By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Love is Blind” is a Netflix series that asks the question, “Do you have to see a person to fall in love with them?” The answer is “no”—but that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing. Yes, you can fall in love with someone through a door while sitting in a “pod” talking. But will you stay in love once you see each other and spend time together? The series, which just completed its second season, walks viewers through the entire process, from hopeful beginnings to the altar.
On March 8, Clubhouse, a social audio app, hosted two of the Season 2 hopefuls: Natalie Mina Lee and Deepti Vempati. Now that the season has ended, vows said or not said, and the cast has had a reunion, on March 4, Clubhouse host Naima Cochrane wanted to know, what was it like?
Vempati and Lee were stand-outs on the show due to their decision to say “no” at the altar. On International Women’s Day, the Clubhouse virtual event centered solely on the two women and their experience. Relationship expert Helen Fisher of Match.com also chimed in on the chemistry of love and what it takes to make a relationship work.
Vempati and Lee were praised for their strength and for ultimately choosing what was healthiest for them. They talked about previous dating experiences compared to their “Love Is Blind” relationships with Abhishek Chatterjee “Shake” and Shayne Jansen, respectively. Race came up. The show is relatively diverse—not in terms of sexual preference (it’s hetero cis male/female)—but the “rules” of “Love Is Blind” imply that participants should not ask what the other person looks like, be it skin color, or, because it came up a lot, weight.
However, participants got around the framework by posing questions such as Chatterjee did to Vempati: “Would I be able to lift you on my shoulders?” And, it was inevitable that couples would talk about their backgrounds, so it became obvious that Vempati is of Indian heritage and Lee of Korean.
Did that matter? It absolutely did. Both Vempati and Chatterjee admitted having never dated within their race or ethnicity prior to the show. Both also acknowledged that it felt good to do so. “I’ve literally only dated two men and they just happened to be white,” Vempati said. “Going into the experience with an Indian man, it was really pleasant because we have our language and our culture as our foundation, so it’s nice to listen to music that’s in Hindi…we could connect on a deeper level. I never once was like, ‘I’m never going to date an Indian man,’ but it just never…happened for me…I was pleasantly surprised to have all those commonalities. In the future, I’m not negating any race…I don’t want to put myself in a box in any way.”
While the race thing didn’t come up as much for Lee and Jansen, Lee told Clubhouse that it had definitely been an issue for her in the past.
“With dating apps, where I really struggled…was I feel like men would see an Asian woman and they would make judgment off of that. I know that there’s a stereotype that comes with Asian women, and I hated that I would fall into that box…‘She must be docile or home-bodied, or more quiet because she’s Asian.’ Those are the stereotypes. Being able to [date] without them seeing what I look like was so refreshing for me because…they weren’t making any judgment based on my ethnicity or how I dressed.”
Did race matter to the success or failure of the relationship? Not so much. The couples simply found that they were incompatible. Is love blind? It can be. But it’s not everything. There were many occasions during Season 2 when participants admitted that love was there, yet it was “not enough.” Fisher, who has studied “the brain circuitry of romantic love,” explained that “it can be triggered instantly, and you don’t have to see the person…Relationships move along and they will either escalate or they will decline…you give a lot of time to…figure out who the other person is, and the farther you get into a relationship, the less important looks become—but it is quite a moment…the moment that they actually saw those boys. Looks do count.”
In spite of an emotional connection, Chatterjee struggled with his physical attraction to Vempati after the first flush of meeting in person. Throughout the process, he rationalized that, in his culture, arranged marriages were common and perhaps he and Vempati could cultivate the physical part of their relationship. While both Vempati and Chatterjee’s parents came from traditional backgrounds, they did not expect this of their children. All of the parents in the show—even Lee’s, who did not learn about the “experiment” until the day their daughter introduced them to Jansen—were supportive and wanted their kids to be happy.
“My dad and mom…would always say, ‘You don’t have to get married. You don’t need a man. As long as you’re this independent woman and you’re happy, you don’t need marriage,’” Lee shared.
“For me, there is a little bit of pressure to get married,” Vempati admitted. “I’m 31 now. Ever since I graduated college, it’s been a topic in my family.‘When are you going to get married?’ ‘Do we need to look for a boy for you?’ But as Natalie said, I don’t need a man to be independent…One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Spoil me with loyalty. I can finance myself.’”
Vempati and Lee chose happiness for themselves, even though society doesn’t always encourage that for women. It might not be happiness in romance just yet—but it will come.
“People pine for love. They live for love. They kill for love, and they die for love. [It’s] one of the most powerful brain systems that you guys are all playing with,” said Fisher. She added, “This program is very unusual in that it’s capturing real people in real time doing the one single most important thing we do with our lives.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.