Two strangers seeking to get married start dating with no physical interaction and if the vibe is right they get engaged – all this without ever having laid eyes on each other.

No, this isn’t the story of your grandparents’ marriage – it’s the premise of Netflix’s latest reality show Love is Blind.

This development is yet another addition to the growing comparison between the world of 21st century dating and the tried and tested methods of old by Muslims seeking to complete half of their deen. For example, dating apps are just a digitized (and glorified) version of bio-data –  those A4 “marriage CVs” stating who you are, which family (and sometimes even ancestral village) you come from and what you’re looking for in a spouse.

“I’m obviously Nick Lachey”

The central premise of Love is Blind is that random people seeking to get married are introduced to each other and start ‘speaking’. Surely this is a pretty much the definition of an arranged marriage? But we have to make the distinction between forced marriages and arranged marriages. The difference to most people is as obvious as who exactly Nick Lachey is – in other words, it is not obvious at all (especially if you’re born after 1994).

So for the record:

arranged marriage: traditionally a marriage organized (literally arranged) by the families of the the couple for political, monetary or other reasons. These days, it usually takes the form of selecting a potential spouse for your kid, introducing them to each other and seeing where it goes from there.

forced marriage: also arranged by people other than the couple, but done in a way that does not allow for autonomy – especially on the part of the woman. This is the one that is both illegal and morally wrong.

Now that that’s cleared up…

Aside from the sniggering comments that if Barnett was ‘Bashir’, he could marry Jessica, Amber and LC (remember how he said it’s not his fault that he has connected with three different women in three different ways?) –  there was a lot we could actually relate to. I mean this is show about couples who get engaged without properly dating. Lol.

Sure in most contexts there aren’t really free pre-wedding trips to Cancun, but let’s face it, the first half of this show feels very familiar.


The Pod Stage

First of all, the ‘pod stage’ in which two people speak through a wall is pretty halal and quite similar to the way potential couples are introduced (but instead of a wall there could be a million aunties and uncles sitting in the room). That being said, I can’t help but think that in this talking/courting/chaperone phase, finances rank pretty high in conversations with potential spouses. So Amber’s post-engagement revelation to Barnett that she was in debt and had zero intention of working, got most of us shaking our heads that it wasn’t discussed earlier on. Quite unrealistic.

But it turns out that the main difference between halal dating and this show is availability,“There is no pool of men who are just like ‘Cool, yeah, I wanna get married’” says my friend, Naima. Furthermore, the Netflix show has a vetting process, as another friend, Ruksana points out, “That’s the best part about this show, they’ve all been screened and they all want to get married… and they’re not old and creepy.”

While I appreciate this point, herein also lies my criticism of the show. Everyone is good looking and between a certain age. Where is the 52 year old mother of three who is seduced by a 25 year old? Where is the overweight shy guy who has three girls fighting over him because of his great personality?

The participants are all average to good looking (especially the women), so the experiment is flawed and also makes for slightly less juicy reality TV. In fact, on The Ellen Show, the cast reveled that they had been scouted by casting directors via Instagram and Tinder… so, not so blind after all.


Post the Pod

Post the pod phase, it turns out that there is a lot that is relatable according to Ruksana, “This is basically like dating apps in real-life, you speak to someone and you get emotionally attached and you meet them and it’s like ‘Oh right. Okay.’ And you have to see if the connection continues into real-life.”

My friend Zara told me “If I’m honest, I just found that there’s something so real about this show. I feel like I’ve lived through this process already, and it’s been tough enough.”

Hannah raised a valid point and remarked that “In addition to being a kind of halal compliant courtship, this show asks one question to the couples: Can they exist in the visual world of Instagram?

So this is a legitimate concern apparently. Attraction is one thing, being an insta-couple is another.

I raised with my friends the question of whether an actual blind date even exists anymore at all. I mean, you don’t even need to have elite-level social media stalking skills to find out the life, work, ex-girlfriend, hobbies, family and friends of someone. And even in the days before social media, we had the expert timelines presented to us by determined matchmakers and Insta-worthy captions given by cousins who knew someone that knew someone who knew the guy.

But apparently, real blind dates do still exist.

“I was set up on a blind date late last year,” says Zara “and I trusted the person and thought, ‘She knows me enough and this is her husband’s friend.’ The tragic thing was that just before we met, we exchanged numbers and his Whatsapp profile picture wasn’t a picture of him, mine was a picture of me – so he almost had an unfair advantage. And then I turned up at the station and saw him and was hoping it wasn’t him.” 

Zara was put off even further when minutes into their date, he started telling her very personal information regarding a religious conversion, a secret marriage and a messy divorce. “It turned into a counseling session where I kind of had to give him advice on embracing life.”

Perhaps Zara was too hasty, she could have taken all this overshare and been like Lauren, crying and telling Cameron basically on day one “… I think I love you.”


Love Triangles and Rejection

I suspect that part of the reason why we all enjoy judgmentally watching Love is Blind is because our own love life is in shambles. Well, some are more of a mess than others, just like the show.

Lillie Mae, a 36 year old in PR, whom we only saw in episode 1 says, “The only weird part is that some of these women might be trying to get my husband.”

It was an expert foreshadowing of the Barnett-Amber-Jessica-LC scenario and my friend Zara remarked “That whole situation with that disgusting, douchy Barnett and actually three women are in love with this one guy. And you know what? One of those women could be your friend. Funnily enough, I’ve had lived experiences of this.”

In the show, LC was kind of the most relatable, I mean who hasn’t uttered these lines to some dreamboat who turned out to be a douchebag: “This is my real life, and my real feelings.”

And in perhaps the realest turn of the whole show, LC became the mouthpiece for single women everywhere, “Why the fuck do guys not ever feel sure about me? Ever? It’s not just here. Like, I feel like they’re always, like scared and run. Like, I don’t know what I’m doing to do that. Or am I just like… an unlovable person, which I don’t think I am… I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Clearly I don’t… I’m not seeing it. I don’t know what’s going on.”

As for the audience, we don’t know what’s going with Messica (I mean Jessica)…

“Hi, B”

Forget that she feeds wine to her dog, drinks too much and can’t really do math. Jessica’s baby voice is the most jarring thing on this whole show. And we haven’t even gotten to her terrible decisions. “Basically, Jessica is that typical girl who kind of likes the guy who is a bit disinterested and can’t stand the one who is interested in her and who may be a little bit eager.”  says Naima.

“Jessica knew what decision she was going to make a long time ago, but she still had to put up a show.” says Zara. “She was a selfish person and all she cared about was what the world thinks… so have fun being single if that’s your standard.”

It turns out that while love may not be blind, Mark sure as hell is.

Commenting on both Jessica/Mark and Amber/Barnett, one instagram user said “One thing I got confirmed [from this show was that] some women are REALLY CRAZY and men seem to be okay with it when the chick is hot. Also, where is your self respect, dude?”

I don’t know, it’s like Lana del Rey said almost a decade ago “You like your girls insane”.


Family, The Past & Regret

Kenny and Kelly were mostly forgettable, but they had their moment when their families met and all got along. I should add that Kenny’s parents came over to Kelly’s parents’ house where this whole meet up took place. You could basically say it was like sending people over for a proposal. And in typical Muslamic style, Kenny’s parents told the audience “A marriage is between two people but can be enriched by the support of the extended family. Kenny and Kelly just won the lottery.”

The lottery indeed, who wouldn’t want this? Well, Kelly apparently. The 33 year old health and relationship (I know right) coach longed to be infatuated with Kenny and wasn’t. In the reunion which Zara described  for Kelly as “basically #instantregret”, Kelly revealed that she is currently single. And the reason for her singledom is because she wanted “a bridal shower and conventional things” (her words as to why she didn’t go through with the wedding, not mine).

There is something rather tragic in all this because sadly we all know of someone who gave up somebody great based on trivialities and ended up regretting it.

Someone who has no regrets, however, is Diamond. This couple posed an interesting question – is it possible to forget the past? Or move past it? The answer for Diamond was no, as she could not accept Carlton’s past and who he is. Diamond had to break off the engagement in order to prevent a lifetime of resentment.

*cue old music from dramatic parts of The Hills*

But not everyone who walked away ended things forever. Giannina in the pods stated that she self-sabotages and has a temper. Damian said that was fine, until Giannina Milady Gibelli self-sabotaged and had a temper.

Despite all the red flags, these two decided to walk down the aisle. My friend, Ruksana remarked “I feel like Giannina’s dad doesn’t really approve but he knows he’s not going to be able to stop her, because she’s obviously crazy and so he has to support her stupid decisions. I feel like that’s what’s going through his head ‘I just have to get through this, and we’ll deal with it later.’

When Damian told Giannina “I do not”, we all assumed it was over. But seems these two backtracked and are now dating. So I’m sure they hang out with married couples Amber/Barnett and Lauren/Cameron. Perhaps Barnett’s birthday is an annual event (this show was filmed in 2018) for successful couples who want to relive the frat party life. Ruksana reminded us “Amber throws a classy birthday party – a supermarket cake and red cups.”


Marriage Story

Megan Monahan said something we probably could all do with hearing, “The desire for the label of “marriage” can’t be stronger than the desire to meet someone and build the foundation for a potential lifelong partnership.”

In light of this, the Carrie Bradshaw in me couldn’t help but wonder:

Are we ready for marriage or do we covet it like the latest Fendi handbag, just because of its label?

It strikes me as something of a surprise that in mainstream society, marriage clearly still matters. The idea of marriage being an outdated institution is one that is widespread in many developed democracies and is depicted as such in countless Hollywood films and series. Yet from Episode 1, practically all the contestants lament the fact that they have not yet signed their commitment on the dotted line.

But what truly boggles my mind is that their notion of marriage is not an evolving (fiduciary or otherwise) arrangement. Instead it is the ultimate safety-net and endgame to which everyone must aspire in order to quick-fix all our issues. Writing for The Independent, Annie Lord echoed what our married friends and local imams have been telling us for years, “…the contestants of Love is Blind buy into the notion that all problems – from student debt to insecurity, abandonment issues to anxiety, stress to loneliness – disappear after you get married. To them love is like reaching the end of history. It’s just BBQs and laughs from then on.” Go figure.

Was this show a waste of time? Yes. And I won’t be watching future seasons. But aside from the drama and petty commentary, this show tells us that maybe the non-conventional ways of finding a spouse for many Muslims isn’t so outdated after all. We often get told our ways and methods of doing things are crazy, but like Amber says, “I think it would be hard for somebody that hasn’t lived through this to understand how serious it is, and how legitimate these feelings are. If you’ve never lived it, you’ll never understand it.”