Warning: this post contains spoilers for the season finale of Love Is Blind.
It came as a shock to no one (but Mark, apparently) that Jessica said "I cannot" instead of "I do" during her Love Is Blind finale wedding. All season long, viewers watched the then-34-year-old struggle over her 10-year age gap with the then-24-year-old Mark. But she still put on the wedding dress and walked down the aisle ... only to dump Mark at the altar in front of his closest friends and family. Brutal.
What does come as a shock is the fact that Jessica actually tried to end things prior to the wedding -- by leaving the show. When speaking with EW, the Love Is Blind contestant was asked if she had ever been given the opportunity to end her relationship with Mark before filming the wedding or if she had to walk down the aisle (to either get married or end things there, knowing that she had made up her mind prior to the ceremony).
"I don’t know I’m allowed to answer that question," she says after a pause, before a Netflix rep gave her the green light to answer. "Okay. Yeah, I mean, I had to stay. I definitely had a conversation about leaving and I wasn’t able to do that. My dog got sick too, and almost died during the show, I had so much other stuff going on."
Jessica recently posted an Instagram detailing how her dog Payton "ingested a very small piece of a stick" requiring life-threatening surgery during filming. "Every night after working and filming my struggles with whether love was blind or not, I would go lay with her in the ICU cage and every night I thought would be the last time I would see my pretty girl," she wrote on Instagram. "This went on for ten days."
"I wanted to be 100 percent in it but I kind of went in and out of wanting to be 100 percent in it and knowing that I needed to deal with my dog," Jessica tells EW. "It was really frustrating because I kind of knew [Mark and I] weren’t going to get there. I definitely had some conversations and attempted to leave, but I wasn’t able to."
[Ed. note: EW previously spoke with Love Is Blind creator Chris Coelen of Kinetic Content about having the couples go through the weddings regardless of whether or not they actually were going to say "I do," and he said, "Well, they obviously could back out of it or not go through with it if they wanted to because there was one couple that didn’t go through with [the wedding]. So nobody was forced to do anything."]
Knowing that her relationship with Mark wasn't going to result in marriage and yet still having to go through the motions of planning and participating in a wedding ceremony on camera was "tough," she adds with a laugh.
"It was psychological warfare, for sure, because planning a wedding is stressful enough, I hear," Jessica says. "But when you’re planning a wedding with someone that I knew I didn’t want to marry him, we weren’t ready for that, and we actually had multiple conversations and we were both on the same page about that. We weren’t ready to marry each other in that allotted amount of time that we had. We were very much on the same page about that."
"You’ll see at some point in the show I start to relax a bit; that’s after we had those conversations and I felt like, well, at least we’re on the same page," she continues. "Then I started to really warm up to him a lot more actually. It was super stressful just being in a situation where you can’t leave, the pressure’s on, you’re planning a wedding, and you know the ending, right? But he and I really wanted it to be a positive thing too, because we had found each other and we had such a strong friendship and we were definitely connected for a reason. We definitely had love for each other, I just wasn’t fully in love with him so planning a wedding was a really, really difficult thing to do."
A big topic of conversation for all the engaged couples on the show was whether or not they were going to have sex before the weddings. Some like Amber and Barnett and Giannina and Damian slept together immediately upon arriving to Mexico for their first night together since meeting outside of the pods. Others like Kenny and Kelly never slept together (and they ultimately didn't get married in the finale). Sex was a big issue for Mark and Jessica in the beginning -- he wanted to be physical and she wasn't ready. But during the joint bachelor party, Mark revealed that he and Jessica had started sleeping together in the weeks since coming back to Atlanta from Mexico. It just wasn't shown on camera when they made that decision.
"Back to when we had the chat where I started to relax a little bit more, we were kind of like, 'We’re not going to be ready to get married,' and the pressure was something that I think was disabling me from opening up and having more of a physical relationship," Jessica says. "Once we took that card off the table is when I was able to really open up and it happened organically. From what you can see on camera, that’s when I kind of relax and start to kind of enjoy the process a little bit more."
Now that all 10 episodes of Love Is Blind are streaming on Netflix, Jessica has been going on a "roller coaster" reliving her experience on the show (which filmed back in 2018).
"I’ve watched a lot of it but not all of it, to be completely honest," she says. "It definitely was a bit shocking initially because what you see portrayed [of me] is more of a one-dimensional character. It’s based on the theme of the show, which makes sense. It was definitely hard to see kind of a one-dimensional person and other parts of my personality not necessarily shine through. But Mark and I were so in our relationship that it was really interesting to see how all of the other relationships have played out, and similarities and differences."
What she's seen of the episodes has not changed how she views her relationship with Mark. But she does reveal that "there was so much more between us that the viewer doesn’t get to see."
"I struggled so much because we’d get anywhere from 15 minutes at the start when you have 15 guys to date," Jessica says. "You start with these 15 minute speed dates basically and by the end of it, after 10 days, you’re spending maybe an hour per day with the person. I haven’t really shared this yet, but a big struggle for me was when we get out of the pods, we’re in real life, it was 24/7. You’re not getting a 15-minute sampling of a person. You’re seeing them day in, day out, interactions with people and experiencing things with them. It was a totally different situation."
She continues, "It was heart melting to watch the pods and watch me fall in love because that was exactly what happened. But it’s kind of hard to watch the other stuff because I know what was going on in my mind and in my heart and you see some of my frustration come out because of the uncomfortability with realizing pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to work based on the differences in the pod and outside of the pods."
And watching the episodes has also not changed how she views her previous connection with Barnett, either. "That’s kind of the typical guy I always go after," she admits. "There’s probably something in him that I could recognize wasn’t ready or didn’t want me or something like that. It was actually pretty interesting to watch it play out because [laughs] that’s the road I’ve been down many, many times!"
And still being around Barnett in Mexico after he ended their connection in the pods, and then having to live in the same apartment complex in Atlanta was something Jessica struggled with both on camera and off.
"When you connect with somebody in a matter of 10 days, I think I was the only one in the unique position where I had two really strong connections and then actually being with that person afterwards was super difficult," she says. "I don’t think it’s shown necessarily that I had a friendship for him and I was kind of looking out for him, which I definitely overstepped my bounds and I apologized for that. It was definitely interesting to see that play out and I’m glad that one didn’t work out in the end. We definitely weren’t meant to be together. And I’m super happy for him and Amber. I think watching those two, I definitely think they were right for each other. I wish them nothing but the best."
Jessica reunited with Mark for the first time at the Love Is Blind reunion show (debuting on Netflix's YouTube channel on March 5), but she reveals they had been "texting a good amount" before that.
"I know he’s had some stuff going on in his personal life so we’ve just been texting back and forth," she says. "But before that it had been a while since we’d spoke. We had some off the record conversations on multiple occasions that we weren’t ready to get married, so that wedding day was a big surprise to me. It was pretty traumatic with how that went down. We didn’t talk for a while but when I saw him last week, we’ve been chatting back and forth, I have nothing but love for him. He and I weren’t meant to be but I’d love to continue a friendship with him."
While Love Is Blind didn't result in a marriage or even a continue relationship for Jessica -- and she's still getting a lot of negativity online from viewers for many reasons -- she still considers the experiment to be a success. "I’m just super happy to be associated with a show that brought three couples together -- actually I think there might be more, there have been some things that have happened off the show with other contestants," she says. "But bringing so many people together in this way, it’s such an honest and amazing experiment, to eliminate swiping on someone’s face and changing the game. I think it’s awesome and I’m just so happy there are couples that worked out. That makes me happy to have been involved."
And she adds that participating in the show has actually taught her some much appreciated lessons about herself and her dating habits.
"I learned so much. I feel like first and foremost, asking the serious questions is okay," she says. "Especially the whole social media dating thing, you go out on a date and you want to go under the radar and you don’t want to ask anything too seriously but being in the pods where you have 15 minutes to make a snap decision on if you can marry someone in a matter of weeks, it kind of somehow emulates or parallels dating life out in the real world because I don’t want to spend a lot of time with someone and six months down the road realize that we have very big rocks that are different."
She continues, "I learned a lot about myself and I feel like I’ve grown significantly as a person. What I’m looking for has drastically changed and I’m trying to not be so rigid around these rules that I’ve had in terms of what I think the perfect person would be like because the perfect person can come in many different packages."
The first season of Love Is Blind is now streaming on Netflix. The reunion special will debut Thursday, March 5 on Netflix's YouTube channel.