‘Love Is Blind’ star Zanab Jaffrey reveals she needed therapy after her relationship with Cole Barnett

Love Is Blind

Warning: This article contains spoilers about the Love Is Blind season 3 finale and reunion.

Season 3’s most dramatic will-they-won’t-they couple had an intense relationship throughout filming that ultimately ended when Jaffrey said “I don’t” at their wedding. Before she walked away, she gave a powerful speech to Barnett in front of all their loved ones about why she couldn’t marry him, including that he didn’t treat her with respect and constantly body-shamed her. And later, during the reunion (streaming now on Netflix), Jaffrey revealed she actually developed an eating disorder during filming as a result of his comments to her about her body and eating habits. But Jaffrey wants viewers to know that she really did love love him despite all the dark parts of their relationship.

“Watching it back, watching our reveal, I was yelling at the television. ‘What happened? How did I not leave with that man as my husband?'” Jaffrey tells EW. “I did try to get back to that every day we were engaged. I did fight for our relationship. I really did. And I did play with him, and I did laugh, and I know how to have a great time, but a life partner is a serious decision, so if I seemed a bit serious or intense at times, it’s because I am 32, and I do want a partner for life. I do think it’s a serious thing. There’s a lot of weight on it. I was trying to make sure we were making the best call for both of us.”

Below, Jaffrey opens up to EW about how she needed therapy after her relationship with Barnett, the eating disorder she developed during filming, how she’s doing now, and so much more.

Love is Blind Season 3

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After you finished filming, how did you prepare to deal with the response to the episodes and your journey when the season finally premiered?

ZANAB JAFFREY: I feel very deeply, and I was very much in love at the time. When I left my wedding and wasn’t married, I definitely needed to process that, so I went out to my mom’s for a few days and took some time because I was sad. But I knew that this would of course come out. That was the whole premise of this, that I would have to relive it at some point. After the wedding a year and a half ago, I went to therapy because I was like, “Help me. This is what’s happened. When I’m watching it and the world feels like they can comment on it, I want to be able to be in a good headspace for it.” So honestly, just space, avoiding men at all costs, and just taking time to level myself for this release.

Therapy sounds like the perfect way to deal with the aftermath of everything you went through.

Yeah, couldn’t agree more. Huge advocate for therapy. I’ve been in therapy several times in my life. Everyone could benefit from it. I knew how emotional I was during the experience and the experiment, and I wanted to be able to watch myself, and see myself upset, and be able to detach from that, and know that I’m not there anymore.

You and Cole had the most tumultuous relationship out of all the couples this season. How did the reality of your experience compare to the way it was portrayed in the episodes? 

It’s thousands of hours of footage all condensed into 10 episodes. We definitely laughed and and I very much loved him. I mean, I would have loved to have walked away from that experiment with a husband, but that wasn’t the trajectory of our relationship. And I wish him well, but I stand by everything I said on the wedding day. I didn’t just say no to the Cole that the world saw. I said no to Cole that I was living with and I got 24 hours a day.

At what point did you decide you were going to say no and deliver that speech to him at the altar?

I really was torn. Cole and I had really high highs and quite low lows. The hopeless romantic in me and the person that very much saw my friends like Alexa and Brennon have a smooth-sailing trip and people just very much looking like they were going to get married, I wanted that for me. I said that I wouldn’t know what I wanted to do until I was at the end of that aisle because I was holding onto the good moments and hoping they would somehow cancel out the bad. When I looked up at him when I walked down the aisle, he just looked terrified. Nothing in my heart told me that’s what your groom is meant to look at you like. It wasn’t like I was walking down to my best friend, and it wasn’t like I was walking down there to the person I know is going to love me flat-out for the rest of my life. Even wedding day, I was hoping that I could somehow get to a yes, but I think I just waited it out and made the call when I saw him.

Have you watched the reunion yet?

I’ve not seen the reunion, no.

When you filmed the reunion, how did you feel it went for you and Cole?

It was heated. Cole and I don’t really speak, so that was our first time down and speaking since wedding day. I don’t know what was used [in the episode] but I feel like I communicated clearly, though I know that he’s probably upset about some things that were said.

How did it feel having a lot of the other cast members supporting you during the reunion?

Their support means everything. This was something that was shot a year and a half ago, so watching it back as a viewer too, I can see where I might have seemed harsh or just really unhappy or that Cole couldn’t do anything to make me happy, but there was so much more to it than that. The girls having my back and having that support was everything because it reinforced: No, I didn’t just make that up in my head. That did happen. People saw how it was affecting me, and people were worried. Having them speak up and support me, I love them for that.

You revealed that you developed an eating disorder throughout filming. I’m so sorry you were going through that. How are you doing now?

Thank you. I’m doing really well. I left that relationship pretty beaten down and broken, and I started going to therapy and have just been on a self-love journey. I definitely reintroduced food as soon as I could, and my metabolism and body hated me for that. That’s very much a thing in the past, but it was very real in the moment, and that’s why it was important that it be talked about. I know that they’re very real things that people struggle with, so I always want to be open about talking about them because it makes them a little less taboo. Plenty of women deal with it, and there are a lot of societal standards for what is a beautiful size on a woman. I was 100 percent trying to do everything I could to make my fiancé crazy about me physically. I’ll always try and be transparent with my feelings and talk about those things, especially if it helps somebody, anyone hearing it.

At what point were you able to recognize that your eating habits had become unhealthy, and how long after filming ended did you seek out professional help?

I didn’t seek out help for an eating disorder. I just spent some time with family. When I went out to my mom’s, she was like, “You’re really skinny, not really eating, so let’s eat.” I’ve always been a good eater. I very much enjoy food. I’m not the girl that turns down desserts. I’m not the girl that cuts bread out. I’ve never been that person. So it was very shocking to my system. I cannot stress how much my body, my metabolism hated me after that, and I gained a lot of weight when I started eating again and eating regularly, but we got that stabilized. Honestly, it was family and therapy that helped me realize I did to have to unlearn those behaviors and rearrange the way I was thinking about myself and treating myself.

Love is Blind Season 3

Had you spoken about your eating disorder with Cole before you talked about it during the reunion?

We don’t speak. We are not on talking terms. He and I have yet to be on a phone call since. So no, there was no communicating before. We did have conversations — I mean, whether they made it on the show or not, I believe there was a cuties clip. Anyway, I just wasn’t eating, and several of the comments he had made about food, I was like, “Well, it’s the first time I’m eating today,” or, “I’m going to eat this because I haven’t eaten anything today,” so it was not the first time he heard it, no.

Speaking of the cuties/tangerine clip, they do show that footage in the reunion before the credits. It’s exactly how you described it.

Well, I’m glad that it was shown. I’m not crazy. This happened. [Laughs] So I’m glad they used it. This was a wild ride of an experiment, and the producers are all very — I mean, they’ve always listened to any concern I’ve taken to them, so I very much appreciate that. It’s in there. I know it’s all in there, so I’m thankful that they did look it up and find it for me and use it.

You also revealed that the night before the wedding, Cole told you he got a girl’s number at the bachelor party, but he denied that too. Since there wasn’t any unaired footage shown for that moment, is there anything you wanted to address about that now? 

Yeah, absolutely. That is information Cole offered to me. That is not third-party information, that is not through telephone. I don’t know if it makes the reunion, but he was saying that I had said there would be no drama at the wedding, and I did say that. But 20 minutes later, we were just talking and he shared that he tried to kiss a girl at his bachelor party. He said, “I’m about to get married. I want to kiss one more girl. Can I kiss you?” Apparently, she said, “No, I don’t do cheaters.” I was like, “Oh, how nice. There’s good women out in the world.” Something inside me made me ask, “Cole, did you get her phone number?” And he was like, “Yeah, I did, but I didn’t do anything with it.”

So yes, I did say there would be no drama at the wedding. But 20 minutes later he shared with me that he tried to kiss [another woman]. I don’t need to make up anything. I do not need to fabricate. He shared that information with me. He denied it on the reunion. He can call me a liar. That would be false. It’s just not consistent behavior of someone that would want to be married. If there was ever a moment where I was definitely leaning more [towards] no, it was when I found that out because that’s very disrespectful.

Now that you’ve had time to process everything that happened, gone to therapy, and watched this season onscreen, how are you feeling about how this experience went for you?

I’m so thankful for the experience. It did teach me a lot about myself. Seeing yourself in a relationship that played out and having the world weigh in, I’m very thankful that it led me on this very self-involved journey the last year. I would do it again knowing the outcome, knowing that I would be in the place that I am today. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I feel like I am the happiest, healthiest version of me. I would hope my next relationship is my forever relationship. I have this experience to thank for that. So I’m overwhelmingly thankful.

What has the response been like so far now that the whole season is out?

Overwhelmingly positive. It’s a lot of women supporting me, which I love. I’m a girl’s girl, and I will go out of my way to lift another woman up, so the support from women is amazing. Then, of course, there’s the part of the internet that … [pauses]. Watching back that dinner with him, I can see where I look like I’m nagging, and I can see how I look miserable. I would stop to ask viewers why do you think that is. You can’t win over everybody, and people that have worked on themselves and have healthy boundaries and are okay with standing up for themselves will see what I did. The people that have not done those things will not.

What do you hope Cole learned from the reunion?

I hope he looks inward, maybe some self-awareness and accountability. I’ve always tried to treat and handle him with kindness, and I will always because that’s just my heart. He is someone I loved once and I cared about deeply. I hope he does self-work too. I hope he’s able to go into a relationship and treat a woman better and have a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Across genders, you don’t treat people like that. You don’t treat people like that that you love, that you’re meant to respect. It’s not healthy otherwise. I hope he breaks the pattern with it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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