Warning: In-depth discussions of suicidal thoughts and eating disorders are ahead.
“I don’t know if I can take him to hometowns,” 2020 Bachelorette lead Tayshia Adams admits during the only one-on-one date in “Week 9.” Tayshia is referring to Ben Smith, who has been posed as a perfection-obsessed Army veteran this season. “I’m still struggling to see who he really is,” Tayshia continues.
If this line really is from this week of filming — rather than a lifted franken-soundbite from earlier in Bachelorette season 16 production — it’s devastating. At this point in the competition, Ben has stripped himself down literally and figuratively, offering up his bare body to Tayshia and admitting his rarely spoken about past with an eating disorder. Ben has shown Tayshia a big part of who he is in a lightning fast amount of time (Instagram suggests Tayshia filmed the entirety of her journey in about five weeks). Still, Ben continues to reveal even more of himself in “Week 9,” as a way to better his “connection” with Tayshia. This time, he shares the memory of two recent suicide attempts.
By the end of the date, Ben has a rose for his ability to “open up,” furthering The Bachelorette’s unsaid implication that revealing trauma is the fastest way to accelerate a romantic relationship. Without the glamorous distraction of constant globe-trotting travel due to COVID-19, it’s impossible to ignore how bleak this Bachelor Nation attitude is — and how much it has colored this season.
The delicate truth about Ben’s history initially comes to Tayshia in drops. During the day portion of the date, she questions why he is “trying to be perfect” whenever they’re together. “Maybe a part of me doesn’t want to share things because I’m afraid of burdening you,” he admits, which is a sentiment that is startlingly honest on its own. Especially on your first date with someone, which is being filmed for millions of people to watch for entertainment.
Then, during the night portion of the hangout, Ben unleashes everything he has been “holding back,” to quote Tayshia. It is odd to watch her use that phrase — and allege there is mystery “hurt” with Ben — when mere days earlier he revealed a decade-long battle with bulimia. Tayshia already knows there is more to Ben than his “perfect” veneer. In “Week 8,” Ben admits he has only spoken about his eating disorder with his sister Madalyn Marie Smith. At the time, Tayshia recognized this development as “big.” Now, in “Week 9,” it’s not enough. So Ben, 30, divulges the pain of being raised in a home where perfection was “expected,” the devastation of breaking his back at 26 (which was previously unknown), and, finally, the details of two failed death by suicide attempts. The first attempt happened in 2018; the second just last year.
Ben has since gone through intensive therapy in an effort to save his life.
Despite Ben’s closeness with his sister, she does not know about her brother’s suicidal depression. Ben admits Madalyn will learn the truth about the depth of his struggles through The Bachelorette. “I don’t mean to throw that on you. It’s a weird thing to do here,” Ben tells Tayshia. But, it’s not weird. This is the unfair “honesty” The Bachelorette demands to prove a contestant is “dedicated to the process,” to use the buzzwords of the series.
But, in real-life relationships, it could take years to unburden yourself of all your secrets. Wanting to follow a similar pattern on Bachelor Nation programming shouldn’t be seen as evasive — it’s normal. Yet, years of witnessing painful revels from Blake Horstmann’s experience during a school shooting to Caelynn Miller-Keyes’ powerful conversation about her sexual assault during one-on-ones have warped the franchise’s outlook on their purpose. As we saw with Dean Unglert’s hometown date with Rachel Lindsay, the excavation of one’s greatest agonies doesn’t even always work in the long-term. On the same week Dean cried on the floor over his family trauma in the wake of mother’s fatal cancer diagnosis, he was eliminated from The Bachelorette.
In previous seasons, one or two contestants would offer up this kind of tragedy porn for Bachelor Nation cameras. But, in 2020, everyone feels the pressure to go “deep” immediately, seemingly due to the claustrophobia of one location. Clare Crawley had Jason Foster reveal years of familial suffering on her first-ever one-on-one date of the season. Then Clare broke up with Jason, leaving him so connected to her that he could not fathom the idea of dating Tayshia. During the art date in “Week 8,” Riley Christian, Blake Moynes, and Ivan Hall revealed their greatest insecurities and fears in what felt like a battle of emotional honesty. Blake’s revelations about a difficult childhood were most jarring, since he had made a silly clay penis minutes earlier as proof of his previously unheard of horndog ways. Earlier in the episode, Zac Clark secured his rose by telling Tayshia about his severe drug addiction, which resulted in an arrest, his divorce, and a fear he wouldn’t “make it to tomorrow.”
Luckily, to use Ben’s words from “Week 9,” both he and Zac survived their life-threatening mental health struggles. “It’s insane that I just told you that,” Ben says after sharing his story with Tayshia. “I was very scared about sharing all of those things.”
While Ben looks proud of his emotional bravery, he — and the rest of the Bachelorette cast — never should have felt the need to be brave in front of the world in the first place.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).