This article originally appeared on VICE US.
As Vanessa Lachey says during each of her rare appearances on screen, the contestants on Love Is Blind (quite possibly the best, most demonic reality television show of our time) fell in love with each other and got engaged “sight unseen.” This alone is a wild conceit; getting engaged roughly a week after you met someone is fairly extreme, and doing it without ever seeing or touching each other is… inadvisable. But the reasons the contestants give for why they love each other enough to be ready for marriage a month after meeting are even more shocking. There have been many proclamations of, “We’re literally the same person!!!!!,” based on nothing more than…. liking the same sports team????
The romance between Lauren and Cameron really took off when the two cried about how much they love their families. After this banal realization, they became the first pair to get engaged and escape their pods. For Kelly and Kenny, it was a discovery that they both adored Love You Forever—one of the most popular children’s books of all time. Jessica and Mark, maybe the show’s most cursed couple, bonded over being originally from Illinois and some sort of spicy beef dish that Mark seemingly loves and that Jessica knows how to cook.
Gripping onto these tiny details for dear life seems, as a viewer, absolutely bananas; one simply cannot build a marriage on a shared love for a children’s book. But the goo goo–eyed behavior of the contestants and their slow descent into madness over the course of the season can be explained, in part, by the psychological theory of object relations.
According to Judith Siegel, a professor at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work and author of Repairing intimacy: An object relations approach to couples therapy, object relations can explain why it can feel like you’ve known someone forever, even though you’ve only known them for 15 minutes. The theory typically refers to how certain people and and events from infancy and childhood can become “objects” in your brain that you then look for as an adult, as a way to predict other people’s behavior. As Siegel explained, it can also cause you to project certain qualities on a person you’ve just met, simply because one aspect of their personality (or something they say or do) reminds you of someone from your past.
“You haven't known them your whole life, but you feel like you have because you've made a connection with someone in your past that you may have loved, or still love in some way, and you see those qualities in this person,” Siegel told VICE. “So you make this rapid shift, [and] bestow upon them even more qualities than you can possibly find out about in a short period of time.”
This happens in real life, but the absolutely wild format of Love Is Blind is even more conducive to this sort of false bestowment. Never mind not being able to see each other; contestants reportedly spent up to 20 hours per day talking to each other. Without phones or any contact to the outside world, getting engaged was the only means of escaping the labyrinth of pods. It’s cult-recruitment vibes with a dose of manufactured Stockholm syndrome. This is also a group of people perhaps especially primed to fall prey to object relations—even though most contestants acknowledged the show's conceit as crazy, they went into this experiment comfortable with the idea of getting married at the end of it, eliminating the dating charade of pretending like you aren't really even looking for something. We’re not watching people fall in love; we’re basically watching them lose their minds.
Object relations theory aided and abetted that process. It’s essentially a cheat code to falling in love with and trusting someone at hyperspeed. It doesn’t just help explain why so many people fell so swiftly “in love” within Love Is Blind’s pods. It might also explain why contestants on other reality TV dating shows, like The Bachelor, feel compelled to say, “I love you” after discovering one singular similarity.
Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t always last. As two people get to know each other better over time, Siegel explained, they’ll start to realize that some (or all) of the glorious qualities they’ve imbued in each other aren’t actually there… and nothing else is. That could perhaps explain why Kelly clearly does not want to bone her fiancé or be why Jessica—who clearly hates Mark—keeps talking about qualities they have in common (they both love the Cubs!!) as justification for continuing to date him.
As the show’s hosts keep reminding us, Love Is Blind is an experiment. This isn’t just another reality TV show about falling in love, it’s a freakin’ science program! Even with all their sick manipulations, the crafty producers still couldn’t create an environment that’s immune to human psychology.
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