*Warning - the following contains spoilers*
“Is love really blind?” gushes Nick Lachey, a man who was almost certainly attracted to his good wife long before he ever cared what was on the inside. Yes, the host who proved that reality TV dating is all but doomed in Newlyweds (which tracked his now defunct marriage to Jessica Simpson) is here again to prove to us that reality TV dating is all but doomed with Love Is Blind: Netflix’s sleeper hit of early 2020.
The premise, well-discussed by every erudite and alarmist corner of the internet, is simple. A sacrificial offering of two dozen or so semi-bright young things are locked into a Dunelm vision of solitary confinement. They drink an absurd amount of booze. They have dates, move in together and – the maddest part – get married. So far, so exquisitely moronic. What brings Love Is Blind to the fore, however, is that these participants never lay eyes on one another until the engagement is sealed, each date partitioned by a thin wall. You can’t look, and you can’t touch either. Just voices, and frenetic conversations that move relationships faster than that one friend from school who got engaged three weeks into their gap year in South East Asia. It makes for excellent television. It’s also a supposed bid to make the cruel world of modern dating a kinder place to be.
And pure it is, in parts. Lauren and Cameron – a couple that do genuinely seem to actually fancy one another – are sweet, and their screen time nibbles around the edges of their interracial relationship, and the complex nuances at stake in modern America. Kelly and Kenny, a couple with Dulux magnolia paint running through their very veins, prove that there’s someone for everyone (until there isn’t). And lest we forget Barnett and Amber: perhaps the only recorded document of what happens when a woman pairs Viagra with every meal.
But for all the isolation they’ve suffered, all the ‘followings of hearts’ and candlelit moments blissfully devoid of vanity, some habits are too hard to shake. One doesn’t need an iPhone in hand to remain on-grid. Take, for instance, Jessica: the beautiful 34-year-old ‘Regional Manager’ of Love Is Blind – and also its villain. In Mark, she agrees to marry a man who is kind, giving and worthy of her love. Their big reveal, like prom night, conjures real emotion. She sobs and he just can’t believe his luck and they embrace and, for one small second, we think Jessica might’ve realised she made the right decision. Except he’s a decade younger. They’re not there ‘physically’. She’s not usually into short guys. She decides she’s going to only spend some of her time at the apartment arranged for them.
All such reasoning points to indecision on Jessica’s part. In truth, she really never was that into Mark. But the age of modern dating is not one of honesty. She frequently tells her other of her pure, unbridled devotion, only to maintain there might be something around the corner with Barnett (there isn’t). Still, Mark, she’s got you. Except she’s going to try it on again with Barnett. But Mark, it’s love. Except she won’t sleep with you. It makes for such shocking watching because this is a real WhatsApp conversation unfolding IRL, one that we’ve all suffered. Who hasn’t been on the backend of doting messages, those that establish a mutual fancying, only to then get the axe on the cusp of an official relationship? Modern dating is not honest, and the phenomenon of half-in-half-out is ostensibly a symptom. There is always the illusion of someone better. There is always a Barnett.
Who, coincidentally, removed the blinkers long before Amber came into view. After his bizarre coronation as the prime bachelor early on, the 28 year old confessed that his former ‘Army Tank Mechanic’ fiancée was the real objection of his affections. This love was real. It was indeed blind. Though that was somewhat shaken when Amber confessed that she’d accrued a hefty student debt, was sofa surfing and indeed, didn’t have a job. Barnett was visibly put off. It seemed he too had been less fortunate in the financial department as he had in the looks
But love really is blind! They really did get married! And they also spent the latter half of the series incubating catchphrases and bragging about unprotected sex, exchanging enzymes at any given oppotunity to thus prove that they were, indeed, #goals (and to provide a wealth of assets for the inevitable #ad they’ll publish on a joint Instagram account shortly).
It’s all part of a personality carving so common in these post-Tinder days. Barnett and Amber are already in it for the double-taps. Jessica also isn’t what she seems: a baby-voiced coquette who turns out to be anything but, debuting her real voice as she deserts Mark at the altar. Worst date ever. Because when we’re led to believe that she’s an innocent victim in this game called love, but Jessica is the perpetrator, catfishing us all when she describes her ideal as a man very similar to Mark, only to show little interest in actual Mark. He respects her, he recreates their early dates with a mock wall, and he fights for her (something we all know Jessica has asked of a Chad or a Tyler as they break-up drunk, after homecoming or something).
These people are constructing themselves. Without the masquerade of social media, they’re rather bad at it too, showing the real scars left from the wounds of online dating. We know guys like Barnett, who can’t settle for just one good thing. We know girls like Jessica, who mainline red wine and make decisions that, ultimately, aren’t very good. And we also know that these people are not like our parents, who were realistic before the time of 4G-induced matches, who were content with their relationships and didn’t look for another Barnett or Jessica if they were having a nice time. It seems we’re closer to the Barnetts and the Jessicas of the world wide web, too. They are us. We are them.
For Love Is Blind has taught us what we knew all along: that dating is cruel. But in the Age of the Swipe, its edges are too sharp for a flavourless Netflix series to buff. On the contrary, they’ve been honed by rejection and better offers, now a serrated mass able to puncture hearts, prides, minds – even the paper-thin wall separating two lonely, lost hearts on your television.