Maybe you’re fascinated by The Bachelorette. Maybe you love the drama. Maybe you have never watched. I fall into the fascinated category. The more seasons I have seen, the more I anticipate manipulations behind the scenes and understand the ability for editing to alter narratives. Even outside of the Bachelorette, I am fascinated by how media can have us rooting for relationships and actions that we might not root for in real life. How quickly someone can change from a hero to a villain! This show could write books on that alone. Actually, a previous contestant, Sharleen Joynt (Flare and All The Pretty Pandas blog), does wonders breaking down some of these issues on blogs each week.
So why am I writing my first blog post on this? Well, this season showed something different than ever before. It demonstrated how incredibly effective manipulation and gaslighting can be in a relationship. It showed that despite someone noticing red flags, the “crazy-making” that comes with gaslighting can still work.
— The Bachelorette (@BacheloretteABC) June 25, 2019
Moreover, it showed how spirituality can be another weapon or tool that makes it harder to leave controlling or manipulative relationships. If you watch the show, you probably already know who I’m talking about.
I think this is a conversation worth having, because I think what happened on screens across America happens in relationships across America.
Full disclosure: The Bachelorette is a heavily-edited reality TV show where one person starts dating a group of 25 to 30 men to find a husband. This show films for around 6 weeks. Contestants have no access to the outside world or their support systems. The men are fully stocked with alcohol. Conversations (with leading questions) focus primarily on the person they are there to fall in love with, the bachelorette. The drama pot is constantly stirred. If you don’t actually see someone saying a sentence on screen, that could mean that sentence was not said in that context it was shown. The words may have been spliced together to make a sentence they never actually said. Thus, I am not here to diagnose anyone. Rather, I am here to talk about what the clips showed and what happened next.
Let’s begin this journey!
Luke P. introduces himself to the Bachelor world through an introduction video noting the importance of his faith and desire to meet Hannah. They had an immediate connection. In fact, she gave him the First Impression Rose. Of all the men she met, she had an instant connection with him. We find out later that their spiritual connection is what bonded them so quickly in the beginning.
We see Hannah and Luke click in their first conversations and sparks of instant physical attraction fly. She wants men to be bold and he boldly professes he is falling in love with her on their first group date. Hannah shares “he is saying everything [her] heart needs him to say.” This doesn’t last long though. By the next week, Hannah communicates she is picking up on some things that are making her uncomfortable with Luke. She voices, “I’m either falling in love with Luke or Luke is making me go crazy.”
Let’s talk about red flags
Red flags are not in and of themselves necessarily bad or negative, but when they are present it is often time to get more information to ensure it is a healthy, supportive, and empowering relationship. The more the red flags, the more likely the relationship is not healthy and power is not distributed equitably. Luke’s red flag rundown includes quick involvement/seriousness to a relationship, jealousy, controlling behavior, blaming other’s for one’s problems or feelings, rigid gender roles, being disrespectful to others, and not respecting boundaries.
Though Luke P. quickly professes he is falling in love, we come to learn that love is contingent on whether she complies with his expectations and wants in a relationship. It’s not really about her, it’s more about the idea of her. He displays physical aggression with the other men. Any time he begins a conflict, he finds a way to shift the focus to someone else. He regularly blames the other person involved, comes to Hannah before anyone else, and lies about what occurred. This season shows back to back footage of Luke saying something then taking it back, then saying he never said that in the first place, and ultimately landing on being “misunderstood.”
His confidence and assuredness in statements such as, “I would never lie to you,” “I will never control you,” and “I would never condemn or judge you” can make it hard to realize that it is exactly what he is doing in the moment. It is utterly confusing and has someone questioning themselves and their reality when their partner displays this behavior.
Among all the drama and conversation around Hannah and Luke, there is an additional missing piece that I see people attempting to name, call out, or identify in this season; it is spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is simply using spirituality or religion to control or manipulate someone.
Diving Deeper into Spiritual Abuse
Spirituality and religion are shown on this season more than ever before. Viewers see numerous conversations with Luke discussing his past of “chasing sex” and sin to ultimately finding God. In true Bachelorette fashion, he is filmed sharing his bad-boy to changed-man testimony while taking a hot steamy shower and displaying his muscular, un-clothed body. Beyond that intro video, Luke shares his testimony with Hannah, takes her to his Bible study, and both are prayed over by the group. His beliefs are clearly important to him and a large part of his life.
There is nothing wrong with Luke having his own set of beliefs and wanting a partner to have the same or similar beliefs. However, when someone imposes their beliefs on others or uses those beliefs as a way to manipuluate or judge someone’s behaviors, the motive changes from “let’s find out if we’re a match” to one of control. Luke actively uses techniques of gaslighting and manipulation and uses them under the guise of spirituality and spiritual connection.
Luke tells Hannah directly that he disapproves of her choices around her sexuality using Christian scripture and language. He appears to somewhat mock other past Bachelors/Bachelorettes talking about exploring their physical intimacy with someone while identifying as Christian. He gives an ultimatum saying if she has had sex with any other contestants that he would want to leave immediately. At this point, I will remind you, we are talking about a reality dating show filled with sexual innuendos around overnight dates.
Luke proceeds to disregard Hannah’s feelings, thoughts, and boundaries in the name of his faith and heart. This is a tactic that some employ intentionally and some unintentionally. Although we don’t know his motives here, what the viewer sees is that Hannah’s feelings and wishes are consistently disregarded. He demonstrates that his beliefs are more important than hers. His strong spiritual beliefs entitle him to disregard her boundaries and words. For example, he tells her he loves her flaws while acknowledging he is not aware of any of his own. He tells her he will be there for her “boneheaded” mistakes or “slip-ups,” but never takes responsibility for the harm he causes others. When she tells him she does not want to marry him, he insists she is wrong. She asks him to leave; he refuses. When he finally does leave, he pivots and asks to pray for her before he goes, only to come back again, showing more disregard for her wishes. He then professes she acted “out of character.”
Subtle and not-so-subtle manipulations
Using “shoulds” and ignoring boundaries matters. If I said you should not _fill in the blank_, it is safe to assume judgment will come if I have violated the stated expectation. People’s word choice, tone, and inflection matter. Luke’s hometown date was telling in a subtle way. When asked about if Hannah is worth all of it by his Dad, Luke shares that Hannah is “worth it,” and how he has seen more sides of her than others because of their spiritual connection. His Dad goes on to say if she is “worth it” then she is “worthy of him.” Worth comes from having the same spiritual beliefs and views. What happens wiht those who differ from his beliefs?
Let’s look at what happens after the show. Luke has apologized, but not for his actions. He says he would not change anything. He made a Twitter account the night the episode aired and he confronts Hannah on his expectations around her sexuality. He then tweets directly at her about how they view faith differently, with a presumption that one view is more correct than the other.
@AlabamaHannah The difference in how we view sin is seen in the response, I’m weeping at mine and you’re laughing at yours. All sin stings. My heart hurts for both of us.
— Luke Parker (@luke_parker777) July 16, 2019
@AlabamaHannah There is a difference between eating with sinners who laugh and sinners who laugh at their sin. Sin is the very thing that put Jesus on the cross and that’s not a laughing matter. https://t.co/cU1YlEgeFB
— Luke Parker (@luke_parker777) July 16, 2019
Look at how he has switched the narrative! He is shifting the conversation away from his lies, harsh words, and behaviors to focusing the story on their differing beliefs. Unfortunately, he continues to shame Hannah around her faith not matching or conforming to his expectations of what faith should look like. Luke presents himself as a martyr for righteousness, a victim of the network or producer’s edits.
This is not a conversation about whether it is okay to have one’s own beliefs… it’s a conversation about how people can abuse or hurt others with their beliefs, intentionally or not. Many are rallying around him and his right to believe what he believes and expect the same from a partner. Here is the thing though, expectations are set together in relationships through open communication and exploration. Often what was depicted on the show were expectations being set by one party, judgment when those expectations weren’t met, and then denial that any hurtful things were ever said. As Hannah told Luke directly, the words he chose to communicate his expectations were “not okay.” And Hannah gets it! She sees it for what it is, but it took her time to get there and there was understandably confusion along the way.
Prioritizing one person’s wants, desires and expectations in a relationship over another’s creates a power differential that can be incredibly harmful and regularly leads to abuse or intimate partner violence. Mingling this kind of control with spiritual/religious expectations can be harmful in a nuanced way, impacting one’s sense of their spiritual identity or connection. Let’s name what we are seeing as spiritual abuse and focus the conversation on what it needs to focus on – calling out harm and promoting health.
Hannah mentioned she ignored or put aside red flags for her feelings. Ultimately she listened to her intuition, made the decision to eliminate Luke P from the runnings. I am hopeful that she will continue to listen to her intuition and express her faith in the way she chooses.
For more information on spiritual abuse in relationships:
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