Love Is Blind, Netflix’s latest foray into televised social experiments, posits whether or not it is possible to fall in love with a person they have never seen before. It’s an intriguing thought exercise, a fun scenario to discuss at dinner, but not necessarily the best idea to execute. “We live in such a connected and distracted world,” host Nick Lachey says, standing rigidly next to his wife, Vanessa. “But everyone wants to be loved for who they are.”
It is not a radical act to state that human beings want to be loved for who they are and not just what they look like; however, ensconcing 30 willing participants in a facility somewhere in the Atlanta metropolitan region and seeing if this is actually true is, at least at the outset. The 30 participants, all of whom seem to be very, very interested in the notion of finding their forever person and willing to do so on television, lock themselves in pods and speak to their prospective future life partner through a wall. After 10 days of interacting with strangers, the couples in question have to decide whether or not they want to get engaged. If they do, they get to stay—and also see the person they’ve been communicating with through a wall. If not, their time is up, and that’s the end of that.
The first few episodes are genuinely interesting television, only because there is something so admirable about the participants and their vulnerability, feigned or otherwise. There is something sickly and sweet about wanting love so badly that you would willingly go on this show to prove it. But, there is also something more important to be said about caution. “At this point, I can see both of them being my husband, which is crazy,” a contestant muses early on in the beginning. Yes, it is. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. The transformative power of love is one thing, and I understand that human beings are hardwired for connection, but I also believe that if you say that you love someone who you’ve only spoken to through a thin wall, that might not be the whole truth.
Unlike other reality TV dating shows, the setup of Love Is Blind leaves little room for strategy. The fact that these people are speaking to each other through a wall at the outset and not in front of a well-trained production crew means that they are at least attempting some form of honesty. But the time constraint forces the couples to pair up quickly, just so that they can see each other. Watching near-strangers profess their love over the span of a tightly edited few days brings to mind the heady feeling of dating apps, where small talk is merely a precursor to the in-person meeting: trusting another human being with whom you’ve only engaged in flirty banter that they won’t dismember you in an alley, or even worse, just not show up.
Compatibility is a mix of factors that change hourly in some relationships, but a strong foundation is built on shared interests, sexual attraction, and the willingness for both parties to assess what they can and can’t tolerate in another human being, within reason. For some, love means finding great reserves of previously undiscovered strength and allowing people to simply be as they are. For those brave enough, Love Is Blind is a conceit that might work.
Minor spoilers ahead.
Other shows play with the formula of love under extreme duress. 90 Day Fiancé adds the looming threat of deportation to the mix; the engagements in that show crack under the pressures of outside opinion, as well as the high-pressure situation in which the couples in question have found themselves, for reasons nefarious or otherwise. In Love Is Blind, the pressure is the premise of the show itself: success is clearly defined by engagement and ultimately marriage. “I’m a grown-ass man,” says 24-year-old Mark, attempting to woo a 34-year-old Jessica who seems very concerned about their age gap. “I always want you to be 100 percent transparent with me,” he says, before launching into an explanation of why it is impossible to be with her because of her purported “connection” with other people.
It’s hard to conceptualize that anyone could truly feel a connection with someone that they have only spoken to through a wall, but maybe the takeaway from Love Is Blind is that love in and of itself is patently ridiculous as a conceit. Trusting another person completely that they will not murder you or throw your heart into a blender and walk away takes great strength. It is not for the weak.
Removing the physical from a relationship’s beginnings is a gimmick that almost works; people often make stupid, foolish decisions based on appearance, and acknowledging that outright is one of the show’s strengths. Long-lasting relationships are built on a strong foundation of communication and mutual understanding, and the strange pressure cooker that these people have willingly entered forces those two things to happen in condensed fashion. It’s a useful undertaking that one could look towards as a means of attempting radical vulnerability, honesty, or something in between. But what this show disregards completely is the nuts and bolts of what being in a relationship or marriage entails: legally hitching yourself to someone for what is presumed to be the rest of your life without having a full understanding of what it is actually like to be with that person.
Love Is Blind traffics in a dangerous kind of wish fulfillment, as all dating reality shows do, which is ultimately their endgame. Marriage is a risk that these people enter into with the sort of blind, reckless abandonment that, in real life, would urge your most emboldened friend to dig a fingernail into your wrist and hiss, Are you sure you’re making the right decision? in your ear as you gleefully show off your engagement ring. Watching these people do so, not for any particular cash prize but for the chance at an actual connection, is, on some level, sweet. Part of the grim joy of watching this show is realizing the thrill of dating as a spectator sport. The literal wall that was erected between these people doesn’t disappear once they’ve proposed.
The first half of the series is by far the most interesting; Netflix’s plan is to release the episodes in three episode chunks over the month of February, but the novelty wears off somewhere around the middle when the couples emerge into a simulacrum of the real world (an apartment complex in Atlanta) and try to live out the duration of their engagement in less than a month—a process compressed for the patently ridiculous rules set by this world, but one that normally takes months, if not years to complete. Binging the show over a course of a few days, as I did for this review, invites low level nausea. For courtesy, I will not reveal who actually makes it to the altar and beyond, but watching the couples that manage to cross the final hurdle is extremely depressing, due, in part to the framing.
In other shows like 90 Day Fiancé, the impetus to actually get married is much more urgent—citizenship is on the line, and love, a distant second. Love Is Blind pushes the actual love into the forefront, which is great for those who fetishize a wedding and a fairytale courtship and less so for anyone else who understands that real human relationships are complex, messy affairs that are never as cut and dry as these shows make them seem. The main point of conflict, outside of the smaller ones that happen at a breakneck pace, is whether or not these people will actually get married. Though I am sure that fear is prevalent in regular marriages not filmed for television, one assumes that if you have gone through the rigamarole of planning a wedding, you are likely to say yes. Uncertainty abounds, stoked by the flames of an entirely contrived situation in which there is unimaginable pressure to succeed.
The audacity of the people on this show who are so willing—or desperate—to find connection erases, just a little, the natural schadenfreude of reality TV. While the allure of Bachelor Nation’s offerings is clear—to watch desperate people claw their way towards fame-
Love Is Blind is currently streaming on Netflix.