Television

Love Is Blind Helped Me Find Sympathy for the Player

Barnett could be anyone a woman wanted, but he had to find who he really was.

Love Is Blind's Barnett sits on couch with a book in his hand smiling at the camera.
Love Is Blind’s Barnett. Netflix

Everybody hates the fuckboy. Known at other times as the player, the cad, or the rake, the fuckboy is an archetype of the dating world, often seen as a manipulator of emotions who uses others for his own pleasure. The fuckboy isn’t interested in the future, or even really the outside world. He looks at everything external as a tool for sating his own immediate desires, rather than recognizing the humanity of the people he’s using. At least that’s how I’ve always understood it, until I watched Love Is Blind.

A new Netflix reality dating series, or “experiment” as the contestants too often say, Love Is Blind is a show where strangers meet and develop relationships without seeing one another in person until after one of them has proposed. The singles rotate through sequestered pods that allow them to talk to other people, like speed dating without the face-to-face, whittling down their list of potentials until they jell into couples with coherent storylines. By the end of the first episode, the main characters are all shunted into familiar boxes: Mark, the overpassionate child; Jessica, the competent mess; Cameron and Lauren, the reliable ones; and Barnett, the fuckboy.

As they circulate and build relationships through the walls, Barnett starts playing games. He gets tangled up with three women—Jessica, Amber, and LC—and spends much of the second episode toying with each of them, molding himself to fit their expectations. With Jessica, he seems the most mature; with LC, the kindest; and with Amber, the most youthful. They each respond to a different side of him, and he’s happy to ride the wave of whatever Barnett they want him to be.

But that’s precisely his problem, and it’s where I started to understand why being the fuckboy is its own tough situation. The first impressions of Barnett make it clear he came to the show on a lark, more interested in playing the television game than taking any of the process seriously, which is maybe the healthiest approach to this situation but reveals all his fuckboy ways. He spends the whole time keeping his options open rather than crossing women off his list in search of a match. To Barnett, any of these women could be his mate; it just depends on what Barnett he wants to be. He didn’t come into Love Is Blind knowing what he wanted, and it seems like everybody else did.

One common strain of anti-fuckboy criticism focuses on their gross use of power, but, for Barnett at least, what’s perceived as power is also a mask for insecurity and indecision. His playful indifference lets him maintain a distance from actual emotion, applying the correct tint of feeling for every moment. But it only ends up making all his connections hollow. Nobody understands the real Barnett because he doesn’t seem to either. He’s as lost as the women trying to catch him. It seems like Barnett hasn’t really made tough relationship decisions before, flitting from girl to girl without ever considering serious commitment. He could always feign innocence when confronted with harsh truths, but in the pods, that’s not the case. Here, the women aren’t going away, and they aren’t going to put up with being strung along. Unlike in normal dating, he can’t just fade out of a conversation and look elsewhere. There’s no ghosting in podland.

After spending one night professing his love to Jessica, he’s much more hesitant to return her affections in the morning. His discussions with other women reminded him that even though he said he was ready to propose to her, he has other good things going, and he’s not willing to give up on them yet. In a refreshing moment of clarity—one of her very few—Jessica rightly roasts him for messing around with her heart. During their argument she says, “I don’t fuck with people like you,” and later reports back to the other women that, “He is a fuckboy.” At 34 years old, she’s had too much experience with manipulative men to be tricked by him. But the viewer can see what she can’t, which is how much he’s hurting. As Jessica walks out, he’s softly crying, and in the talking-head interview afterward, he shows genuine remorse for not knowing what he wants. I could see the boy inside him, scared of commitment and loneliness in equal amount, longing to assuage his own fears but uncomfortable facing what new fears may come.

As a fuckboy, Barnett hasn’t ever had to grow up. He’s breezed his way through life, letting it just happen to him rather than taking charge. If life has just worked out so far, why wouldn’t love be the same way? But when confronted with the reality of other people’s emotions, he freezes. Nothing in his toolkit has prepared him for such honesty. His persona switching cannot sustain in this arena, and he’s inadvertently forced into commitment.

And that moment with Jessica actually helped his growth even if it was painful. Piercing his façade was necessary. He needed to realize that women weren’t just going to wait until he deigned to give one of them his affection. Just as in real-life dating, they’ve got other options. Barnett is a lost boy in need of saving but refuses to admit he needs it. It takes a woman pointing out the ways she’s felt used for him to connect his actions with his emotions. I feel for the fuckboy because growing up is terrifying, and when we’re young, it feels easier to ignore a problem until it crashes down on our heads instead of doing the internal work of finding our own priorities.

In the pods, he proposes to Amber and spends the rest of the season rolling with this potential future. He rebuffs advances from a regretful Jessica who, unhappy with her own decision, thinks she can still snag him. He confronts his own classism when comparing Amber’s background with his own, and he realizes that entering a relationship isn’t just about the fun time; serious things like personal debt and long-term planning matter now. What started as a dumb game now has him crashing into adulthood, and it looks like something he’s been waiting for all along.

The finale of Love Is Blind resolves Barnett’s relationship with Amber in a way that shows how he’s grown over the course of the season. I certainly don’t think he and Amber will last a lifetime, or even really more than two years, but this growth will serve Barnett forever, and make him closer to the man he longs to be. Fuckboys want to grow up; they just want someone else to make them do it.