of the final two women to propose to — if he had chosen right the first time. But he didn’t.
During his “After the Final Rose,” the live hour-long live show that airs after every season finale, Mesnick waltzes out in his oversize suit and makes a confession. “Over the last few weeks,” he tells host Chris Harrison, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Molly,” the woman he broke up with to choose Melissa.
Melissa then joins him on the staged couch, and there on live TV (presumably) he breaks up with her. “I wish more than anything that last day,” she tells him, “you would have just let me go.” She exits the stage fuming and crying after their confrontation, and Harrison, ever the optimist, brings out Molly.
Now seated exactly where Melissa was just before the commercial break, Molly eyes Mesnick warily. He was after all, the same man who just a few weeks prior had stood in front of her with a ring in his pocket for another woman and told her, his voice breaking that he wished he had “a good reason to let you go other than that I’m in love with somebody else.” But she comes out anyway, and she hears him tell her that he’s broken up with Melissa, and she returns to him. With her hand on his knee and his eyes gleaming, he tells Harrison that he is still, quite obviously in love with Molly.
This was back in 2009, almost a decade ago, and much of the narrative around Mesnick’s flip was that he was fickle. That he simply wanted to live in the false reality of the show and not in a real relationship with a real woman and real problems. (This framing was probably created by the producers for ratings, and Mesnick himself has said that the producers used his contract to force him to have these intimate conversations on live TV.) But he proposed to Molly five months later, and they were married in February 2010. In 2013, they had a baby, and they are — almost miraculously — still together.
The truth of Mesnick’s season, and the reason I cannot stop thinking about those final moments in the pool, is that I think he really did love both of them. Both relationships probably could have worked, both women brought tears to his eyes. Choosing Molly in the end didn’t negate the joy we had just been shown in the pool scene. Both existed, like his relationships, independent of each other. It was the first time in Bachelor history that it was this clear to me: The Bachelor is a franchise about polyamory. Despite its traditional and conservative road map — a man and a woman (always heterosexual) find each other through a series of dates, fall in love, and get married — one truth of human interaction cannot help but poke its head out: we can fall in love with more than one person at the exact same time. It’s not a fear of commitment, or an unwillingness to give up another sexual partner. It’s non-monogamous love — up to a certain point at least — aired on prime time television.
Since Mesnick’s season, this tenet of the show has only become more obvious. In 2016, Season 20 Bachelor Ben Higgins became the first Bachelor in history to tell a contestant he loved her before the final rose ceremony. Not saying “I love you” before the very end was previously an unwritten rule, but Higgins, apparently ignorant of this, told two of the final three women that he loved them. “I never thought in my life I could be in love with two people at one time,” he even says in a voiceover. “But I am … ” After Higgins’s season, several writers even posited that the franchise could open up conversations about non-monogamy. But the idea had already been exhibited in the show’s relationships for almost a decade.
Another Bachelor on another night will again do the same song and dance of loving two women and committing to only one of them. Maybe they’ll jump into a pool in full formalwear, or maybe they won’t. But the fact that Jason Mesnick did, that he had that moment of public enamorment with one woman only to turn around and marry the other woman, is something that I will never stop thinking about. No matter what happens, we’ll always have that pool.