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3 Major Blind Spots We Have About Love

3. Confusing excitement for attraction.

Key points

  • People can build intimacy in a short time by exchanging personal information, but it doesn't always last.
  • We like people who seem most similar to us on the surface, but more lasting bonds are built on actual similarity, which takes longer to discover.
  • When we put people in exciting situations, their feelings can be misattributed as deep attraction or falling in love with a stranger.
  • Knowing these blind spots can help us commit more carefully, after enough time has passed to settle in and see each other for who we really are.
Source: RomanSamborsky/Shutterstock

"Love Is Blind," a popular series created by Netflix, bills itself as an experiment to see if people can fall in love without seeing each other. Participants have one-on-one dates in pods separated by a wall and commit to an engagement before meeting face-to-face. The premise suggests that if you build enough emotional intimacy, looks won’t matter. The attraction is deeper than physical appearance and the couple can move forward toward marriage within a few weeks.

As a relationship researcher, I see decades of research from psychology and relationship science play out in "Love Is Blind" and other shows. My colleague, Dr. Lauren Harris, and I recently analyzed an episode of "Love Is Blind" in real-time on social media. It took us two hours to get through the hour-long episode because… there was a lot to say.

Below are 3 scientific concepts that explain some blind spots we have about love in general, and love on TV in particular.

1. Intimacy can be formed quickly—but it doesn't always last.

One thing that seems to shock participants in "Love Is Blind" is how quickly they feel a sense of connection to someone in “the pods.” They reveal things about themselves earlier and easier than they would in the outside world.

This is something psychologist Arthur Aron and his colleagues established in 1997 with an innovative study that asked strangers to ask and answer 36 questions that were increasingly personal. Participants (college students) then rate their sense of closeness to the other person. The study established that people can build intimacy in a short time by exchanging personal information.

Almost 20 years later, the “36 questions” took off after a New York Times article billed the process as a tool for falling in love with anyone. Although this was a huge stretch from the original study, it clearly reflected something we want to believe—that intimacy is right there for us, if we just ask the right questions. "Love Is Blind" operates on the same principle: that putting people in the right conditions will make them fall in love.

The trick is, research on how people interact and build relationships over time suggests this closeness probably doesn’t last. Once we have the wave of connection from talking about very personal things, what happens next?

2. Dissimilarity emerges over time.

People use all kinds of mental shortcuts to evaluate each other and the situations they find themselves in. It’s not lazy. It’s just human.

One of those shortcuts is called perceived similarity—the idea that we tend to like people who seem most similar to us after a few interactions. However, over time and as we get to know people, we sometimes find out we were off base about how much we have in common. Deeper and more lasting bonds are built on actual similarity, which typically takes longer to discover.

In "Love Is Blind," participants sometimes state that they are falling in love with a person who is “a male/female version of me.” This sounds a lot like the shortcut to similarity we look for in everyday life. They are actively seeking to feel connected to the other person by finding what feels familiar about them.

Once the couples commit to an engagement and leave the pods, much of the drama of the show is watching the dissimilarities unfold on camera.

3. We can easily confuse general feelings of excitement with attraction to another person.

One of the easiest critiques of relationship reality TV is how unrealistic the whole thing is. People are out of their homes, not working, on camera, and making big (sometimes life-changing) decisions. It is not normal, and we all know it.

What we may not realize is that the circumstances these shows put people in actually enhance their feelings of attraction to other people on the show. When you put people in situations that make them physiologically excited (increased heart rate, sweating) and then have them interact with another person, they tend to report more attraction to that person.

Scientists call this misattribution. The experience of being part of a show like "Love Is Blind" produces lots of stimulation (cameras, crew, producers, the chance that I might get engaged to someone I’ve never seen!). When we put people in a pod and ask them to connect with another person, all that excitement can easily be misattributed as deep attraction or falling in love with the stranger on the other side of the wall.

Check Your Blind Spots

Most of us will never find ourselves on a relationship reality show, but the messages and lessons we learn from them might genuinely help us. It seems so obvious from the outside that some of these couples are incompatible and destined to fall apart. Let’s be honest, isn’t that partly why we watch?

However, understanding the blind spots we all have about love and relationships can help us see them sooner and slow down to get to know our partners. Perhaps most importantly, knowing these issues can help us commit carefully—after enough time has passed to settle in, calm down, and see each other for who we really are.

Facebook image: MDV Edwards/Shutterstock

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