A woman who cheats
'Love Is Blind' dramatizes women's failure as potential wives.
Last season, the reality-TV show Love Is Blind ended with Paul dumping Micah at the altar because she wasn’t maternal and “nurturing” enough. Now, season five opens with Uche cross-examining Aaliyah about cheating on her boyfriend years ago, and skeptically assessing her ability to be faithful. Lately, the show draws some of its most dramatic moments from women failing to meet wifely expectations.
Of course, Love Is Blind has always romanticized traditional heteronormative marriage in its vaguely dystopian way. Participants date in neighboring “pods” that only allow them to interact by voice so that they can find true love and get engaged within 10 days. But I’m increasingly noticing the gendered aspects of this show, and it hits a bit different in our current moment of anti-feminist backlash and “marriage boosterism.”
In the first episode of season five, which launched last week—SPOILERS AHEAD—Uche, a 34-year-old lawyer and startup co-founder, finds a strong connection with 29-year-old Aaliyah, an ICU nurse. He calls her “my girl” while suggesting that he wants to end up with her, before the topic of “deal breakers” comes up. Uche asks if she’s ever cheated on a partner. “Once,” she says. Uche’s laidback response suggests openness and curiosity: “You can be honest,” he says. “Tell me about it.” Aaliyah proceeds to tell him about it: She cheated after spending two-and-a-half years in a relationship where she was “just not sexually satisfied.”
It’s here that Uche’s tone starts to shift: “When was this?” Aaliyah tells him that it was two years ago. Then Uche says these words: “Oh boy, you’re a recent cheater. Mmm.” His questioning of her character continues and she defends herself, explaining that she tried “to fix the issues in the morally correct ways,” lovingly expressed her dissatisfaction to her partner, and “told him that I needed more, multiple times.” When he asks why she didn’t just break up with her boyfriend, she says, “I was afraid of being alone. What if I don’t ever find anybody who will have the good things about him?”*
I won’t give a full accounting of the scene, but I’ll just note that Uche implies that she should be “ashamed,” before he admits that he’s cheated before, too. (He emphasizes that he was 18 at the time and it was only a kiss.) Uche goes on to ask how many times she slept with the other guy, whether it was really the only time she’s ever cheated, and whether she has “more guy friends or girl friends,” apparently seeing guy friends as an indicator of a future cheating risk. As soon as she leaves the pod, Aaliyah slides down the wall to the floor, sobbing.
From start to finish, it’s hard to watch this spectacle of a woman being questioned about her sex life. Yes, the questioning is rooted in concerns about honesty and trustworthiness within a relationship, but we’re also watching the shaming of a woman who has violated the traditional sexual double standard on multiple fronts. She is a woman with desires that a man couldn’t satisfy, and those desires also led her to cheat. As a Black woman subject to racist stereotypes of hypersexuality, she will be seen as violating the sexual double standard no matter what she does.
Love Is Blind capitalizes on devastating scenes like this one. Again and again, it turns the pressures, expectations, prejudices, and contradictions of heterosexual courtship into entertainment. It’s a reflection of the world we live in and a calculated dramatization of it. Case in point: the episode’s title is “So, You’re a Recent Cheater?”
Last season, it wasn’t just that Paul deemed Micah—who the show portrayed as a tempting seductress—to be insufficiently maternal. The hosts played into these procreative imperatives, too: During the reunion episode, as Amanda Montei noted, Vanessa Lachey repeatedly asked the married couples when they were going to make some “Love Is Blind babies,” as though babies were the inevitable next step. In Aaliyah’s case, we see a woman shamed for cheating and assessed for her ability to be a faithful wife.
In all of these cases, the drama isn’t around the question of whether “love is blind” so much as whether a woman is an appropriate woman.