Can you fall in love without seeing the potential object of your affection? What if Netflix films the whole thing to find out?
That's the idea behind "Love Is Blind," the reality dating show that became a breakthrough hit during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic: 30 singles meet and "date" each other while contained in pods that obstruct their views, hoping to find love unseen and walk down the aisle by the end of the season.
The show's second season premiered on Friday, after Netflix reported that more than 30 million households tuned in for the first season, in which two couples actually did get married. A reunion episode has more than 2.3 million views on YouTube alone. The streaming platform ordered two more seasons, and spin-offs for the company's international audiences in Brazil and Japan.
But plenty of viewers have mocked the show's central conceit, with some critics using words like "insane" and "offensive." So, CNBC Make It spoke with a psychologist and a dating expert to find out just how realistic it is to put single strangers together and expect some to find love — without the benefit of seeing each other first.
Much of the show's appeal comes from the somewhat romantic idea you can find a "soulmate" through emotional connection alone. But as much as you may want to believe that looks don't matter nearly as much as what's on the inside, human nature simply suggests otherwise.
"There is this common sensical notion that people who care a lot about physical appearance are shallow, or they're investing in the wrong thing," says Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology at the U.K.'s Anglia Ruskin University, where he researches body image and attraction. "But in reality, romantic relationships are based, partly at least, on the fact that we find other people physically attractive."
That doesn't mean it's impossible to form some type of romantic connection with another person before you've even seen them. Swami says that people can "form close relationships" with each other based on the slightest of interactions or personality cues.
"You can make judgments about other people based on the sound of their voice, whether you like that voice, their sense of humor, those types of things," he says.
But that initial connection can easily prove to be fleeting, because it was based on such limited input. "The question is: Is it going to be a viable relationship for someone in the long term, if your initial judgment is based on a limited set of cues?" Swami says.
The chances may be slim, but that doesn't mean finding blind love is impossible. Just ask dating expert Charly Lester, who says there's something to the idea of bringing together like-minded strangers with similar goals, even if they know they face long odds as romantic partners.
In 2018, Lester co-founded Lumen, a dating app for singles over the age of 50. She's served as a dating industry expert and columnist for The Guardian and Time Out, and she advises dating app startups like Inner Circle and RealMe.
She says people who successfully find romance on reality blind-dating shows like "Love Is Blind" or the similar "Married at First Sight" have to be committed to making the idea work. "[They] tend to be the ones that are older and, more than likely, they go into it really clear on what they're looking for in a relationship," Lester says, adding that most have probably "tried other means to meet someone" already.
Some participants might just be looking for a chance to be on television, but Lester says it's still possible for a show like "Love Is Blind" to bring together people who are actually looking for love and ready to commit.
"The fact that you're on the same page, relationship-wise, goes a long way," she says.
As with most reality dating shows, the "Love Is Blind" cast is typically filled with attractive people. That's a major reason why Swami doesn't believe the reality show is successful as the "social experiment" it purports to be.
Essentially, he says, the show claims to remove physical attraction from the equation, while stacking the deck with people who are likely to be physically attracted to each other, anyway. To him, the show's central concept is "nonsense, really."
Taking it a step further, Swami says trying to date without gauging your potential partner's physical attraction is simply a bad idea.
"The reality is attraction is a complex thing that is always negotiated between two people, or more people sometimes…" Swami says. "Physical appearance and physical attraction is one of the key ingredients, and to take it out of the equation doesn't make sense to a social psychologist like myself."
Lester is more optimistic. She says that you simply need to relax your expectations: If you're willing to commit to a relationship with someone before ever seeing them, you probably shouldn't come to the table with overly specific preferences for your future partner's physical traits.
But, she admits, the casting on a show like "Love Is Blind" does make the idea seem more realistic than it actually is.
"I do think it just helps that most of them are probably at the upper end of the attractiveness spectrum anyway," she says.