‘Love is Blind’ contestants cocky and confused

Danielle Ruhl and Nick Thompson met on on ‘Love is Blind’ season two. Ruhl requested that Thompson wear one of her costumes. // Photo courtesy of Netflix

Approximately nine out of ten Americans considered love to be a “very important reason to get married” according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Following love, 81% cited lifelong commitment and 76% cited companionship as additional important reasons. When Netflix announced a new approach to reality dating shows in 2020 with “Love is Blind,” they designed an experiment that set out to answer exactly the question in the title: is love truly blind?

“Love is Blind,” revolves around the idea that love can be based on an emotional connection more than a purely physical one; thus, contestants are placed into soundproof pods where they can chat with others but never see them unless one of them eventually proposes. The contestants can finally meet each other after they are engaged, and then they have four weeks to plan a wedding and say “I do” or “I don’t” on public television. The reality show provided much-needed entertainment at the beginning of the pandemic when the country was first going into lockdown, and viewers found comfort in watching the participants of “Love is Blind” navigate the murky waters of modern-day dating.

The first season was filmed primarily in the heart of Atlanta, and the cast involved 40 to 50 contestants who were quickly filtered out based on how well they were connecting with others in the pods. This eventually led to six couples being engaged, five of them actually making it past the honeymoon stage in Mexico and two couples saying “I do.” Season one’s Lauren Speed-Hamilton and Cameron Hamilton are one of my favorite married couples to emerge from the show with Tech’s own Matthew Barnett and his wife Amber Pike following close behind. 

After getting engaged, both couples claimed to be physically attracted to each other but then had to learn how to adapt to each others’ lifestyles in the real world. Barnett and Pike seemed to be in different stages of life, financially and in other manners, with him being an engineer with a stable income and house while Pike, an ex-tank mechanic, worked very occasionally and had accumulated credit card debt. 

One of the biggest challenges for Hamilton and then-Speed was navigating how to be in an interracial relationship; Hamilton had previously been in a long term relationship with a Black woman but had to actively work to win over Speed’s father and address certain privileges he carried as a white man. Speed, on the other hand, had never dated a white significant other before and had to mentally prepare herself for the challenges she was expecting with her family and within society by marrying a white man. On top of that, another source of tension was Hamilton constantly asking Speed about how certain she was about saying “I do,” to which she replied she could not give him a definite answer. 

Nonetheless, despite all of the obstacles the couples faced, they learned how to communicate with each other and addressed any differences as soon as they arose rather than letting doubts fester and erupt, and both pairings made it successfully down the aisle while the remaining three couples all rejected each other at the altar, leading to some very dramatic exits from the weddings, namely Giannina Gibelli and Damian Powers. 

Season one was filmed in 2018, meaning the couples were married for over a year by the time the show released, showing that they were at least somewhat sustainable at the time, and now four years have passed with both of these couples going strong, at least on a surface level, proving that love truly can be blind in some cases.

While a bit skeptical of the premise of the show at first, I ultimately found myself admiring many of the couples that both lasted and broke up for being willing to step out of their comfort zones to pursue the promise of love but also recognizing their own boundaries and prioritizing themselves by ending an engagement rather than staying in a relationship out of obligation. There was some drama — especially with Jessica Batten as she accepted Mark Cueva’s proposal and then indirectly pursued Barnett after he was engaged — but overall the couples seemed to like each other to at least some degree, which cannot be said for all of the contestants in the most recent season. 

When season two was released this past February, social media came abuzz with reactions provoked by very strong personalities such as Abishek “Shake” Chatterjee and Shayne Jensen. This most recent season presented a multitude of conflicts between the couples that emerged from the pods and drama that was greatly elevated in comparison to any of the tensions in the first season. Out of the nearly 30 contestants on this season, six couples left engaged and two ended up married: Nick Thompson and Danielle Ruhl were the first couple to be engaged and married followed by Jarette Jones and Iyanna McNeely.

Viewers were taken aback by Shake’s superficial questions pertaining to how much the women he was talking to weighed and whether he would have any trouble lifting them on his shoulders at festivals. Shayne frequently started most of his conversations with love interest Shaina Hurley by asking what she was wearing and Shaina was under the impression that she was Shayne’s top choice in the pods until he asked Natalie Lee to be his girlfriend and eventual fiancé. Shaina, a devout Christian, then went on to accept a proposal from Kyle Abrams, an atheist, despite having hesitations about their differences and still hurt from Shayne’s rejection. Similar to Jessica, Shaina constantly mentioned Shayne after they were both engaged to different people and left the pods, even going as far as confronting Shayne in Chicago and claiming his relationship with Natalie was fake. 

Although I appreciate the more diverse couples represented in the second season in comparison to the majority-white cast of season one, at times the pairings felt forced based on the participants’ cultural backgrounds. Namely, Deepti and Shake were a couple that left me feeling both proud and perplexed — proud in the sense that this was the first time I was witnessing a South Asian couple in mainstream media, something I never experienced as a South Asian myself growing up in the south. 

At the same time, their pairing absolutely confused me because it seemed as if they had nothing in common besides both being Indian; in fact, both Shake and Deepti both admitted that they both have a history of dating white significant others. While their past partners do not define who they can be with in the future, Shake repeatedly mentioned that he did not feel physically attracted to Deepti in almost every episode following their physical reveals, even going so far as to say she felt like his “Aunt.”

Behavior like this is what makes me question the intentions of the contestants of season two. While the pairings in season one had their own reservations about jumping into engagements and ultimately marriage, they at least attempted to further deepen the connection with their significant others outside of the pods. Meanwhile, in the second season’s reunion, Shake revealed that he didn’t think the show was a place to find a wife and instead wished love was “blurry” and not completely blind so he could have taken physical attraction into account while dating in the pods.

Ultimately, whether love is blind or not is a question I am still debating myself, but for now, it is something I am okay with letting other people figure out first.