Spoilers for the 2021 Love Is Blind reunion are ahead. Just as the pandemic struck last year, Netflix found a surprising hit with Love Is Blind, a reality series in which singles spoke to each other — but couldn’t see each other — in an attempt to find a spouse. And the most talked about cast member from Love Is Blind was without a doubt Jessica Batten. Batten was known for three key things: her engagement to a man 10 years her junior, Mark Cuevas, who she didn’t seem to like all that much; trying to develop a relationship with another man, Matt Barnett, who was engaged to someone else; and, most important of all, letting her dog casually drink red wine out of her glass.
Like many before her, Batten became known as a reality TV "villain" — albeit one who would be better described as chaotic than mean — and the hate she received as the show aired was hard for her to handle. Still, the 36-year-old returned for the new, three-episode special Love Is Blind: After the Altar, which shows the cast reuniting and celebrating the second anniversaries of the two couples who are still married: Matt and Amber Barnett, and Cameron and Lauren Hamilton.
Those who watch After the Altar, might feel like they’re seeing a new Jessica Batten, but that’s only partially true. Batten takes responsibility for the decisions she made when the show filmed nearly three years ago. She’s also previously stated that she was drinking too much on the original series and going through a hard time at home. But, the other factor is that this time she’s sharing her side of the story. As Batten tells it, much of her relationship with Cuevas wasn't what it seemed.
Now, Batten has a new boyfriend, a new, much more positive storyline, and some new Tiffany wine glasses thanks to a couple cast mates turning down her anniversary gift.
Refinery 29: What’s the past year been like for you? It’s been pretty crazy for everyone, but you also starred on show that became a huge hit right before the world shut down.
"Yeah, it was a crazy ride. After the show came out, I actually, one, met my boyfriend the day before L.A. shutdown. So, we met and then our relationship proceeded through COVID, so that was one interesting facet of it. The other thing was, there were no sports, there was nothing else going on, so everyone was watching Love Is Blind. And for me, I didn't love my story, so it was pretty tough given that pretty much everyone had seen the show. But a little bit of my saving grace was the masks, so when I was out, I was wearing a mask and no one could tell it was me ... I would say it was a year to remember for sure."
Not everyone comes back — Mark doesn’t, for instance — so what made you decide to go back? Did you have reservations?
"I had massive reservations about ever going back on television again. But there was an untold story that I had been sitting on for quite some time, and it was pretty painful. I felt like I had to do myself justice by going and telling my side of the story. Because there are a lot of polarizing conflicts out there in the entertainment world, and it’s always good to know there are two sides to every story. For me, it was more important to have the courage to go back and stand up for myself than being too scared to go back in that room full of people. I’m glad that I had the courage to do it, and I feel stronger for having done so."
When you say an “untold story," you mean how you felt the relationship with Mark actually was versus how it was seen on the series?
"I think it was more I felt that I was painted as a villain, because there was this shocking revelation that we were not going to continue our relationship into a marriage, when he and I had several conversations and had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to go forward. On that day when there was this whole drama — he was crying on his mom and everything like that — that was a shock to me. We had discussed it and that just wasn't going to happen. [Editor's note: Cuevas previously told Entertainment Weekly he "didn't know what to expect."] He was seeing other people, as well, and that was something that — none of that got aired. There was so much happening behind the scenes that I wanted to air out.
"This is a thing that I find tough, seeing this whole dark world of social media. Reality television is so polarizing, right? One person’s getting love at someone else’s expense. I really don’t want that for him. He’s moved on. He has a beautiful life that he’s created. I just wanted to simply tell my truth. I don’t want this to have any backlash with him, because I’ve been there and no one deserves that. And he doesn’t. I think he was trying to do the right thing. I think it was not age, but inexperience."
How do you feel about your edit in the new episodes?
"I feel pretty good about it. I think that my side of the story was aired out, and that's all I went back to do. I wanted to speak my truth and have the courage to walk back and say, Hey, there was another side of this story that I don't think was fairly portrayed. So I'm happy that the Kinetic and the Netflix teams decided to tell that part of the story. I feel like I'm going to get emotional because it was just… It’s been a long year and a half, so it was just a breath of fresh air for me."
"And just feeling like all of that was for something, because a lot of people have reached out to me — people who have gone through a lot, and been shamed, and have made mistakes, and have lived messy lives. But at the end of the day, being able to show that I’m also a human, kind person, and I'm not perfect and I fail, but I'm still standing. It's something that I wanted to do for those people who have reached out and who have needed to see that."
I know After the Altar just came out, but have you gotten any feedback yet from viewers?
"My Instagram, while it’s being handled by someone else, has just been an outpouring of love and apologies. It's just been nothing but kindness on social media. I don't even know really how to handle it."
How do you feel about the situation you had with Matt and Amber Barnett now? Something that stood out to me in the new episodes is when you say, “Wait, what did I even do?” This is something that happened relatively briefly in your life, but then it blows up to this huge thing.
"Right. It’s funny, I equate it to if there was Bumble for marriage. It’s like you're on a dating app and you find someone and you think for a fleeting moment that there’s something there. That's the way it feels to me now. It’s been so long. I know in the moment, it felt very overdramatized to me because I was selecting a partner, and I had been very averse to marriage up until that point, and it was a big deal. But yeah, it's been so long that I don't even really remember the details of it. I'm not someone that watched those episodes more than once and I fast-forwarded through a lot. I will say that there were mistakes made. I definitely could have been a much more sensitive person in that situation. But, you know, so much time has passed and it was so long ago that, yeah, I was kind of like, What the heck are they hanging on to here? I've got to go back and jog my memory."
Could you tell me what that anniversary party was like to actually attend? Because it looks so awkward.
"I actually had a lot of fun. A lot of the pod squad that didn’t get shown on the series are some of my very good friends now, so I was just so happy to have that support system back. Back in the pod days, when we got engaged and we were in a hotel about to go to Mexico, I was excited. I was like, Oh, I get to go and see Danielle [Drouin], who's my pod bestie and I'll see her on the other side. And come to find out she wasn’t there, so that sucked. So, it was nice to reunite with everyone, but there definitely was an elephant in the room. [Giannina Gibelli] had come up to me and said, 'Hey, Amber doesn’t want you to come up to her.' So that almost took the pressure off of it. But everyone was really kind, and I had a lot of fun actually."
Did you feel pressured at all by being on the show or from production to talk to Amber or Matt?
"I felt pressure of just attending their anniversary party. The etiquette is you go up and you wish them well, you bring a gift and all those things. I think that’s normal, right? So I don’t know that I felt pressure, but it was just in my nature to do that, otherwise it’s awkward. So, yeah, I was planning on doing that and I thought we’d be in a better place than we were, but that didn’t turn out to be the case."
When we see you take the gift to Matt, was that the only interaction you had with him?
"It was. That was the only interaction that I had. And it was probably the most awkward interaction of my entire life, not gonna lie."
I think on a lot of reality shows, producers find a way to get the cast members to interact, so this was kind of more real because that wasn't forced.
"Right. And I think the most awkward thing was I was standing there with the bag. The bag was held out towards him, and he just wasn't grabbing it. I think that was the most awkward part. I was so embarrassed."
What happened to the wine glasses? Did you keep them?
"Oh yeah. I use those all the time."
You mentioned that you don’t want Mark to be the villain, but what reactions have you seen so far? What do you think of his decision to sit it out?
"I think it all comes down again to experience, right? He’s not someone who is willing to stand up and be courageous enough to tell the real story, and that’s his prerogative. He may have other reasons. I don’t want to speak for him. But the entire way the first season was portrayed, I kept saying that age was the variant, I should have been saying experience, because this is the type of thing that I felt. I didn't feel like he could stand up for me. I didn't feel like he had the courage to stand up in any way, shape, or form. I felt like it just wasn’t there, and that’s exactly what you’re seeing. I don't think he knows how to really come to the table and speak the truth, which that’s okay. It is what it is. And again, I don't want to speak for him. I know he has a family now and that’s probably a reason, too, that he doesn't want to attend, because he’s attending to those very important things. But yeah, what you're seeing now is really the reason that I knew immediately with him that it wasn’t going to work. He didn’t have the kind of integrity that I was looking for."
Did you speak to him after the finale of the original series?
"He text messaged me the next day, actually, and apologized for betraying our decision."
Meaning that you were both going to say no at the altar.
"Yeah. He said, 'I’m so sorry I betrayed you and I know that we talked about the fact that we weren't going to have a future, especially in a marriage.' He sent that message and then, before the show aired, I had forgiven him and everything was water under the bridge. So, I reached out to him and I said, 'Hey, I just want you to know I'm here for you. I wish you the best whatever happens here.' And then we were great at the reunion. And then all of the fallout with the hate that I received, he never really came to my defense. And we’re all kind of sitting on this other part of the story that hadn’t been told yet, and he never came out and said any of that. I knew there was another woman involved. It turned out there were a couple other women on top of that. So with all of that, it didn’t come out."
Do you know why he didn’t go through with your plan?
"I don't know if he thought he would just kind of roll the dice and see if I changed my mind. But he was very much in the same place [as me]. I mean, he was seeing another woman, so I can't imagine he was really planning on being married. So it was just a total shock to me, and I’m just looking at him like, What is going on here. You’ve got to be kidding me. It was a shock in front of my friends and family and also very embarrassing."
How did you decide to not have your boyfriend come on After the Altar?
"He definitely would have been there for me, if I was like you absolutely have to go on this show so that I can walk in having you on my arm or something like that. But, one, we want to keep our relationships private, based on things I've seen with couples putting their relationship on television. I don't think I could handle anyone bashing my relationship. That would be really tough to take.
But the thing that was more important for us, and for me independently, was to be able to walk back into that show standing alone. Because the way that I got through the past year and a half — though having my relationship has been great — has really been doing the work myself. Rather than keeping on with this narrative that love is the end-all-be-all, I think the more important thing is to get through the tough times on our own, as well. It would have been the easy way out to bring him. But, yeah, that was important to me and to us, to tell that story that, hey, it doesn't have to be a marriage at the end of the day and a family. At the end of the day, getting through something on your own is just as great. I really want that story to be told, I think it’s important."
Would you ever do reality TV again, now that you’ve had such a different experience?
"I would never do a love reality show, but I would love to do something athletic, like Dancing with the Stars or The Amazing Race. I would definitely be up for something like that."
Editor's note: After Love Is Blind: After the Altar came out, Cuevas shared a statement on his Instagram Story regarding himself and his fiancée: “Don’t believe everything you see on TV. We didn’t join the reunion for a myriad of reasons. We are focused on being the best parents we can for our son. I stand by what I’ve said in the past about those situations and have moved on from LIB." Refinery29 has reached out to Cuevas for additional comment on Batten's cheating claims and their supposed plan at the altar.