When Is The Right Time To Say "I Love You" On The Bachelorette?

Photo: Courtesy of Disney/ABC.
In the real world, the world that exists outside the artificial confines of The Bachelorette, saying “I love you” is a big deal. Inside the world of the show, it can mean the difference between sticking around or packing your bags. If you’re a cynical viewer, you might consider a declaration of love as a strategic tactic, thoughtfully deployed at just the right moment to achieve maximum impact on the Bachelorette herself and the viewers watching at home.

For the less cynical, or those among us more willing to suspend disbelief, watching contestants choose when, where, or whether or not to tell JoJo they love her is like watching an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam. One missed step or misjudged landing, and it’s all over.

Early on in the competition, saying “I love you” feels desperate, forced, or, in some cases, ridiculous. Robby does it first, during the Uruguay trip, but he is saved by the cliff dive. JoJo is swept away at the moment and doesn’t hold it against him. Others tiptoe into the pool, saying things like, “I think I’m starting to fall for you,” or “I feel like you’re a person I could fall in love with.” That’s still no “I love you.” These guys are hedging their bets, but probably being honest as well. It’s not a guarantee for a rose, but when the first big cuts are being made and the herd is being thinned, it might just make the difference.

This week’s episode highlighted some of the problems that are baked into the Bachelorette cake when it comes to expressing that core emotion. Alex, the always competitive and sometimes combative Marine, finally gets his one-on-one date with JoJo. It could have been, and would have been with the right person, a romantic afternoon spent with a pair of Argentinian gauchos and one really affectionate horse. Instead, their lack of chemistry comes into stark focus for viewers.

That evening, Alex tells JoJo that he loves her. He eases into it, first saying he thinks he is in love with her, then changing it to he knows he is in love with her. For viewers, it is hard to tell if he really does feel that way about JoJo, or if he just knows that he’s on thin ice and now is the time he has to go all-in to stay. For JoJo, hearing him say that he loves her instantly makes it clear to her how she feels. She doesn’t feel the same about Alex. She didn’t think he’d say it, and seemed like she wished that he hadn't. It begs the question of whether or not she would have sent him home right then if he hadn’t said it, but we will never know.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is what happens with JoJo and Jordan. Let’s be honest. Jordan has been the odds-on favorite from the jump. There has never been a moment when anyone watching would have thought Jordan was ever in danger of being sent home, even as the others have lobbed grenades at him, calling him “entitled” or suggesting he is guilty of the ultimate Bachelor/Bachelorette sin: not being there for the right reasons. At times it feels like we’re all just watching to see who comes in second.

When Jordan tells JoJo that he loves her, he doesn’t temper it, but he does play it cool. “I am so in love with you,” he says, but then follows it up: "I was fighting it at times, and it’s so real." Unlike Alex, who honestly never had a shot compared to Jordan, it isn’t "I thought, now I know" it's, "I’ve always known, but I’ve waited to say it until I was sure." JoJo reacts in the exact opposite way from how she does to Alex. She’s thrilled; we can all see she feels the same way. (Or at least she feels as close to it as she can. She did tell Ben she loved him not too long ago on her season of The Bachelor, after all.)

Strategy or not, this is a smart move on Jordan’s part. There’s an old cliché lawyers say about never asking a question in court that you don’t already know the answer to. Jordan, unlike the clueless Alex, knows what JoJo’s reaction will be when he tells her he loves her. JoJo wanted him to say it, but needed him to wait until she could believe him.

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