Note: Contains spoilers for Love Is Blind.
Love Is Blind is a marker of Netflix's continued expansion into reality television, with a particular emphasis on finding the perfect dating format. As a viewer, it feels downright bizarre to see some of the contestants professing their love for one another in a matter of minutes (or in their case, days) but the idea that you can form a deep, emotional connection through distraction-free talking, and without passing judgement on someone's appearance, is certainly an interesting one.
But then things don't just stop there, because it's a TV show and that would be boring. Engagement rings are introduced and the couples have four weeks to start working towards their wedding, while also seeing if they can integrate into one another's lives – and we're talking friends, family, homes, the whole caboodle. We told you it was wild.
There is one aspect of the series that we need to discuss, and which trips up an otherwise trashy but wonderfully bingeable series.
As with many mainstream dating shows before it, Love Is Blind has a heteronormative format. From the start, the lineup of singles were split into two groups – men and women – with them then speed-dating each other to find the person they wanted to be with.
This set-up only allows for opposite-sex partnerships. While we can't speak for every contestant's identity or sexuality without it being categorically addressed on-screen, there is only one spoken exception to this seemingly straight rule.
Carlton Morton revealed to the viewers in episode one that he had previously had relationships with men and women. While he didn't actually label himself – and there's no reason he should – he said that a person's gender didn't have a bearing on whether or not he was attracted to them.
"I have a big secret," he told the camera. "At one point in my young adult life, I found myself attracted to just hearts, period, it didn't have a gender, it wasn't about sex for me. I dated guys and girls. But I want a wife now, because I feel like women bring a certain, like, nurturing love and affection to the table that I don’t get from a guy.
"My biggest worry is that I will find someone that I'm super in love with and want to marry, and then at the last minute she will not be able to walk down the aisle because she just can't be married to someone like me."
It's worth pointing out at this point that it was, of course, Carlton's decision to take part in the show, and this is not in itself an issue. He should feel valid and accepted in any space that he wishes to be part of.
But by taking the editorial decision to keep the format rigid, rather than allowing it to be more fluid (and, by extension, more reflective of the real world), Love Is Blind allowed for Carlton's pursuit for love to be overshadowed by a storyline surrounding his sexuality.
When he finally felt comfortable and ready to share that part of himself with his partner Diamond, she didn't know how to react. While we'd always advocate for the fact that you should never assume someone's sexuality, the conversation between Carlton and Diamond could have gone quite differently if the format had been more open and inclusive as she might have had different expectations.
In real life, people can of course identify across both gender and sexuality on wide spectrums. But Love Is Blind puts its contestants in a vacuum, and one that – to its own detriment – assumes straightness.
Many would argue that this could mirror society, which often promotes heterosexuality as the default sexual orientation. This is why many feel they need to 'come out' in order to be accepted or have their sexuality deemed valid. But we know that relationships can take all sorts of different forms, so why did Love Is Blind shy away from embracing that?
Carlton and Diamond formed a deep connection in the pods, opening up to one another about a wide range of personal things. He spoke of his desire to be loved for who he truly is, although at that point Diamond wouldn't have fully understood the poignancy of his words.
After their engagement, Carlton became withdrawn and Diamond was able to tell that he was holding something back.
"In the past, I have dated both genders," Carlton told her, later clarifying that he meant both "male and female" (we wanted to note this, because there are more than two genders).
Unfortunately Diamond's response fed into some quite damaging stereotypes that still surround bisexual/pansexual+ people. While portraying that this stigma can absolutely exist, the Netflix show offered no other instances to balance that out, and neither did it allow for any examples of how those conversations should and could be handled.
"How do you know I’m the love of your life?," she asked. "Do you ever feel like you need to go date another man?"
Carlton was quick to point out that this is "the biggest misconception in the world". Your sexuality does not change, or become invalidated, depending on the partner you choose to be with.
Diamond questioned why Carlton hadn't opened up earlier, expressing that she wished she'd known at the start. While she can of course express her own feelings, it's important to remember that someone might need to wait until they feel safe and accepted enough to express their sexuality – nobody is owed that information. Carlton himself referenced past experiences of sharing his sexuality too soon, and being called "all types of names" as a result.
Love Is Blind's format has made room for many other insightful conversations that are relevant to all manner of different relationship dynamics. In episode one we were introduced to a man named Taylor, aged 31, who was still a virgin and "willing to wait" for the right person, sparking discussion among the other contestants.
Through Mark and Jessica, we've seen some of the insecurities and criticisms that can be imposed on couples with a large age gap – particularly when the woman is notably older than the man.
Elsewhere, Lauren and Cameron have been praised for highlighting some of the intricacies of being in an interracial relationship, from meeting parents' expectations, to keeping your own identity and the treatment of the black community in the United States.
It's a shame then, that the LGBTQ+ conversation wasn't allowed to fully blossom through varied or responsibly handled representation.
Love Is Blind is available to stream on Netflix now.
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