“I committed to being in an open relationship, that’s what it is and what I want to call it,” Ariel Frenkel, a contestant on Zach Shallcross’ season of The Bachelor, told him during “After the Final Rose.” It was the first time in the show’s history that terminology has been used — or, at least, used and aired. Frenkel wasn’t wrong: The Bachelor is an example of an open relationship, even if the end goal is monogamy.
An open relationship is defined as a consensual non-monogamous relationship, which is exactly the premise the show is built upon. Thirty contestants sign up (ahem, consent) to date one person, in an effort to win their final rose — and their hand in marriage. Of course, on the show, there’s some messiness that open relationships typically try to avoid. In a healthy non-monogamous partnership, rivalry and competition should be avoided, and clear communication needs to come first. That’s the only way to make sure everyone’s needs are being met.
Traditionally, The Bachelor doesn’t label their relationship structure as “open.” Rather than acknowledging its basis in polyamory, the show keeps monogamy at the forefront, with leads and contestants often saying they’re looking for their singular “person” or “soulmate.” But Frenkel wanted to give it a more accurate label. “I think it’s important to be as real as you can be, so I think it’s important to call things out. Like, we are in an open relationship,” she explained on a March 28 episode of The Viall Files podcast. “I think the only way to survive these things is to be honest with yourself and with your partner.”
During Fantasy Suite week, Shallcross announced that he wouldn’t be sleeping with anyone, although he ultimately chose to be intimate with one contestant, Gabi Elnecki. Later in the episode, when he eliminated Frenkel at the rose ceremony, he neglected to tell her the full truth about the situation. As Frenkel told him at the finale, “When the parameters of an open relationship change, I should be the first to know. I should have not been left in the dark, standing up there in Thailand at the rose ceremony. You had ample time to also tell me about everything before I left.”
Frenkel’s take on open relationships is right on track, according to an expert. Laurie Ellington, a professional life and relationship coach who specializes in polyamory, previously told Elite Daily, “The open relationship lifestyle… really does ask us to be more open, honest, transparent, [and] respectful of ourselves and others.” That’s something Frenkel seemed to understand — but, to put it bluntly, Shallcross didn’t.
According to Frenkel, it wasn’t the fact that he slept with Elnecki — it was the “dishonesty” in not telling her. Still, that lie of omission wasn’t Frenkel’s only issue with Shallcross’ approach to their open relationship. “The difficulty of dating someone that’s dating 30 other people is to feel like an individual,” she explained to Nick Viall. “When it was us two, it wasn’t about anyone else’s relationship.”
That changed during Fantasy Suites. Before Frenkel and Shallcross went into the overnight date (sans cameras), he told her he had decided that sex was off the table — not just for their relationship, but for all of his remaining connections. Reflecting on that moment, Frenkel told Viall, “I didn’t appreciate how now we’re in a collective situation… and also, we’re not having a conversation. It’s a monologue, not a dialogue.” She would have preferred that conversation happen behind closed doors, where she could participate in the choice rather than simply being informed of it.
Frenkel said something similar during “AFR,” telling Shallcross, “You took away my agency, and if you had waited, you would have seen I was on the same page and we could make that decision as a couple.” By making it for her — and for all of the remaining women — without any further discussion, Shallcross treated them as three finalists rather than three partners.
Nevertheless, Frenkel’s decision to call her and Shallcross’ romance an “open relationship” was a surprise, especially for Viall. In their interview, he told her, “I really appreciated you kind of naming, and giving it a 2023 review of what this experience is, which is a very open and polyamorous environment.”
With this in mind, perhaps next season, the lead will opt to be a little more honest — and hopefully, as a result, face a lot less backlash. “As long as everyone is acting in good faith, not crossing boundaries, not withholding or deceptive, then stability is possible,” Morgan K., polyamory mentor and content creator, previously told Bustle. In other words, Shallcross’ last week as the Bachelor might become a guide on what not to do when exploring open relationships.
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