Is Love Truly Blind? The Psychology of Love at First Sight
November 16, 2022 by Emily Mendelson
The season three finale of Netflix’s Love is Blind was released last week, which means we finally get to see who said “I do.” Hosted by Nick and Vanessa Lachey, the show seeks to test if love is truly ‘blind’ by having single men and women interact in pods where they can hear (but not see) one another for upwards of 20 hours a day. If someone feels like they have fallen in love, they propose, and if the person they propose to says yes, the couple undergoes a whirlwind month consisting of a romantic getaway, living together, meeting friends and family, and ultimately deciding if they want to marry that person once at the altar.
The rationale behind the show is that if people can form an intense, emotional connection — strong enough to propose to someone without ever seeing or touching them first — then it should not matter what the person looks like when you meet them face-to-face. However, can that withstand all the influences of the outside world? For example, how does pressure from friends, family, and other important people in our lives test the strength of a relationship that has developed so quickly? Is love truly blind to all of this?
Spoiler alert (stop here and come back later if you don’t want to know the answer yet!)
Signs point to no. Just two couples from seasons one and two are still together, which isn’t a very high success rate.
Research on the idea of “love at first sight” might help us answer the question as to why. Love is Blind relies on facilitating unrealistic scenarios to meet a romantic partner, so it’s no wonder as to why people feel as if they’ve met the love of their life. When your contact to the outside world is completely cut off, the only task at hand (the only thing to do, really) is to fall in love. Judith Siegel, author of “Repairing Intimacy” told Vice that in these scenarios, people project qualities they want onto others if they remind individuals of something from their past. This is supported by theories of object relations, and can explain why couples sometimes get engaged based on some small connection(s), such as having read the same book when they were younger, having cheered or rooted for the same sports team, or having a similar childhood hobby to one another.
That being said, the concept behind the Love is Blind experiment is not completely abstracted from reality. An article published in Frontiers in Psychology argues that the perception of another’s personality can lead to attraction towards someone before actually meeting them . Because there is only so much you can gauge about another individual’s personality in the show’s pods, it makes sense that people feel as though they are in love based on the qualities that they have projected onto the other person. However, this feeling does not last forever, and can quickly disappear when faced with real-world relationship conflict, or once the initial feelings of passion have subsided.
Many of us have experienced this kind of fleeting passion before, even if the circumstances were radically different. For example, maybe you met someone one vacation or spring break and quickly developed a deep, passionate connection, only to have it dissolve quickly after returning to the real world. In that moment, that connection may have been exactly what you needed. But it might not have been a good long-term fit after reality set in.
Realistically, love does not develop at first sight, only lust. Love is Blind makes this even easier by casting conventionally attractive people. That combination of a desirable perceived personality and an attractive person, coupled with the effects of social isolation (e.g., perhaps some pent-up sexual desire and/or a heightened need for intimacy) could easily make couples think they have fallen in love at first sight.
It’s worth noting that researchers from the Netherlands conducted a three-wave study to better understand love at first sight. They found that men were more likely to report love at first sight than women, and they concluded that love at first sight is more of a unique feeling of initial attraction when meeting someone, rather than a distinct form of love .
So what does all of this mean? While Love is Blind is an entertaining weeknight watch, it’s probably not a realistic model for how long-term love develops in the real world. However, even if these captivating and intense on-screen connections don’t last forever, it doesn’t mean the relationships themselves were meaningless to the people involved. Short-term relationships and flings, even if they don’t progress to true love, can still have value in that they give us what we need at a specific time and teach us something about ourselves (or other people). When you think about it, reality TV shows kind of serve the same purpose.
This post was written by Emily Mendelson, Co-Managing Editor of Sex and Psychology. Learn more about Emily here.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >