Netflix’s Love Is Blind has faced several allegations of serious abuse of cast members. We shouldn’t be too surprised if parlaying our yearning for love into profitable mass entertainment ultimately rests on brutal labor practices.

A truck at the “Love Is Blind: The Live Reunion” held at the Vermont Hollywood on April 16, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (John Salangsang / Variety via Getty Images)

Thirty strangers, looking to find love and maybe also a bit of fame, spend ten days sequestered in windowless “pods,” during which they go on a series of booze-fueled and truly blind dates — participants speak to each other through a wall, unable to see one another. After several such dates, they get engaged, at which point they can finally meet their partner in the flesh.

What could go wrong?

This is, of course, the premise of Netflix’s wildly popular reality dating show Love Is Blind. US viewers consumed a total of 907 million minutes of the series this year. But former participants of Love Is Blind have produced a deluge of accusations of mistreatment against the show’s producers. “Several open lawsuits have alleged inhumane working conditions, including claims that the cast is encouraged to drink alcohol, not given sufficient food, and imprisoned against its will,” according to a recent New York magazine feature.

Renee Poche, a contestant on season five, spoke out against Netflix and production company Delirium for what she described as “horrifying” and “prison-like” treatment during filming. She was paid $8,000 total for her time on the show. Now Delirium is suing her to the tune of $4 million for violating a nondisclosure agreement.

Poche wasn’t the only season-five contestant to sue the show. Tran Dang sued for sexual harassment, false imprisonment, and negligence, after claiming she was sexually assaulted by her then-fiancé during the show’s “honeymoon” taping in Mexico. Jeremy Hartwell, a season-two contestant, also accused Netflix and Delirium of violating California labor law. Hartwell claims contestants were paid below state minimum wage, filming for up to twenty hours a day, seven days a week — making a whopping $7.14 an hour.

Hartwell cofounded the Unscripted Cast Advocacy Network, or UCAN, to advocate for the labor rights of reality TV stars. Currently, the Network Code of Hollywood union Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) classifies reality stars as “bona-fide amateurs” with no industry protections. After going on strike for 118 days in 2023, SAG-AFTRA won wage increases for actors and better protections against the use of artificial intelligence. But reality stars like those on Love Is Blind are still fighting for labor rights of their own.

The allegations of workplace abuse certainly shine a harsh new light on the series. Contestants — at least the less cynical ones, who aren’t merely looking to boost their profiles as social-media influencers — join Love Is Blind in the hopes of finding a spouse. And many viewers undoubtedly tune in because of their own yearning for romantic love. The show has successfully parlayed those desires into highly profitable mass entertainment. Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn, then, that the enterprise ultimately rests on subjecting cast members to grueling and unsafe working conditions — and trying to keep contestants from talking about any of it.

Can’t Buy Me Love?

But Love Is Blind is just a particularly extreme instance of the ways capitalism today takes advantage of our desires and vulnerabilities and makes our love lives worse.

Dating apps, which some evidence suggests are on track to becoming the default mode of finding a new partner, are a ready example. These apps are reminiscent of slot machines, which giant corporations like Match Group use to monetize loneliness, enticing users to shell out $10 or $20 to send another like or “rose” or to match with your algorithmically determined soulmate. (Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and many other dating apps, saw an operating income of $185 million in the first quarter of 2024.)

In fact, it’s in the interest of the dating apps’ bottom line for you to not find your perfect match and swipe into oblivion instead, creating a troubling divergence of interests between app companies and their users. And that’s not even to mention the opaque and ethically dubious ways that apps mine user data for profits.

But the monetization of romance through reality dating shows and dating apps isn’t capitalism’s biggest obstacle to human connection. The most serious problems have to do with the material insecurity and inequalities that can lead people to, say, put up with toxic workplaces like Love Is Blind, or to stay with abusive partners.

Better Loving Through Socialism

In Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, Kristen Ghodsee argues that capitalism produces worse outcomes for love, sex, and romance — particularly for women — than do at least some socialist alternatives.

For example, a comparative study of East and West Germany following the collapse of the Soviet Union found that women in the formerly communist-controlled East Germany reported twice as many orgasms as Western German women. Part of the explanation Ghodsee offers is the undue burden of unpaid domestic labor, like child-rearing, cooking, and cleaning, that capitalist society places on women. This limits women’s freedom of choice everywhere — including in the bedroom. Social democratic reforms like universal childcare and extensive, well-compensated maternity leave would help relieve the material pressures that often push women to stay in unhappy or even dangerous partnerships.

Still other problems come from economic insecurity in general, where the fear of being evicted, getting laid off, or drowning in debt means that love is often distorted by material concerns, as partnerships become financial power struggles (just do a quick search for “50/50 relationship” on TikTok to find thousands of videos of both men and women discussing romantic relationships as financial agreements). And the long-term effect of capitalism on our ability to forge and maintain genuine connections with others — romantic and otherwise — is reflected in skyrocketing rates of loneliness and a reported “loneliness epidemic.” It’s capitalism’s MO to keep workers desperate and alienated, spiritually isolated from one another, not unlike the Love Is Blind contestants alone in their pods.

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