Watching Bachelor In Paradise this year has been, quite frankly, too real. The show – which pulls together ex contestants from The Bachelor anThe Bachelorette, runs on the romantic drama that ensues when you shove a bunch of hot single people together in one place for weeks on end. But where last year was equally dramatic and wild, this 2019 season seems to really reveal how completely, well, shit dating culture has become in Australia.

I’m well aware that reality TV shows are driven by stellar production that manipulates real people into very dramatised scenarios. But for all the bells and whistles and to-camera tears, there’s an underlying truth in even the most ridiculous of interactions on these shows. Because at the end of the day, (most) of these people are not actors – they’re just plebs like you and I. You can’t produce everything into existence, you know?

Let’s start with the obvious – the fuckboy. Guys (and, in many cases actually, girls) who manipulate the person they’re dating with sweet words and attention, while simultaneously lying to them about other romantic entanglements they’ve got going on. Bill is the most obvious fuckboy this season, after he gave Florence every indication he was a) completely unattached and b) extremely DTF while Alex Nation waited back in Paradise expecting the pair had something at least semi-exclusive.

But what is far more concerning than Bill’s perfect modelling of the fuckboy stereotype is his gaslighting behaviour. For the unaware, gaslighting is now a common dating trend, in which one party convinces the other that they’re “crazy”, basically lying to them consistently (usually about a specific situation) and convincing them that their gut feeling that they’re being lied to is false. And it’s not just Bill – Nathan‘s also been doing it to Zoe, telling her he was interested when actually he’d been using her to stick around so he could have a shot at love with Tenille.

Then there’s Jules – who displays the more insidious, in my opinion, trend of the “softboy”. Softboys are as shithouse as fuckboys but instead of being smooth and manipulative, they present as emotionally aware and earnest. Their confusion over their feelings for you is “honest”, and because they’re so open about how they feel, and in a culture where you’ve got fuckboys lying to you it’s easy to confuse this honesty for being a “good guy” (or girl). But actually, they’re selfish pricks and where you’ll see it is in their behaviour – look at how Jules strung Alisha along for days with “I’m not sure, I don’t know, I’m an idiot, you’re amazing” but a) ran over to Tenille as soon as she walked in and b) only came back to Alisha because Tenille shut him down.

Side note within this “softboy” trend – beware the person who admits they’re an “idiot” for treating you like shit. It’s the worst statement in the book – and a way to garner sympathy from someone they’re dating by admitting they’ve been a fuckwit. But notice how saying “I’m an idiot” shows absolutely no intention of change? What they’re really saying is “I am an idiot, and you’ll just have to accept this shitty behaviour if you want to be with me”.

Then there’s the very alarming controlling bullshit Ivan‘s been exhibiting in his relationship with Tenille. The guy went on one good date with the girl and decided he was entitled to her undivided attention. Ivan’s behaviour is particularly concerning – controlling behaviour has long been statistically associated with domestic violence. White Ribbon Australia even lists “telling a woman… where she can go and who she can spend time with” and “isolating a woman from family and friends” as warning signs. While Ivan’s behaviour wasn’t at that level, it was bloody close – his threatening behaviour toward other men interested in Tenille essentially isolated her.

That’s not to say we’re not seeing examples of shit dating culture from the women on this show, too. Both Alex Nation and Alisha brushing off clearly disrespectful behaviour from Bill and Jules, ignoring the alarm bells and red flags to “go with their heart” is a common issue in the real world – everyone’s got a friend or two who just refuse to blow off a clearly TERRIBLE person they’re dating even though all signs point to them not giving two shits about your mate.

Of course, feelings are complex, and it’s hard to bin someone who you like even when they’re being a right dick. But come on – when are we going to garner enough self-respect as people to see manipulative behaviour like “oh I totally lied about you to Flo and gave her the impression I was single but now she’s being intense so I want you again” and “I ditched you for Tenille but since she rejected me and there’s a rose ceremony coming up, I suddenly am super interested again” and decide we’re better than that?

Then there’s Florence, who was enamoured by Bill even though he was clearly behaving in the exact same way as Jake did with her last season. The same smooth talking, sexual chemistry shit that then blew up for her both times when another woman caught their eye. It’s hard not to see the similarities between Jake and Bill – so when Florence wailed to camera that “all guys” are shit, it was a bit like… mmm but are you just going for the same type time after time? Let’s not forget she blew off Wes, Mack, basically everyone else in existence for superficial reasons before even getting to know them.

I don’t know exactly when dating culture became so horrific, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone single who won’t have stories that relate to one or more of these trends we’re seeing in Paradise. And actually, I think it’s good we’re seeing it on TV four times a week – dating culture can be very insular, with only those who are single and participating it really understanding how awful people can be. I don’t think seeing people like Alex Nation and Alisha seemingly accepting softboy/fuckboy behaviour is going to encourage the masses to do the same. If anything, seeing the secret conversations that occur make us realise that even the sweetest of words can be absolute bullshit.

Image: Network Ten