Voices: Love is Blind’s Zanab — and all women — deserved more than Cole’s ‘bipolar’ comment

Cole Barnett and Zanab Jaffrey  (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)
Cole Barnett and Zanab Jaffrey (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)

There’s no shortage of drama on Netflix’s reality dating show Love is Blind. But in Season 3, one couple’s dysfunction quickly became a subject of debate. Zanab Jaffrey and Cole Barnett built a connection in the pods before laying eyes on each other, which led to Cole proposing to Zanab. But in the “real world,” as they await their wedding day, the couple has clashed constantly, mainly over issues of physical attraction and maturity. During an intense disagreement in the latest episode, Cole asked his fiancée if she was “bipolar,” due to her “attitude” and criticism of him.

“It’s that really awful statement, like ‘Are you crazy or something?’ Like, just men having that blanket statement when a woman acts irrationally,” Zanab told Women’s Health Magazine in a recent interview. “I don’t like it. I didn’t like it in the moment.”

After Cole made that “bipolar” comment, Zanab left the apartment. Cole later apologized and they ended up spending the night together, and the latest episode shows Zanab seemingly excited about their upcoming wedding. But having to rewatch the moment he questioned her mental health hurt. “I just — I hate it,” she told Women’s Health. “I was putting him in the hot seat for something he had said and he had done, and he didn’t like it, and so it was deflection, it was projection, and I hated to see it play out again.”

While Cole may have genuine reasons to feel hurt and confused — during the season, Zanab has made several passive-aggressive comments towards him and seemingly feels frustrated by him all the time — his behavior towards her puts her frustration with him in clear context. Accusing women — and especially women of color — of having mental health problems when they express their discontent has a long history. And underneath Zanab and Cole’s disagreements and hurtful interactions is the ever-present element of race. Zanab is of Pakistani descent and Cole is white. He first hinted that she wasn’t his usual “type” in the pods, during an otherwise sweet interaction.

“I could go on and on and on about how I’m falling in love with you,” Cole gushed during his proposal. “I could talk about the life that I see with you of us traveling together and having kids together. I could tell you how damn attracted I am to you without ever even seeing you.”

But what he said next felt, to many, like a clear red flag: “I definitely wouldn’t have found you outside of here. I don’t think you’re the type of girl I would’ve gone for, but I feel like you’re exactly the type of girl that I needed to go for. I love you.”

And upon meeting ballet dancer Colleen — a fellow contestant Cole also dated in the pods, but ultimately rejected — Cole didn’t make it a secret that he found her more physically attractive than Zanab. Cole sidled up to Colleen in the pool during their group honeymoon to let Colleen know that she was more “his type” than Zanab was. He also freely admitted this to Zanab. When she asked him to “rate” her and the other contestants, he said Colleen and Raven were “10 out of 10s” while Zanab — to reiterate, Zanab is Cole’s fiancée — was only a “nine out of 10.”

Zanab was understandably upset by this. In a later argument during their Malibu honeymoon about the subject, Cole lashed out with an eyebrow-raising comment that made Zanab physically recoil. “I proposed to a girl named Zanab. Do you think I thought Zanab looked like the girls I dated in the past that were named, like, Lily? No!” he said. If he meant this to be reassuring to Zanab, it likely didn’t work. Based on the reactions of viewers on social media, it certainly didn’t work for them.

Viewers might see some similarities between Cole’s treatment of Zanab and Abhishek “Shake” Chatterjee’s treatment of his fiancée Deepti Vempati, where the latter continuously made disparaging comments about her body both on- and off-camera in Season 2. The hard truth is that as Love is Blind includes more women of color, our representation increases, but so does the visibility of the struggles we face.

Cole may have genuine reasons to doubt his fiancée’s commitment and to feel hurt by her behavior. But it becomes somewhat of a chicken-and-egg situation. He’s absolutely within his rights to long for a partner who treats him with more affection and who isn’t as outwardly critical — but what does he truly expect from a woman whose looks and body he repeatedly disrespects in front of the entire world?

Zanab deserves more than digs at her appearance and her mental health, especially after sharing some deeply vulnerable things with her new fiancé (such as her grief at losing her parents at a young age.) Hopefully, the end of the season will see an empowered Zanab unafraid to demand more.