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'The Bachelor' finale: Why it's a good thing that Colton and Cassie didn't get engaged

'The Bachelor' finale: Why it's a good thing that Colton and Cassie didn't get engaged
Colton Underwood and Cassie Randolph embrace during the "Bachelor" season finale. Breaking with tradition, the Bachelor didn't propose. (John Fleenor/ABC)

It was a finale like we've never seen before: Our leading man didn't get down on one knee; he didn't propose. Other than this season's creepy obsession with Colton's virginity, getting engaged in a whirlwind 10 weeks is the whole point of this show. And yet he still ended up with the woman he loves - Cassie - even though she wasn't sure she wanted to be in a relationship.

What is going on here? Did Colton "settle" by picking the woman who wanted to go slow, when there were two others (Tayshia and Hannah G.) who seemed ready to get engaged? Did he pursue Cassie too hard? Did he want her so badly only because she'd rejected him?

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All those questions have some truth to them.

But let's posit one other option: In breaking from the reality show's rigid script - in jumping over a fence and trying to outrun the camera crew in the Portuguese wilderness - Colton broke and fixed "The Bachelor." He got the girl and didn't get engaged. For anyone else, this outcome might look like defeat.

For a leading lady, it might not even be possible. Imagine a woman chasing after a man who's dumped her, saying she won't leave the country without him? She'd be cast as crazy and desperate, not devoted and romantic.

A similar scenario happened not too long ago on this franchise. Remember in 2017, when Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay's runner-up, Peter Kraus, told Rachel he loved her and that he could see a future with her but wasn't ready to propose? He wanted to just continue dating in the real world, and Rachel said no. "My fear is that, OK, you don't propose and I agree to just date you and be committed to you. What guarantee do I have that it's ever gonna leave that stage?" Rachel asked at the time. "Because my past has shown me that it won't. I'm in this because I want someone who wants what I want. I want someone who wants to move towards marriage. And my fear is you don't have that same level of commitment."

Colton expressed similar concerns. "My greatest fear in all of this is getting to the end and someone just going through the motions and not being ready," Colton said to Cassie earlier this season. Later, shortly before Colton jumped the fence, Cassie left because, well, she wasn't ready to get engaged - and unlike Peter, she's clearly seen this show before. In the face of Colton's teary "I love yous" and full-body shakes, Cassie sent herself home.

Colton responded by jumping over a fence and trying to leave the show, because the show had led him to believe that such an outcome wasn't possible. That all-or-nothing mentality might stem from the fact that Rachel and Peter were in their 30s; they might be ready to settle down quicker than 23-year-old Cassie and 26-year-old Colton (who may or may not have had his first sexual encounter with Cassie in the fantasy suite). For them, taking it slow was smart, sane and necessary.

When Tuesday's episode began with Colton knocking on Cassie's hotel door because, as he said, he wasn't going to leave Portugal without her, it sounded as though we might have a heartbroken stalker on our hands. Instead, Colton told Cassie he'd sent all the other women home. She was the only one left because she was the only one he wanted.

They went to meet Colton's family not as he was considering proposing, but as they were considering entering a serious relationship. Colton's father still wept, worrying that his son who wears his big, beating heart on his sleeve might get hurt. "I'm OK with being patient," Colton assured his dad. And he seemed patient with Cassie, too - saying he was willing to take it "day by day." That is not stalker talk; that's reasonable boyfriend talk. And it's what viewers needed as much as Cassie, for this relationship to seem believable.

When Cassie and Colton got their final one-on-one - rappelling down a rock to a picnic - he asked what her concerns were about him, and we find out a crucial detail of Cassie's past that should have been revealed sooner. Her college boyfriend had been about to propose, she told Colton, and "it got a little controlling." She described her conception of what it's like to be in a relationship: You have to change who you are for this person, and "that's why I'm so careful," she told him.

That might be how some relationships feel, but a healthy one shouldn't. And now that Cassie and Colton are finally talking about what a relationship between the two of them would be like - weekends away with their respective friends, coming back together as a unit - they both started to realize that what they wanted wasn't that far apart after all.

It was one of the most normal endings we've ever seen on this show. Two people dating for a few months and then deciding to be exclusive more closely mirrors the slow, real-life crawl toward a relationship than getting engaged after just a few skydiving dates, bungee-jumps and awkward talks with Dad.

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