The Disposable Dating Game: Love Island

The nation has spent the last six weeks or so watching tanned, toned individuals find romance in a Mallorcan villa. Some 4.1 million people caught the first episode of Love Island 2018. The Love Island app has been downloaded 1.2 million times and the podcast has been in the top ten since it launched. Watching strangers pursue and reject one another is truly one of the UK current favourite hobbies, including myself!

Do we like them because love is relatable? Or is it simply the exotic location, beautiful luxury villa and ‘in-shape’ bodies suggest escapism? For me, it is honestly escapism; I enjoy following each individual’s journey throughout their time. I love watching the human interactions and friendships growing and becoming stronger and stronger. Friends who have my back no matter what is something I value which makes the relationships relatable for me personally; all the girls coming together supporting one another.

Love Island’s point of difference from all of the other dating shows in the crowded market is possibly the wit of the voiceover commentary and the relatability. Emotional resonance is key. In my opinion, Love Island strikes a chord with people and captures nuanced conversations about relationships. We are hearing men articulate feelings; we are seeing them be open and vulnerable, which is stereotypically seen as weak or unmasculine. We are also listening to women discuss love and watching their thought processes. I think they must forget about the cameras as we always appear to get genuine conversations.

We are using this show to develop and articulate our own feelings about relationships. We can conclude what characteristics we do like in a friend and partner and ones that we would rather avoid. It could also give people the confidence to put themselves out there and talk to someone they have been interested in but too ashamed or scared to approach them. Advice shared on the show could also be applied to a real life situation. It is a type of cultural catharsis that brings us back to the sofa every night.

Yes it’s entertainment for most, but it’s also the love stories we crave. As I stated above, it is a powerful way for us to set our own standards for relationships. We are essentially testing our own fantasies in a harmless way, refining what we want in a romantic partner. I also find that Love Island allows me to sit and learn about myself without actually dating someone – they help us understand who we want to be.

I also love the sense of community. As a nation, we collectively watch the show each night and the next day discuss the happenings and key moments across desks at work, during chats with friends and/or debates in WhatsApp groups. I tend to find that we like the people who are similar to us, supporting those who make us feel better about ourselves and our value systems. I find it quite reassuring.

The show has been labelled Tinder as a TV programme in which the recoupling is like swiping left and right when you like someone. This could be why the public think this set-up is so familiar. It is showing us our own anxiety over hook-up culture and exposing our interest in melodrama.

The people on the show become hosts to different types of people; maybe not body types, but certainly different accents, professions and backgrounds. Criticism that I will say is that it has taken until this year to include the first ever black female contestant, Samira, which is a long overdue representation, and there is virtually no body diversification. This is something that is underrepresented in UK popular culture; we are seeing only people in the top 1% looks-wise getting rejected and judged which can make us all, including myself, feel intimidated.

When we compare ourselves to these people, it can lead to negative self-perception and we focus on where we don’t measure up; it really can affect our body image and self-esteem.

The show is a microcosm of what is going on in the real world. Watching relationships form, falter and blow up in the islanders’ faces is oddly comforting – conformation that we are not the only ones finding the dating game in 2018 confusing and sometimes brutal.

For example, Personal Trainer, Adam’s smirking rejection of a tearful Rosie was so cruel and promoted Women’s Aid to issue a warning about unhealthy, manipulative relationship behaviour – or ‘gaslighting.’ If there is a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you could be part of the pattern of emotional abuse.

The fact that Adam has now moved on to the fourth girl in two weeks is illustrative of the constant hedging of bets we see in real-life dating these days. Its behaviour that encapsulates the problem with modern romance: we are all looking over each other’s shoulders at the other options. This lack of reassurance usually leads to the other member of the relationship losing their mind and losing trust.

I dislike seeing people in the villa struggle to get to the, ‘exclusive’ stage, a partner making them think they are paranoid, the moving on suspiciously quickly, or the wondering if a better partner could be just a swipe or two away. A common phrase used by some of the islanders is, ‘I’m happy … but there’s no saying I couldn’t be happier.’

Having said this, the beauty of the show is that it also reminds us how fantastic dating can be when it clicks. Just look at Jack and Dani, a couple who five weeks ago were just each other’s ‘type on paper’, and are now modelling the respectful, caring, supportive, laughter-filled relationship we all aspire to have. It’s a reminder that there really is a special connection out there waiting to be found.

I feel that the most relatable aspects of the show are the intensity of emotion, the alliances and the rejection. Overall, I don’t know about you, but after each episode of Love Island, I feel an added dose of voyeurism, romance, escapism and community which is great if used to invest in other people and understand ourselves!


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