I have a boyfriend. Which is weird, because relationships are a look I like on other people, like walking past a bald black woman in the street. I love to see it, but I don’t quite have the head for it myself. I’m a romance voyeur, not the spectacle on show.
The only constant during the past four years of writing this column (first sporadically; now monthly) is that I’ve rarely gotten past a third date without a catastrophe. Unconscious fetishisers? Very 2017 me. A situationship that lasts five months? Sign me up in 2018. Being told “you’re nothing like my ex,” a model who’s friends with award-winning rapper and songwriter Dave? Well, that’s just bad luck.
My life has always been more of a semi-structured reality show than a rom-com. And no reality show is more on-brand than the chaotic, wine-stained, earnest yet hot-mess extravaganza that is Love is Blind on Netflix.
I’ve been a long-term dating show stan since 90s icon Cilla held the reigns (RIP) to the syrupy sentimentality of First Dates. So I was hesitant to watch something premised on hopeful singles getting engaged to each other before they had ever met in person. The damage done by a specific 2009 episode of Dating in the Dark on ITV2 had seared scar tissue into the fissures of my brain.
“Noooo, you have to watch it Kim,” a friend told me over dinner.
She assured me that no black women are cast aside, picked last or seen begging it from uninterested white men, as is par for the course on Dating in the Dark, Take Me Out and Love Island. I was sold.
“There’s this one guy I feel sorry for though,” she says. I cut into my potato hash.
I started the show that evening and was hooked instantly. Converted. Ready to worship at the altar of Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton. A devoted member and advocate for this cult classic.
But when it came to other couples, I struggled. It was not enjoyable nor entertaining to watch the relationship between Carlton and Diamond disintegrate. Love is Blind spoilers ahead – but Carlton, a bisexual black man, “confesses” his secret directly to camera in episode 2. At the end of the episode, he is still yet to tell Diamond, who he’s proposed to (yes, that’s by episode 2 – this show is wild). There are strong vibes that it’s not going to go down well.
“I am bisexual. But in what feels like a silly and fraudulent way”
Two days after first watching it, I was going partying in Peckham. After an initial moment of indecision about what to wear – all my clothes made me look horrible – I had settled on something and actually looked and felt great. I had on the Calvin Klein bralette mum had bought me one Christmas, thinking I would, in fact, wear it underneath my clothes and not as an outfit in and of itself.
In the smoking area, I had found myself preaching the gospel of Love is Blind, when I had an episode 2-inspired epiphany. Was bisexuality a cause for disclosure? Do you owe it to the person you’re dating to tell them?
I am bisexual. But in what feels like a silly and fraudulent way. Like a last-minute invite to the pub, which would be really fun if you could just brave the discomfort of potentially not knowing many of the people there and leave the house. A mildly-uncomfortable-but-mostly-fine fact. It wasn’t a secret, but it didn’t feel like an identity either. My general rule was to answer honestly if anyone asked. Case in point, when my friend – let’s call her Zahra* – asked me at a work meeting in January.
“Are you bisexual?” she asked.
“Me too. How come you never write about it?”
“What’s there to say? You can’t write a whole column about being drunk at Dalston Superstore. And it just feels like…a faff.”
The allure of heteronormativity is strong, like a semi-detached in Surrey drawing you in from central London with its promise of a cul-de-sac and a garage; the comfort of conformity. I was already black and a woman. That felt like enough to be getting on with.
“The allure of heteronormativity is strong. I was already black and a woman. That felt like enough to be getting on with”
But there was something about being out at night, in the greatest city in the world, looking fucking fantastic, with the finality of a monogamous relationship that I could already sense would be long-term, that made everything different. Although bisexuality was a door I’d barely opened, suddenly it was closing, and I felt a pang of mourning as it did. Sometimes you only know a door was ever really open when you can see it slamming shut.
I took a drag of my cigarette. “Do you think he’ll mind?”, I asked a friend.
“He’ll probably just think it’s hot, to be honest.” Ah yes, when the patriarchy and the male gaze works in your favour. This instance, and when I’m carrying a large suitcase down the stairs at Kennington station.
In episode 4 of Love is Blind, Carlton and Diamond have a hideous blow-up involving Beyoncé lyrics, insults about wigs, defensiveness and denial. He throws his engagement ring into the pool. They both leave the show. I am watching and breathing unevenly.
“Are you bisexual?” my boyfriend asks. Perhaps, I hadn’t been whispering in the smoking area after all.
“Would you throw my engagement ring into the pool if I was?”
This is part of gal-dem’s Woke Men Only column.