Shows like 'Love Is Blind' offer confirmation that marriage is a scam to millennials who are skeptical of getting hitched
- Reality shows like "Love is Blind," "90 Day Fiancé," and "The Bachelor" share similarly bizarre approaches to dating and marriage.
- The attitudes of young people, however, don't reflect the same kind of commitment to marriage, as millennials are getting married later in life and less frequently.
- For some, these shows appeal because they confirm a belief that marriage has always been an inherently ridiculous institution. For others, it's escapism: maybe they, too, can have the whirlwind romance of their dreams someday.
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Warning: spoilers ahead for "Love Is Blind."
In the very first episode of "Love Is Blind," Netflix's new reality series that dropped its reunion special today, a couple gets engaged. They only declare their love for each other for the first time mere minutes before; at the very beginning of the episode, they've only just met. Yet by the end, Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton agree to spend the rest of their lives with each other. Oh, and here's the kicker: They do so before seeing each other.
Such is the absurd but oh-so-compelling premise of Netflix's latest foray into reality entertainment. The show asks 30 single men and women to find love by talking through a mysteriously opaque wall. Nick and Vanessa Lachey, stiff and unmemorable as hosts, insist that this is an "experiment" to determine if love is indeed blind.
But this show isn't just about falling in love: It's about getting married. (The season finale sees every couple left standing go all the way to the altar, but only some actually go through with it.)
While we don't know its true viewership figures — Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about ratings — it feels as if everyone is watching this show. (It has been in Netflix's new Top 10 feature since its premiere, though the previous caveat applies.)
As reality TV expert Andy Dehnart noted, the show has a massive online fanbase, notable both on social media and in the sheer number of articles that have been pumped out about the show. "Saturday Night Live" even recorded a sketch about it! If that's not cultural impact, I don't know what is.
But in truth, "Love Is Blind" is simply the latest in a line of reality TV phenomena about quick and wild marriages. "90 Day Fiancé" covers similar ground, following American and immigrant couples looking to meet and get married in a three-month period to qualify for a K-1 visa. And "The Bachelor" franchise, ABC's reality behemoth that arguably popularized the genre, has produced dozens of seasons (between "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette," "Bachelor in Paradise," and other spinoffs) all based around couples falling in love and getting engaged.
But interest in these shows — and, more importantly, the increasing absurdity of their premises — is happening alongside another, wildly different trend: Young people are getting married later and later. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the average age for marriage is 30 for men and 28 for women. Fifty years earlier, those numbers were 23 and 21, respectively.
Even after getting engaged, millennial couples are opting to go lower-frills, with a longer engagement period and no costly ring. That last part stands out dramatically when you consider the reverence with which "The Bachelor" treats the selection of the ring from jeweler Neil Lane. On "Love Is Blind" and "90 Day Fiancé," meanwhile, the swift engagement period — just a couple of weeks and three months, respectively — is a key part of the conceit.
So what is it about these shows that appeals to us?
For some, these shows allow us to indulge in our belief that marriage is, and has always been, a scam. Young people are increasingly skeptical of marriage as an institution, and fewer millennials are entering into the process at all: Only 2 in 5 millennials were married as of 2015.
Shows like "Love Is Blind" are confirmation that the entire idea is absurd. Falling in love without seeing a person? Getting married in less time than most people go between haircuts? What's the point of marriage if the walk down the aisle is treated as a destination to be rushed to, versus a natural evolution of a relationship? It's an intrinsically silly premise, but it also points out how intrinsically silly marriage is in the first place.
Yet it's unlikely that fans are dismissing the romance of it all entirely. (After all, those who do get married are staying married.) There's some fantasy wish fulfillment at play: a hope that, were we all not bogged down by debt, work, or other circumstances, we could also have the whirlwind romance and fairy tale wedding that these shows prize. What a fantasy it is to imagine taking six weeks of your life and suddenly finding the person of your dreams to marry!
"The Bachelor" appeals in the same way. Both shows present a world in which the contestants focus only on dating. There's no work to think about, no friends to see, no obligations to take their mind off the goal. People who simply can't find time to date might be drawn to this idea of a fantasy where you're left with all the time in the world to go forth and flirt.
The ending of "Love Is Blind," though, shows that it is indeed a flawed fantasy: Only two of the five couples that make it to the altar actually get married. (A sixth couple breaks it off during a vacation in Mexico, long before the wedding.) "The Bachelor" franchise's track record on keeping couples together is abysmal. These shows are escapism, but the reality waiting for the participants — and for us — is much tougher.
Whatever the case, we continue to go back to these shows for more — more gawking, more fantasy fulfillment, more of it all.
But for all its absurdity, it can also show us a little something about ourselves: what our thoughts on marriage are, whether we want the big fantasy wedding, whether we believe in the power of an immediate connection, or even why we have such a visceral reaction to these shows in the first place. Love may or may not be blind, but these shows can still open our eyes.
Kevin O'Keeffe has previously written for Variety, The Atlantic, Mic, and other publications. He's still waiting on that third season of SMASH. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.
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