Interviews / TV

“Love Is Blind” Star Cole Barnett on the Importance of Self-Reflection and Going to Therapy

Cole Barnett bounded into the cast of Love Is Blind filled with nothing but optimism. “The ideal outcome would have been one of two things for me going into it,” he says. “It would’ve been to go there and meet no one and go back home and get back to work with nothing changed and it would be a cool experience to be with all the guys and see how TV works and all that. And then the ultimate ideal outcome, which I thought was very slim, was to fall in love with someone in the pods, get engaged and then go on to get married. But certainly a failed engagement was not on the list.” While his relationship may have deteriorated, his love for the initial process remains strong. “Everything before the pods was incredible.Then you have to get back to real life and work things out with someone in person and all that. But the pods themselves are a blast because it’s such a unique experience. It’s a really fun way to get to know people.” Cole felt like he was privy to a galactic form of romance on a distant horizon. “It was almost like a movie, a super futuristic movie where this is what dating has become, where you’re dating people in these little space pods or something. I was thinking, ‘This is awesome.’ You have so much fun with people because everyone wants to be there and everyone’s story is super interesting. There’s so much that doesn’t get shown from the pods. You could make an entire TV show of just the pods for sure. It was incredible.”

He was surprised by the steadfast camaraderie among the men. “After every date you’re coming back to the lounge and you’re debriefing with all your bros who are also dating those same girls. I always expected it to get super competitive between people, but on the guys’ side, that never happened. The guys were so supportive. It would be like, ‘Wait, you like her too?’ And instead of fighting over it, we’d just talk about how awesome that girl was, which was shocking to me. I figured there were going to be some battles between guys. At one point in the show, I even said, ‘Tony likes all the same girls as me,’ but we were both cool about it because we knew whichever person she was more in love with is who it was going to work out with. There wasn’t a point in fighting over it because the way it was set up, whoever is connecting the most is what’s going to work out.” The true romance of this show for him is absolutely the bromances he made along the way. “I wish I lived closer to so many of the guys. As an adult it’s hard to stay connected with everyone, but looking back on the lounge and pods aspect of the show when I was with all the guys, it was so cool because I thought, ‘Man, what if we could do this in real life to where we all lived together and did some type of business or work together?’ We had such a great dynamic and camaraderie amongst the guys and there wasn’t any toxic masculinity. I hope that’s on the way out. Growing up, we all get a little bit of that injected to us in sports or by our coaches or by our dad. It was really cool to see guys that didn’t have that one bit.” Outside of friendship, love was the obvious goal of the pods and permeated every aspect of the atmosphere.”People ask me, ‘Did you really fall in love?’ Think about it. When you go to church camp, the majority of people fall in love with Jesus. Because you’re in an environment where all you’re going to talk about is Jesus. You almost don’t have a choice. That’s what the pods felt like. It’s conducive to falling in love. All you’re doing is talking about love. It becomes easy to fall in love. It’s the goal, it’s the thing that you’re there to do. It’s what you’re talking about with all the guys and what you’re talking about with all the girls. It’s the atmosphere and the vibe of the whole place. So yes, I fell in love, but it was different than falling in love in real life because in real life there’s not an environment created to lead you to that. To anyone who’s ever been to a church camp, it’s church camp vibes. That’s just what it is. It’s love camp vibes and you’re there for love, so it’s going to happen.”

Social media has been quick to categorize all of the contestants as either fundamentally good or bad, a discourse that Cole finds disconcerting. “It’s crazy how so many people get villainized from reality TV. The internet always wants to say who the villain is. No one’s really the villain because we were all on a TV show. We are all there for different reasons. I’m sure some people didn’t have the best reasons, but I don’t think anyone was out to do something wrong. Anytime I see someone being labeled as the villain, I really don’t think anyone deserves that. We all went on a dating show.” Many may also be scratching their heads as to why Cole was so eager to join a show that revolves around expedited marriage when he already had one divorce under his belt (from a marriage that lasted four months after a whirlwind two month courtship). But for him, the novelty of it made the decision easy. “It sounded fun and it sounded better than dating apps, if you want to know the truth,” he admits. “After my divorce, I took my time to somewhat heal and recover and then got back into dating and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I thought, ‘How am I going to really meet someone?’ Tinder ain’t it, Hinge ain’t it. Then this Love Is Blind show reached out to me and I decided, ‘Let’s see what this is about.’ I watched season one and you see it works so well for people and I thought, ‘Absolutely, I’ll give it a shot. Maybe this is a better way.’ That’s what drew me into it. The premise of the show is accurate in the modern day and age. How are we really meeting people now? It’s already virtual. It’s already through apps. Unless you’re meeting someone at some type of community that you’re already involved in, it’s hard to meet people unless you’ve got friends setting you up. So the show makes sense.” He wanted an amazing memory to look back on with his family and be proud of. “I remember thinking, ‘What’s my story going to be like? What am I going to tell my kids? Yeah, I met your mom on an app?’ Those couples who grew up in high school or college together, they’ve got stories of how they met and the things they did together when they were young. When Love Is Blind came around, I thought that would be an epic story. ‘I proposed to your mom before I ever even saw her.’ That’s the type of love that I want. Some type of epic, different love. I’m not a very basic guy. I like to do things differently, so it was a good fit.” 

However, the execution was rocky to say the least. Viewers will recall that Cole made a variety of tactless or outright tasteless remarks, most infamously his repeated insistence that his now ex-fiancée Zanab must be “bipolar” during an argument. Watching himself has inspired Cole to resolve to be less reckless with how he speaks. “It revealed the weight of my words. It’s a mirror. I think most people have blind spots. One of my blind spots was seeing those things. I would think, ‘Did I really say that? Yeah, I really said that.’ I need to be much more cognizant of situations like that and the things that I’m saying and be more sensitive, especially in certain situations where I need to speak more concisely and directly.” He has actually chosen not to watch the majority of the show. “The first time I watched it, it was difficult to watch because I know how it ends and there wasn’t a lot of hopefulness watching it. Even the good moments don’t make you feel good because it ended the way it ended. The bad moments are bad moments that just suck as it is. It wasn’t fun watching it back and I haven’t watched it much. I’ve been thinking about going back and watching it again and I just can’t. It wasn’t as enjoyable to watch as I thought it would be.” Anticipating the future is more appealing than dwelling on the past. “I think it’s a learning experience. I’m using it as a mirror to improve on my weaknesses and become a better person, but I’m certainly not letting it hold me down, nor am I saying ‘I’m going to write off that guy and be a totally different version of me’. I still will always be a silly, fun, sometimes goofy type of person who loves to joke around and I’m just the way I’m going to be,” asserts Cole. “I know I’m going to work on the things I need to work on, but I’m certainly not going to see it as some negative thing because it wasn’t negative. It was life, it was learning, it was living, it was trying to make something work and have a relationship and fall in love. I think a lot of times we think that love and relationships should work really quick. We only want to date a few people and then it’ll work. We go on ten dates and then we think we found the girl we’re going to marry. Most other things in life aren’t that way. We try a lot of other things in life many, many times before we expect it to work, like a business. I’m seeing it as a growing opportunity. Love hasn’t worked a couple times for me, but that’s no reason to give up on it.” Shame is an unproductive emotion when you could be viewing your actions as foundations for building blocks to your new and improved self. “I’ve felt shame in the past and I’ve just learned that shame doesn’t produce anything good, so instead of looking at anything that I do in life and feeling ashamed for it, what I want to do is own it and then be able to put it in the past. It is in the past now. I’m going to leave it there and move forward and keep my eyes looking ahead and say, ‘Okay, now that we’ve done that, what did we learn from it? And how am I going to use it to do whatever’s next?”

Cole enjoys feedback from fans, but is simultaneously mindful to limit his intake of perspectives. “I absolutely love all of the people who have reached out and said they’re fans of the show or that they’re Team Cole. That’s been incredible and amazing and I’m thankful for every single person who takes the time to send me messages and comment on my posts and share stories and things about what they thought of the show. All of that’s been amazing to see. I definitely have been more absorbed into social media as a whole since the show. I’m working on time management there. I’m only letting myself get on it at certain times in the day because I don’t think it’s good for your mental health if you’re constantly reading other people’s opinions about you all day long, whether they’re good or bad. Even if I’m reading 99% positive things about myself, it’s still just way too many people’s opinions. So I’m trying to put a little space and distance between what everyone thinks and what I think because what matters at the end of the day. What do I think about that experience? What do I think about myself? It’s been great to see the support and I’m here for it. I just need to control how much I consume it.” Solving the Rubik’s cube of empathy remains elusive, yet attainable. “My counselor is telling me that I’m a hyper empathetic person. I think some people will perceive that I’m not empathetic.I feel like that’s something that if people are angry at you or if they feel like they’re not getting certain support from you, they’ll say you don’t have any empathy. What I’ve learned about myself recently is I actually feel everything at a very high level. I have almost too much empathy. But what I’ll do is I will overreact because I don’t want to show all of that empathy. Sometimes I’ll just hold it all in and then that’s when someone might say I don’t have any empathy. So I think I’m learning about empathy and how I’m wired with it because of everything that happened.” Nonetheless, he’s committed to self-reflection. “This is the first time in my life having seen myself and using it as a mirror where now I see my weaknesses. Beforehand, when people would tell you those, you could say, ‘That’s just your perception of me.’ But it’s really interesting when everyone sees the same thing. That’s probably true,” he laughs. “When everyone who watched the show is like, ‘Cole says some things he shouldn’t say, I’m like, ‘Alright. It’s true at this point.’ When all of America is agreeing that I need to be sharper and more pointed with the things that I’m saying, lesson learned. I’m going to be cognizant of that. I’m going to be aware of that. With dating, I think it’s just really important to be with someone who has a similar worldview as you and wants the same things out of life. In the pods, Zanab and I connected over that, but when we got into reality, it was pretty clear looking back that there was some clashing between our personalities. It wasn’t so much age. I know a lot of people think it was the age difference, but it really wasn’t. It was different worldviews and mindsets and ways of life. It’s also important to see someone before you propose and get to spend time in life together.”

He’s now keenly aware of the power of communication (and even more importantly, his delivery) in future relationships. ”In terms of improving myself as a partner, I’m just going to be open. That’s been a big thing of mine. I am open to change. I’m open to listening. But I just think most people that you’re dating may have a hard time putting words to that. It takes a mature person to sit down with your partner and say, ‘Hey, here’s what I’ve noticed about you. Here’s the specific things that are hurting me that you’re doing. Can we work on these together?’ Being open to doing that makes you a very strong partner. It’s communication. Everyone knows that. We’ve all heard communication is the most important thing, but what does that really mean? It means being willing. And this goes both ways. So this is for myself and for whoever I would be with. It’s being willing to sit down with that person and say, ‘I love you. Here are the things I love about you, and here are the things that I think that you could change as well to make our relationship smoother and more mutually beneficial. Looking back on my relationship on Love Is Blind, that’s one of the things that we could have done more of.” And perhaps the most elating development: Cole is in therapy! “This is different for me to say because I’ve always been this independent guy. I’ll go to my people that I know and trust, work it out with my family and friends, or I’ll pray about it and get along with God and handle my business. But I am doing therapy. I am going to therapy. It’s very challenging for me because I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re going to go talk to this person that’s going to help me with my life.’ That’s always been my mindset on it. But it’s true. I realized it’s worth sitting down with someone and being vulnerable and saying, ‘Here’s things that I know that I need to improve on. Here’s where I’m hurting. Here’s some of the traumas I’ve been through.’ and working through these things and receiving advice from a professional. I think that will be big for me because I’ve always had the door closed there thinking, ‘I don’t want to speak to a therapist. I don’t need a therapist. I’m just going to go to the woods and go hunting and be a man and hang out with my bros.’ It’s just not a healthy way to live. I had to realize, ‘No, you’ve gone through some really hard stuff. You should just be humble and go sit down with a therapist and trust that they have some good life advice for you. They can help you emotionally and they can help you be an all around better communicator and lover with people. That right now is step one. Let’s just get healthy. Because hurt people hurt people. I don’t want to carry the trauma from my past relationships into the next. There’d be a whole redo of all the issues that I already have done once. Why not learn from them? Figure out why those issues happen and then don’t ever do it again.” He believes therapy will reveal healthier pathways to healing and actually dealing with his emotions, which he acknowledges that men are often socialized to be averse to. “As a man, we’ve been so trained to bottle in our emotions and feelings and how we really think about certain things. Just getting to hear yourself open up and talk about certain things in and of itself is healing because you go, ‘I was never going to tell anyone how I really felt about that.’ Then you say it and think, ‘Oh my God, I really have feelings. I really am an emotional being. I can’t act like I’m just the tough guy all the time.” Here’s hoping his next romance is with positive coping mechanisms! Maybe the point of this entire experiment was for Cole to fall in love with who he has the potential to be.

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