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Bachelor Nation Divided Over Fantasy Suite Controversy As Clayton Echard Denies Gaslighting Claims

Clayton Echard press photo for The Bachelor Season 26.
(Image credit: ABC)

Spoilers below for anyone who isn't caught up on The Bachelor's latest episodes!

It was hard to believe things could get much worse for Clayton Echard, as The Bachelor Season 26 was the subject of mean tweets before his season even started, and had fans roasting him about everything from his personality to his judgment of (particularly Shanae Ankney 's) character to his fashion sense. But then there were the Fantasy Suite dates, where Echard eliminated Susie Evans after she got upset that he was in love with and had sex with the other remaining contestants — Rachel Recchia and Gabby Windey. 

Bachelor Nation — fans and former contestants — had strong opinions about what went down. Was Clayton Echard within his rights to sleep with multiple women? Should Susie Evans have told him beforehand that was a deal-breaker for her? What about Echard’s angry reaction toward Evans — did he gaslight her? The controversial episode has been a talking point across Bachelor Nation ahead of this week’s two-night season finale, so let’s take a look at what’s being said.

Former Leads Defend Clayton Sleeping With More Than One Woman

Possibly the least controversial question was whether or not Clayton Echard was in the wrong for having sex on more than one of his overnight dates. This phenomenon is not out of the norm for this franchise, and as Kaitlyn Bristowe explained on her Instagram Stories, physical intimacy is important when you’re looking at getting engaged to someone: 

When you’re in that position, you are making a life-altering decision. You genuinely fall in love with more [than one] person, so why would you not be intimate with more than one person and when you’re trying to find the person to spend the rest of your life with? Why do we judge so hard on this?

Jesse Palmer, who first served as the show's lead in Season 5 before becoming a first-time host of The Bachelor, told Variety there have been “multiple Bachelors and Bachelorettes who have slept with three people on their seasons.” Echoing Kaitlyn Bristowe’s thoughts on the importance of sex in relationships, he said:

In general, sexual compatibility in any relationship is extremely important. And in a situation like this when the stakes are so high and there’s an expectation that someone is going to be getting down on one knee and you’re going to be living with one person the rest of your life, you do have to explore and discover that.

Jesse Palmer said as someone who’s been on the show in the position of the titular lead, he can say that sexual compatibility has been a big theme since the beginning. 

Bachelor Nation Alums Slam Clayton For Reaction To Susie

Regardless of how many women Clayton Echard slept with, many people had an issue with the Bachelor getting mad at Susie Evans and then eliminating her after she said him sleeping with other women was a deal-breaker for her. He questioned why she didn’t want to fight for what they had, and then said their relationship had been invalidated, before he insisted on walking her out. 

Bachelor Nation alumni had thoughts, including Season 21 lead Nick Viall, who was reportedly one of the former Bachelors whom Clayton Echard had reached out to for advice ahead of the controversial episode. Viall tweeted:

Susie tried to express her feelings while trying to empathize with Clayton’s POV, Clayton expressed his feelings to Susie by being a dick.

Tanner Tolbert, who appeared on Season 11 of The Bachelorette before meeting his wife Jade Roper on Bachelor in Paradise, didn’t mince his words either when addressing Clayton Echard’s behavior. He said on Twitter:

Just finished tonight’s episode of #TheBachelor and holy shit… Clayton went from the nice (although boring) guy ALL season long to a raging asshole right before our eyes.

Clayton Echard himself admitted on the Almost Famous (opens in new tab) podcast that he did not handle the situation correctly. However, he was not willing to accept blame for one accusation making the rounds on social media.

Clayton Denies Gaslighting Claims, But Was He Guilty?

Clayton Echard told Bachelor Nation alums Ashley Iaconetti and Ben Higgins on their podcast that his emotions got the best of him in his conversation with Susie Evans, and he misinterpreted her tone. He said at the time, he thought she was showing no emotion when she said his other relationships were a deal-breaker, but in watching it back, he saw that “it’s clear as day” that he was wrong. However, he strongly disagreed with those who accused him of gaslighting:

I don’t agree that I was gaslighting because I looked that up, and it said gaslighting, the definition is to try and convince someone of a different reality than what is actually the true reality of the situation. . . . Gaslighting in my eyes is something where it’s you have bad intentions, you’re trying to manipulate somebody, and I was not at all trying to do that. My reality was in my head at that point.

However, sex therapist Dr. Rossana Sida told Women’s Health that intention doesn’t have anything to do with it, and in fact gaslighting can often be unintentional. Sida explained:

When people gaslight, they don't typically know they're gaslighting. All they know is that they feel attacked, and that can't be right. That's not a position that they feel comfortable in.

The therapist went on to explain that Clayton Echard did, in fact, gaslight Susie Evans when he made her doubt her perspective by going off-topic and flipping the argument to make himself look better. After finding out that Evans didn’t want to continue on the show because Echard had been intimate with Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia, Echard became angry that Evans hadn’t told him sooner that she was so against it.

Clayton Echard also denied what Susie Evans said about their relationship, and lobbed accusations at her instead of first asking her to explain her point of view. These actions, according to Rossana Sida, were the points that made it gaslighting.

Well, it certainly didn’t take long for The Bachelor Season 26 to go from ugly to straight dumpster fire, and it’s hard to believe we’ve got another pair of two-hour episodes to get through before the official end of Clayton Echard’s journey. Jesse Palmer said he has no idea how the season ends, which means we can likely expect epic, full-scale drama during the live portion of the finale, especially if the rumors are true that the ending will contain something that’s never happened on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette before. And hey, maybe we’ll also find out who the next lead of The Bachelorette will be! 

Tune in to ABC on Monday and Tuesday, March 14-15, at 8 p.m. ET to see how this wild season ends. Then check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what shows are premiering soon, with absolutely no gaslighting involved.

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.