But the appeal of sightless dating goes well beyond Netflix. “Married at First Sight,” which pairs off strangers in unions that they have eight weeks to decide to keep or ditch, is gearing up for its 11th season. For the past year, a New York comedy show called “UpDating” has been attracting large crowds to watch two strangers fumble through their first date while blindfolded. November saw the launch of a queer dating app called Lex, where people post text-only personal ads in search of their perfect match. And in January, a dating app entrepreneur started S’More, where users can see one another’s photos only after they exchange several messages.
The eyes may be the “windows to the soul,” but clearly we’re realizing that sight alone won’t lead us to our soul mates. Can taking it away, even briefly, correct for our overly visual superficiality?
The hosts of “UpDating” — Brandon Berman, 25, and Harrison Forman, 28 — think their show resonates with audiences because a lot of them are on dating apps. “You’re just seeing a picture to decide if you like someone or not,” Forman said in a phone interview. “On a blind date, it’s the opposite. You’re still judging — but it’s by personality, vibe, energy.”
For the first half of “UpDating,” two daters converse while blindfolded. Then the blindfolds come off, and everyone gets to see the reaction. Will, a 30-year-old New Yorker who was on the “UpDating” stage last month, said in a phone interview that he went on the show to deliberately take himself out of his comfort zone. (He spoke on the condition that only his first name be used for personal privacy reasons.)
“If you’re an attractive person in a large city with so much options, you get chosen so easily just because you’re hot,” Will said. “When you just have to rely on your wits, you really find out if you’re a fun person or not.” He found the experience a bit jarring because he wasn’t just talking to one person, as he might on a first date — he was talking to his date and an audience of about 80.
Will’s date, Emily Beard, 24, actually thought he was more attractive when she couldn’t see him. “I really did like him blindfolded, but once they came off I was like, ‘Oh, God, no.’ ”
The problem? She’s into a more clean-cut look, and Will’s hair was longer than she generally goes for. And we’re not talking Jesus locks here. Will has a couple of inches of hair.
Even while blindfolded, much of their conversation focused on height. Beard is a taller woman who likes to wear heels. They haven’t been out again.
The disconnect between blind and visual dating was the entire premise of “Love Is Blind.” This is still television, so of course everyone is conventionally good-looking. But what’s more striking, and perhaps where the blind aspect was applied even more strictly, was in terms of the calendar. These daters had fewer than 40 days to date, get engaged, live together and then make a decision at the altar: We’re getting married or parting ways. That’s not just an experiment in whether love is blind to physical attraction; it’s a question of whether love is blind to how a person, and a relationship, unfolds over time.
Even though some of those pod conversations were deep and revealing, they’re just the beginning of a connection. The pod talks were reminiscent of people on first, second and third dates using the famed “36 questions” as shortcuts to intimacy. Those questions, which went viral in a New York Times Modern Love column in 2015, might help forge a bond between two people. But no amount of conversation is a perfect substitute for the intimacy of time. Sure, this person you just met seems to want the same things, but can they put their needs aside to attend to yours? What are they like in a crisis? How do you handle being apart? What will you do if she has a jealous or mean streak? How does he talk to his mother?
Dating apps have encouraged first impressions to be so heavily based on looks that many daters never land in deep-question territory. Cameron Hamilton said the superficiality of app dating is what led him to “Love Is Blind.” Before signing up for the show, “I was doing the dating apps, and I was finding myself picking the wrong people for me,” he said in a phone interview last week. “I was making quick judgments based on how they looked and was ignoring their personality. So I thought that this might be a chance to get to know someone on a deeper level, an emotional level, first.”
Perhaps the show’s daters were giving one another more time and opportunity to connect than they would have if they’d been swiping through the exact same pool on Tinder. But emotional connections can be just as fleeting as the purely physical ones.
The show’s more telling conversations happened once the daters were back in real life. At one point, Damian Powers and Giannina Gibelli shouted at one another in separate rooms, from the kitchen to the bedroom. For his fiancee, Jessica Batten, Mark Cuevas set up a romantic spread — rose petals strewn about and a nice meal, the makings of an intimate date night — with each of them on opposite sides of a wall. Jessica remarked that the gesture was so romantic. But these two couples, who had trouble having difficult conversations face to face, also happen to be ones who didn’t make it.
On the other side, Amber Pike waited until she was engaged to Matt Barnett to tell him about her student loan debt and shaky work history. The late revelation reinforced just how little these people knew about one another. He seemed concerned but not so much as to break their commitment. He must have seen more potential in her, in the two of them together, than he saw reason to flee.
Which might actually be the most reassuring thing about this crazy experiment. After all, any relationship, whether you’re marrying after 40 days or after four years, will deal some wild cards along the way. It doesn’t matter so much what those twists or challenges are, so much as how you deal with them — and whether you’re both willing to take them on together.