Forget Love, Forget Sex, This Year’s Love Island Is About Male Friendships

It's the male bonding that is making Love Island such a joy to watch, argues Sam Diss.

Forget Love, Forget Sex, This Year's Love Island Is About Male Friendships

by Rebecca Reid |
Updated on

Love Island isn’t about love. It’s not even about sex, anymore. It’s barely even about The Chat, that ineffable banter energy, once seen as the key ingredient to any romance. No, in the summer of 2019, as far as the men are concerned, anyway, we are on Friendship Island.

Alan de Botton once wrote: ‘There is an epidemic of loneliness generated by the misguided idea that romantic love is the only solution to loneliness.’ The doyen of Over-Intellectualising Shagging will be smirking wryly into his Laphroaig if he’s been watching this series of ITV2’s finest export.

The concept of male friendship can be knotty and too often defined by concepts of 'going out on the pull' and the potential for a scrap outside a minicab office, but its representation on Love Island this summer has warmed my heart. Maybe it helps that there are no minicabs in the direct vicinity, but their friendships are wholesome in a way that reality TV is so often not. While Michael’s 'chaldish' jealousy saw him sequestered in the role of the villa’s gaslighting, square-headed Big Evil, the show’s masculine contingent are mostly marked by their refreshing closeness.

Of course there have been forebears. Chris and Kemwalked so that Curtis, Jordan, Michael, Tommy, Anton, Ovie (and to a lesser extent new lads Chris and Greg) could run. Without wishing to quote Stoke-on-Trent’s coolest young vicar ('You see, kids, Jesus is like an iPhone...'), when Curtis said the men of the house had made 'family for life' you almost – almost – believe him. He could’ve spared the hyperbole, though: reasonably recently an Australian study found that familial relationships had little impact on longevity, but the heady brew of a solid friendship increased life expectancy by up to 22 percent. That’s no small beer.

Speaking of which, it’s inarguable that alcohol plays an outsized role in a bromance. The majority of my own friendships involve the promise of trips to the pub or ice cold cans of Tyskie and premium crisps indoors, beer and snacks being the perfect way to grease the wheels of platonic intimacy.

But with such social lubricant largely removed from the equation in Love Island (contestants are allowed 'one or two drinks a night, either wine or beer, no spirits' according to producers) and without the ability to bond over endless games of FIFA, the artificial closeness of the show accelerates the connection between the young men.

The boys' friendships are the best things about Love Island
©Love Island

Each member has their own role to play, each representing key archetypes within the male friendship group:

Jordan’s easy confidence makes him the ultimate confidant and he has remained a constant calming presence that became surprisingly central to villa communication considering his late start, and serves as a meeting point for all others, always providing the opportunity to vent, usually while horizontal on one of the beds;

Curtis has gone from soft-footed hype manduring his time with Amy to more of an asides guy since his Maura shack-up, providing curious idioms and quips from stage-left during conversation, like a Shakespearian imp, while rarely dominating the conversation himself; (see also: Chris)

Anton has transformed from manicured manifestation of pure id – all sexual energy, bulging muscles, and an absolutely pristine arse – to the most openly empathetic contestant which been lovely to see; he is the product of what happens when a meathead is offered the opportunity to transcend his status via the medium of cooking a great carbonara;

Michael started as the experience voice of reason (his 'You never know... You never, never know' pep talk remains god-tier) but soon revealed himself to be a cautionary tale, an underratedly important role – everyone needs a fall guy;

Ovie is the villa’s North star; he is the man against whom all others are judged, with his soothing temperament and goofy humour, his emotional maturity and refusal to be caught slipping acts as the perfect foil for any man who is losing their head; (see also: Greg [a bit])

And Tommy just loves his girlfriend.

That balance of characters is important, but perhaps feels different to the dynamic within female friendship groups (in my experience, anyway). The friendships of the women in my life more often tend to be defined by their similarities, gravitating towards people who share their core beliefs and personality traits. Men seem to unconsciously seek out friends to fill the flaws they see within themselves: a shy lad like Tommy becoming close to someone with the easy confidence of a Jordan or Anton helps to strengthen both parties, just as I’m sure Tommy’s die-cast morality helps keep others on an even keel.

The connection between the men of the house is most evident in the tactileness of their affection. It’s interesting how the show’s use of the term 'boys' has summed up their bonding: they cuddle and play-fight, they all squish onto the sofa together for conflabs and lay in the sun limbs mingled to debrief. This is the kind of comfort you want to see between young men who get on, seemingly unencumbered by the staid norms of What Men Are Like, possessing none of the 'whoa, I didn’t mean to touch you!' gay panic that runs through touchstone pop culture, like on the show Friends.

And, yes, this closeness begins out of necessity – the show demands that its contestants are squidged together in claustrophobic clusters to help its storytelling remain clearly defined (too many disparate groups with competing narratives and you end up with a messy structure) – but it’s grown into something healthy and even inspiring in a show which has become a byword for the vapid toxicity of our vain, self-obsessed generation. It’s even made me motivated to try harder in my own friendships, to ensure that I diversify and push myself to reconnect with mates I’ve fallen away from through no fault other than my ingrained homebodiness and the soul-crushing busyness of working in a capital city.

Male friendships are often based around sports and work – the two wells I have continually drawn from since I left school – rather than their psychology; maybe because men appear to be so bad at regularly scheduling our socialising. I know I certainly am. I recently sat down and wrote the names of friends I cared about who I hadn’t seen in too long, and am determined to reconnect with them but friendships built on special efforts are doomed in the same way that romantic relationships are if they’re sustained through grand gestures rather than consistency.

Nothing can be more consistent than Love Island, a show which manages to cycle through the same three storylines for an entire summer of six-nights-a-week viewing, but if there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the show about doing bits and beach bods it’s this: we could all do with a few more mates.

READ MORE: Greg has to leave the Love Island Villa to attend his grandmother's funeral

READ MORE: Apparently none of the Love Island contestants are having sex

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