“I have stayed consistent and you have not,” Damian Powers, one of the contestants on the Netflix reality show “Love Is Blind” says after the ceremony officiant asks him whether he is going to marry his fiancé. “I can’t handle the ups and downs of you loving me one day and you saying you want to be friends the next.”
“I did not,” his partner, Giannina Gibelli, mouths—too shocked to vocalize the words.
After being utterly humiliated in front of her friends and family, Giannina naturally seeks her escape from the altar.
“Get me out of here,” she says, before taking off in as fast a sprint as her high-heeled shoes will allow. She trips in muddy grass along the way, sullying her pristine white dress, and makes it as far as the parking lot before her sobbing mother catches up with her.
As with most reality television shows, it’s difficult for viewers to determine which parts of “Love Is Blind” are staged and which are not, let alone which scenes are missing crucial context for the sake of the narrative the filmmakers want to tell.
The show, which seeks to uncover whether a life-long commitment can be forged before a couple ever lays eyes on each other, follows an ensemble of people from Atlanta who are seeking love. By virtue of each episode being less than an hour long, viewers understand that they are not privy to each of the six main couples complete story.
Yet even with the knowledge that details are omitted and drama is heightened —certainly a reality show about marriage would be remiss to not include at least one runaway bride— there is at least one undeniable aspect of the show: by reiterating the fact that Giannina’s passion and strong emotions are her downfall, “Love Is Blind” perpetuates the damaging stereotype that Latinas are unhinged.
The wedding scene, during which Damian effectively blames the failure to marriage on Giannina being unpredictable, simply marks the conclusion of a throughline that began as immediately as their first few meetings. During the pair’s engagement, Giannina, a Venezuelan immigrant, acknowledges that she “self-sabotages” relationships because she was devastated by her parents’ divorce and this admission is used against her in every subsequent fight.
On their trip to Mexico, Damian comments that he would love to escape reality forever, and when Giannina asks him what he’d like to escape from —a valid question given the couple had only recently met and was at this point engaged to get married— he brushes her off and says she is “overthinking” and overreacting. Meanwhile, viewers later learn that Damian wants to escape real life because he didn’t alert his employer that he would be away from work as long as he has and is worried to get fired upon returning.
When Giannina and Damian get back from their trip, another fight ensues—this time, about the fact that Damian’s family does not want to meet her.
“You know who your parents are and you knew that this would be a problem and you didn’t do anything to prevent it. You could have handled it differently,” she says, before breaking down in tears. “This is a really big deal.”
Damian’s first reaction is to laugh, as if to downplay the serious nature of the situation, a juxtaposition from Giannina, who is positioned as overly emotional.
Then there’s a fight prompted by Damian being on his phone, when Giannina is trying to talk to him about their wedding. She gets frustrated by his lack of attention and in response, he accuses her of always being on social media.
“You know how many times I’ve posted on social media since I’ve been back?” he asks. “Not once.”
“That’s your life,” Giannina, who describes herself as a small business owner and works in social media consulting said. “I probably do it because I literally work through my phone … Do you have a problem with me posting on Instagram?”
Throughout these and other arguments, Damian consistently tells Giannina that she is “self-sabotaging” their relationship when “things are too good” and that she is going to lose him if things don’t change.
“You keep getting upset at every little thing I do,” Damian says. “I’ve become submissive because I’m scared I’m going to lose you and I’m going to change that.”
Is Damian emotionally abusive? While viewers are torn as to whether that’s the case, that’s a serious determination that’s perhaps best left to experts and one that may not be made based on snippets from a reality television show, especially since Giannina and Damian are still a couple one year after filming. Yet Damian and Giannina’s relationship presents an opportunity to have a larger discussion about health relationships among Latinas.
According to research from Carmen Alvarez, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Nursing, and Gina Fedock, an assistant professor at The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, Latinas —and in particular immigrants— face increased vulnerability to intimate partner violence, which can include emotional, psychological and/or physical abuse. Yet they are less likely to seek help for such abuse through formal services. Alvarez and Fedock cite a number of reasons for this disconnect such as availability, affordability and accessibility of services as well as the stigma against seeking them.
On its face, this epidemic of abuse against Latinas may not appear to be at all connected to a Netflix reality show, but it very much is.
When we undermine the thoughts and feelings of Latinas, when we write them off as crazy, as too passionate, as people that exaggerate and who must be contained and controlled, as “Love Is Blind” implicitly does, we are contributing to a culture of machismo that inflicts violence upon them. In this way, Giannina and Damian’s relationship is not irrelevant to the protests currently happening across Latin America, whereby women, angered by inequality and femicide, are flocking to the streets.
At one point, Giannina says her political opinions will never change; they are influenced by the fact that she is from Venezuela and that she sends care packages to family members who still live there, because her country is “in shambles.”
“Listen to me. Stop interrupting me,” Giannina tells Damian during an unrelated conversation. “Please, for the love of God. You’re not letting me speak and you’re not listening to me.”
Whether it’s with a partner or a government or society at large, Latinas are fighting to be heard. Far from self-sabotage, this fervor is about self-preservation and collective elevation.
Gwen Aviles is a New York-based arts and culture reporter. You can follow her on Twitter @gwenfaviles.