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Courtesy of Netflix

Twin Flames: Maybe Love is Blind’s Cole and Zanab were gaslighting each other

Sometimes there isn’t a clear villain, and sometimes you’re both a little trash.

22 Nov 2022

Producers of Love is Blind Season 3 managed to slip a clip in at the end of the reunion which changes the storyline of one of this year’s couples entirely. Entitled ‘The Cuties Story’, almost every single cast member who had something bad to say about Cole used this scene as the main evidence that his behaviour had forced Zanab to stop eating. In the short clip, the dialogue was exactly as she described but Zanab’s beliefs of what it meant are not the only possible interpretation. You could argue that Cole is unaware that her eating habits have changed and he is showing his excitement for the big dinner they have planned by telling her to “save” her appetite. It is likely that their shared friendship group, plus the guests who attended the wedding and clapped her dramatic speech eviscerating her fiance on the alter, had heard other stories like this from Zanab in which the interaction has been coloured by her skewed reading of his intentions. They’re two people in the same room as each other but on completely different pages – writing wildly different novels – but everyone in the friendship group only received a copy of Zanab’s authorial debut.

There are many reasons to chastise Cole Barnett. He was set to be Love is Blind’s most recent fuckboy jock of the season and even shared the same last name as the original flirtatious bright-smiled villain-turned-wife guy Matt Barnett from season one of the franchise which mixes blind dating, speed dating, and forced express marriages for our entertainment. After leaving the pod by proposing to Zanab Jaffrey, whose family hail from Pakistan and Scotland, Cole was initially enthralled by her appearance. He repeatedly exclaimed: “put her in a magazine”, yet when reunited with his ex-flame Colleen at a couples party, he admitted that she was more his “usual type” physically. This was clearly code for caucasian. This microaggression was confirmed when he said: “Do you think I thought a girl with the name Zanab would look like the other girls I’ve dated with names like Lily?” He rated Colleen a 10 out of 10 but told Zanab she is a 9 in comparison. During one of their brusque exchanges Cole goes as far to ask Zanab if she is bipolar. At the altar the next day, she reeled off a speech eviscerating her fiance for his behaviour and left him standing there, bathing in her disdain. 

But on the basis of what we saw – where Zanab says all the bad things Cole did have been left on the cutting room floor – viewers aren’t entirely convinced. So what went on and how can we avoid a break up as ugly as theirs?

If you never had high self-esteem, you can’t say your partner took it away.

Throughout the series, Zanab doesn’t feel secure with Cole. It was also evident from the first night they slept together that Zanab interpreted Cole getting up early in the morning to shower was as a sign that he had become suddenly repulsed by, or disinterested, in her. Then Cole inappropriately flirted with Colleen and vocalised his attraction to her. Even though Cole apologised to Zanab and also Colleen’s partner Matt soon afterwards, the damage was already done.

Zanab had already mentioned having low self-esteem in the pods and it was evidenced by her behaviour from the moment they met: fearing taking her makeup off in front of him, warning him about the fact she sleeps with a mouth guard in and that might put him off, and then later lamenting that she will “unfortunately” never look like Colleen when she is gorgeous in her own right. Rather than explain what she needed to feel secure throughout, she later blames him for ruining her confidence – her earlier admission that she didn’t have much of that before she met him anyway.

Clinical psychologist Isabelle Morley says the main issue appears to be the couple’s “misalignment” in the way they communicate well enough to combat Zanab’s low opinion of herself. “[Cole’s] honesty, often unnecessarily brutal at times, was a perfect trigger for Zanab’s insecurities. Should Cole have rated other women as being more attractive than her? Absolutely not. This would be painful for anyone to hear. However, Zanab should also not have asked him to rate appearances, especially since she knows this is a potential trigger for her.”

Please, leave pathologising to mental health professionals.

Rather than admit they had glaring communication issues, passive aggression set in quickly. The pair also began to pathologise each other. The constant need to ascribe mental conditions to your partner might be one of the most draining things about trying to create a healthy dynamic in modern dating. It might be out of fear. We want to know the type of person that we’re dealing with, but in searching for terms and labels to describe someone’s condition who may simply be adjusting to being with you, or perhaps isn’t a great fit, you can mistake your worries as psychiatry. 

In Refinery 29, Vicky Spratt wrote about the overuse of attachment theory, questioning the value of anxious people diagnosing their partners as “avoidant” or throwing out labels like “narcissist”. Trainee psychotherapist Eleanor Morgan told her that the pervasive use of labelling, despite a rudimentary understanding of mental health, is unhealthy. “People can build very compelling narratives about our partners without necessarily taking the time to look inwards,” she said.

“Zanab has every right to feel hurt. However, how she responds to this hurt is not productive.”

Take accountability for your actions even if you’ve been hurt. 

Just as you are not a mental health professional, you are rarely a freedom fighter. Cole messed up throughout but seems remorseful and apologetic about the harm he caused. Zanab’s lack of reflection for the part she played in corroding their relationship is uncomfortable. Throughout the season she belittled Cole’s intelligence, his ability to complete everyday tasks, and her flat tone highlighted her disinterest in his thoughts and feelings. Due to the labels she had given him, she felt vindicated and therefore believes there’s very little she could have done differently other than give him more “grace” for his mistakes. 

“Zanab has every right to feel hurt,” says Morley. “However, how she responds to this hurt is not productive. Instead of being vulnerable in expressing her pain and working to repair these ruptures, she is passive-aggressive. This prevented them from having honest conversations that could have fostered empathy, genuine apologies, and reconnection,” says Morley.  

Telling everyone your feelings except the person allows you to control the narrative. That’s not particularly fair. 

The word gaslighting is used a lot where people are actually just disagreeing or misremembering things. But, involving the wider social circle in to get them on side with your view of the misunderstandings in your relationship, while conveniently leaving out your own harmful actions, means you’re straying into gaslighting territory. 

In a recent post, Isabelle Morley said that this dynamic borders on gaslighting. She explains: “Cole comments touch upon Zanab’s self-acknowledged insecurities, causing her to withdraw and resort to passive-aggressive comments as a means of communicating her hurt and anger. Cole, who appears to be a more direct and concrete communicator, does not know how to handle this response from her. These interactions appear to recur, creating a dynamic where Zanab is hurt and resentful, and Cole takes her ‘I’m not mad’ statements at face value, when we later learn this is not the case.”

They’ve both left Love is Blind with warped realities. Cole believed they had put Colleen-gate behind them and was planning a marriage despite his suspicions that his spouse secretly disliked him. Zanab kept him in this state of denial while processing her hurt from his supposed rejection and was emotionally miles away. Actually, sometimes she is also physically moving further away.

@mlothianmclean #loveisblind #dating #fyp ♬ original sound – Moya Lothian-McLean

It’s ok for you to walk away from something that doesn’t work without grinding your ex down to dust.

This is not a Cole redemption plea. However, it is interesting to witness how you either bow out when the warmth inside you dies, or stick around long enough to see yourself become the villain. Staying with someone after they’ve harmed you and triggered your insecurities, then making it appear as if you’ve forgiven them while they adapt their behaviour for you only for you to spend the majority of your time slagging them off to their face and to everyone you know makes you look just as bad.

It’s fitting that the show is called Love is Blind since the contestants are always completely unaware of how they come across. Like most relationships, this disaster seems to have been contributed to by misunderstandings and miscommunication on both sides. Even if Zanab never acknowledges it, we at home can take the lesson that being wronged is not an excuse to replicate and also accelerate troubling behaviours as revenge to make ourselves feel better. You don’t have to destroy your ex just because you were incompatible.