I’ve mentioned numerous times over my years of recapping that I consider appearing on this show to have the potential to be addictive. I’m not even talking about Instagram followers or fading “relevancy,” though both provide equally strong cases for contestants choosing to return. It’s that talking about one’s feelings day in and day out—and being rewarded for it with overnight fame and fans—can create a dangerous habit of self-obsession. This was my predominant thought last night, as I watched Blake go on and on in his many ITMs. It’s not that I think he’s a bad guy—far from it. But I think it would serve him greatly to get the hell away from this franchise. We’ve watched him in what must be nearly a hundred ITM sessions, dissecting and rehashing every emotion under the sun, dating back to Becca’s season. But instead of becoming more attuned to the emotions he’s being prompted to share, it feels like the guy falls further and further out of touch.
It makes you wonder: instead of (routinely) disclosing and analyzing his feelings to a third party (his producer), what if the man simply interacted with the object(s) of his affections and used those interactions as his compass on how tread further? How much better would he fare? How much more “success” with those women—and how much more mental soundness—might he have? It’s beyond me thinking Blake’s picker is off; it’s that I think he needs to get the hell out of his own head, out of his own way and off the show that encourages being in your head and getting in your own way. Imagine how many hours of ITM conversation were had where his roundabout “love” story with Kristina was glorified, where he laughed too confidently at her “being in front of him all along,” where he painted (and was assisted in painting) the portrait of his supposed future with her. It’s so much build-up, so much focus on the destination (it’s about the journey, right?), such high expectations for a storybook, airtime-worthy ending. It’s honestly amazing to me that Paradise relationships survive with this much pressure on their success.
I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t believe Blake’s epiphany that Kristina was the one for him the whole time. I was thrilled Kristina ended it when she did and didn’t let that go on any longer—note how she rightfully didn’t make out with him and wasn’t flirtatious with him. I firmly believe that relationship would have derailed quickly in the real world, where the benefits to staying together aren’t so numbered. Blake was deeply lonely. I can only imagine how lonely Paradise must feel towards the end, surrounded by couples, the focus being on coupling up (or being a failure for not doing so), and with less and less likelihood that The One will come trotting down the steps. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Blake’s sadness when Kristina rejected him, and I do think he’s a decent person. But I also think he was so hell-bent on a good story, on a flattering outcome for him, that he forcefully willed it to happen. Kristina was simply available and the person who fit his (and his story’s) mold best. And I’ll be damned if she can’t do better than that. That’s what bugged me—beyond being gorgeous, Kristina is sharp, honest and witty. If Blake didn’t recognize (or appreciate) that in the real world, where was nothing to gain other than her company, he sure as hell doesn’t deserve her when she comes with the bells and whistles of potential Bachelor franchise power-coupledom.
Once again, the most advanced, adult relationship to watch on Paradise is that of Demi and Kristian. The topics to cover with them are as substantial as they are plentiful, partially because they were already established in the real world (they’re further along, past the point of wondering how reciprocated their feelings are), but also as a same-sex couple and how coming out is interwoven with millions of viewers (and their millions of opinions). Last night, while the discussion did involve Demi’s concerns over being out and making her friends (and viewers) uncomfortable, it was actually about a very common couple issue: physical displays of affection and varying degrees of touchy-feely-ness. I was DELIGHTED that this was discussed because, during the growing pains of most relationships, it’s a legitimate conversation to be had. I’m sure we’ve all had those relationships, the ones where there’s an early stage song-and-dance over who touches the other more, over who initiates kisses in public. I was first faced with this predicament in my teens, when a (very temporary) boyfriend wouldn’t kiss me in the hallways at high school. It armed me early in life with knowledge of what degree of touchy-feely affection I sought. And to be clear, we’re not talking about feelings and reciprocation (that’s a separate conversation, à la Katie and Chris Bukowski), we’re talking how established love and affection are expressed, and how that really can vary. I loved when Kristian gently told Demi, “You’re hard to read. If I’m completely honest, I don’t know when’s a good time to approach you, when to give you affection or when not to.” In general, while Demi was right to directly address something that was bothering her—Kristian’s supposedly flirty affection towards other women—it was Kristian who shone here. Instead of reacting with defensiveness, she clarified that there was no romantic or flirtatious intent behind her actions. She responded with level-headed empathy and understanding, making it clear that Demi was her priority and that, if that’s something that bothers her, she now knows to rein it in. The maturity here once again dwarfed what was going on back at the beach.
I’ll close with the cliffhanger that began the episode: the return of moustache-less Dean and Caelynn’s predicament over the “safe” choice (remaining in Paradise with Connor), or the risk, leaving with the guy who (recently) broke her heart on her birthday. Let’s be honest, this woman has been through the wringer on this season alone; feeling disposed of by Blake, having him release their text conversations on his social media, feeling safe and secure with Dean only to have him leave, and then feeling safe and secure with Connor only to be faced with this dilemma. Whether you love or hate Caelynn, there’s no denying she could use some peace and quiet and genuine companionship, so here’s hoping her difficult choice was the right one. While the feminist in me wished Caelynn had kicked the man who’d wronged her to the curb, the most feminist path is the one where a woman chooses whom she chooses.