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Is cheating hereditary? Love Is Blind contestants want to convince us it is

 (Netflix)
(Netflix)

The sixth season of Love Is Blind has been nothing short of drama, suspicious parking lot rendezvous, and the occasional mention of Megan Fox.

Much like past seasons of Love Is Blind, which has captivated Netflix viewers with its messiness since 2020, the reality dating series challenges 30 single men and women to find true love in windowless rooms affectionately known as “pods”. They’re tasked with getting engaged in just 10 days, all without seeing each other in person, before saying “I do” in a matter of weeks.

While the premise of the past six seasons are all the same, it seems that this installment is more dramatic than ever before - namely, for its off-camera antics and slew of exes unknowingly finding their partners on national television. However, no couple had viewers shouting the phrase “walking red flag” at their screens more than Clay Gravesande and Amber Desiree “AD” Smith.

At the start of the season, we saw 33-year-old real estate broker AD spark a connection with entrepreneur Clay in the “pods” after she ended things with the so-called “villain” of the show, Matthew Duliba. AD and Clay’s relationship seemed to defy Love Is Blind standards from the very beginning; the social experiment’s main stipulation is falling in love sight unseen, yet Clay told AD he wouldn’t propose to a woman unless he was sure she was attractive in person.

While the 31-year-old still proposed to AD and the pair left the “pods” engaged, they encountered even more obstacles when they returned home to North Carolina. And no, it wasn’t when the Love Is Blind star told his fiancée that he wouldn’t let her gain weight if she was pregnant and would push her to work out in a gym. Throughout their three-week relationship, Clay never shied away from warning AD about his fear of commitment, the affect that his parents’ divorce had on him, and his worries that he would cheat on his partner.

“The way I did grow up with my father and how I’ve seen cheating as a regular thing… the fact that my mom and dad were best friends but my dad was still cheating,” Clay told AD in episode seven of the reality series. “Infidelity was a thing, and my dad would take me with him to some of his infidelity trips.

“To me, the concept of one girl, I’m always having a fear of like: ‘Can I just be with one person?’” he said. “I take it serious with marriage and even with me loving you, the marriage part is like an unknown thing to me.”

In more ways than one, Clay expressed his self-doubt about marriage to AD - who spent the entirety of their relationship hoping he would overcome his fears. At times, it appeared to fans that AD was ignoring the signs, like the age-old proverb: “If he tells you he thinks he’ll cheat, believe him.” To others, it seemed that Clay was simply making excuses for his behaviour and refusing to take accountability.

Sabrina Zohar, a professional dating coach and host of the Do The Work podcast, believes it will take a lot more than just three weeks’ participation in a social experiment for Clay to finally be ready for commitment. “What frustrates me hearing Clay is, it’s just a bunch of excuses,” she told The Independent. “It’s a lot of: ‘I’m going to let you know I’m going to hurt you, but to make myself feel better about myself, I’m going to at least share it with you and say I’m not gonna do it.’

“But the reality is, the work that he needs to do to be able to move through this is going to be years of therapy, not finding a girl and spending three weeks with her and then saying: ‘F*** it. I’ll get married.’ It’s just a recipe for disaster, if you ask me.”

It’s true that one of our first examples of an adult, romantic relationship - whether positive or negative - is the one set by our parents. As young children, seeing how our parents treat each other serves as a template for how we treat others in a relationship. We wish to see ourselves in our parents, but as we grow older, we also recognise their faults and capabilities to hurt those closest to them. For Clay, whose father brought him along on so-called “infidelity trips” to cheat on his mother, it’s very well that such an experience would make him fearful about his own abilities to be faithful.

“For a man, I think having that ingrained in you and seeing some of those maladaptive behaviours, he grew up thinking: ‘Okay, this is what I’m supposed to do,’” said Denise Brady, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specialises in EMDR therapy and childhood trauma. In episode 10, Clay informed his fiancée that he had watched past seasons of Love Is Blind in order to learn what a positive example of a husband should look like. Of course, it’s important to note that only nine couples who were married on Love Is Blind are still together.

From expressing his fears about infidelity to opening up about the role his father has played in his adulthood, it’s easy to argue that Clay is actually being mature and vulnerable about his feelings - something that men on reality TV, including Love Is Blind, often are not. While some fans may declare his fears about cheating a red flag, red flags in dating are also subjective. In fact, Cat Hoggard Wagley - a licensed individual and relationship therapist with The Brave Life Therapy - believes that Clay and AD’s candid conversations about cheating are a lesson in healthy communication, especially with a topic as taboo as infidelity.

“Something that’s really important in all relationships is having hard conversations head on and knowing how to navigate them in safe ways,” she said. “We live in this world where everyone is looking for red flags. The idea of someone saying: ‘I’m afraid I could cheat,’ feels like a red flag to a lot of people and I understand why that would be. But when I’m watching it, what I’m seeing is someone being incredibly transparent about what they know is in the realm of their behavioural possibilities and just trying to be upfront and honest about it.”

Open relationships, polyamory, ethical non-monogamy and other alternatives to complete monogamy have significantly increased in popularity within the last 10 years alone. According to a YouGov survey from 2020, 43 per cent of American millennials were likely to say their ideal relationship is non-monogamous. In 2023, one in eight adults said they have already engaged in sexual activities with someone else with the consent of their partner.

Traditional monogamy has long been viewed as the ideal relationship, but with an already growing interest in consensual non-monogamy throughout the US, it’s important for partners to define what behaviours they consider to be cheating - whether it’s liking an Instagram DM from a former “pods” fling or maintaining a friendship with a past sexual partner while you’re engaged.

“It’s helpful to have common ground and to agree with each other about what cheating is,” Wagley said. “Some people say kissing at the bar isn’t cheating, but taking someone home is. Some people say sex isn’t cheating, but telling someone ‘I love you’ is. Everybody’s interpretation is different, and that is something that I think really needs to be discussed.”

Even communicating about how you communicate, which Wagley defined as metacommunication, is necessary at any level in a relationship. Throughout Love Is Blind season six, in which blowout fights seemed to be the norm, Clay and AD do deserve their flowers for navigating conflict calmly and rationally. When the entrepreneur opened up to his fiancée about his fears of cheating and commitment, the real estate broker responded by offering words of encouragement and verbalising her expectations.

“I’m not afraid,” AD told Clay in episode 10. “I think there will be times where I am and I’ll need you, and I think right now is the time where you are and you need me a bit more, and I’m okay with that.”

“I am okay with a yes or no at the altar,” she said. “I can pick myself up and we can have a conversation about that. Unfortunately, I’m not okay with just being a long-term fiancée. I don’t think I could continue to date you after if it’s a no.”

As adults, we have choices. While Clay’s generational trauma and fears about infidelity are valid, because they are indeed his fears, relationship experts agree that cheating is not hereditary. Vulnerability - especially in men - should be more widely accepted, but not when that vulnerability is used as an excuse to walk away scot-free from the issues at hand.

“What that’s doing is it’s taking no accountability,” said Zohar. “It’s not owning up and saying: ‘I get to decide how I show up in my adulthood.’ Now, are there traumas and triggers? Absolutely. Does that mean you can’t work through it? No, that just means you have to go to therapy, and he openly admitted he’s not in therapy. Off the bat, that’s the first issue.”

For Clay and AD, it seems that a happy ending may be possible - that is, in the very distant future. In the season six finale, AD walked down the aisle dressed in white and said “I do” to Clay at the altar. But when it came time for him to commit, Clay told his fiancée (in front of all their wedding guests) that he just wasn’t ready.

“AD, I love you. I don’t think it is responsible for me to say ‘I do’, but I want you to know I’m rocking with you, and I just don’t think it’s responsible for me to say ‘I do’ at this point when I still need work,” he said. “I still need to get to the point where I’m 100 per cent in, and I’m not gonna have you over here thinking that this is not going to work.”

Although Clay had briefly mentioned it before, the season finale was the first time he reassured AD he would start going to therapy and work on his own healing. Now, the jury’s out on whether the former engaged couple are still together. With the Love Is Blind season six reunion just around the corner, fans will finally learn whether AD kept her word and ended things with Clay for good, or if he held up his end of the bargain.

Love Is Blind is just such a great example of people who think they’re ready for a relationship and they don’t have the tools or the bandwidth in order to actually handle a relationship. It’s a lot of them writing checks they’re not ready to cash. It’s not that they haven’t found the right person; they just haven’t become the right person,” added Zohar.

“That’s what I get from this season more than anything; it’s just a bunch of wounded birds thinking everyone else is going to save them without understanding that they need to do that for themselves.”