How well can you fake a relationship? Is Love Island real? Do those couples really like each other or are they making do for the £50,000 light at the end of the lackluster love tunnel?
Watching the theatrics unfold from the comfort of our relatively undramatic lives, it's hard not to ask those questions. It's an internal struggle between our craving for confirmation that true love really does exist (if only within Love Island's synthetic depiction of the 'real' world dating) and the skepticism around a few attractive people being shoved in a villa so we can watch them try and get with each other.
Whether you're under 24-hour camera surveillance or not, matters of the heart are far from straight forward, but that doesn't make it any easier to get your head around the strange dating rituals we've become accustomed to watching on TV this summer. So, to help us unpick the twists and turns of Love Island 2018, we enlisted some professional help.
'What we’re actually seeing is not true dating', registered psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman tells Grazia. She explains that dating through the lens of a competition is not a natural thing at all, which seems obvious when you think about it but is one of the key elements that distances Love Island interactions from the pressures to 'couple up' felt here in the real world. And yes, it might also explain the weird behaviour we've been spotting - the playground antics and disproportionate upset over having too much or not enough attention and the contestants persistently asking each other: 'where's your head at?'
There's very little chill in the Love Island villa. It's all high pressure, high intensity and high risk factor which means there's little time for the tactics we're used to employing when trying to hook up. 'Playing it cool and not giving too much away is one of the most obvious things that people do, but on this show they’re quite "dating aggressive"', Dr. Spelman explains. 'They’re very quick to say "I fancy you" they’re also very quick to move on from the last person, so it’s dating with a competitive nature'.
It's the level of assertion that seems to catch many of us off guard. The way contestants march over to each other 'for a chat', the demanding (and uninvited taking) of physical affection and even sharing a bed before knowing a thing about the other person can be a bit much. And all of the contestants have had to throw themselves into the competitive 'romance' of it not only to survive the game, but to also be in with a chance of a relationship with someone who will inevitably be 'grafted' by the opposition - anyone else of the same sex.
Georgia's methods leant towards the old 'treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen' adage, which didn't always play out the way she intended. Dr. Spelman explains how this approach can be misconstrued: 'That doesn’t work on Love Island but that’s not to say it doesn’t work in the real world. People want to go for what’s valuable ... so if someone offers themselves on a plate then, they probably don’t have a lot of self worth. If you do have to work a little bit for someone in that you have to take it slowly, you have to spend time with them, you have to be nice to them to get to know them and take them out of dates, that can feel like you're actually 'treating them mean' but actually it’s just a normal process of someone having high self of steam'.
We know full well that Love Island forces a complicated vulnerability in its contestants, however Dr. Spelman adds: 'When people are drawn to healthy relationships, they’ll go for someone who treats them a little bit mean to keep them keen but actually it’s not mean, they’re just slowing the process as a protective mechanism because they value themselves.'
'Meghan is quite a shy person and she has been quite competitive on the show to secure the person that she wants, so she was quite forward in asking Wes to kiss her when she realised that she was attracted to him', Dr. Spelman says. 'Even the shy people in this competition - you start to see some unusual behaviour and it might come across quite aggressive'. From Meghan's 'kiss me, kiss me', to Alex's defensiveness over being rejected by Ellie, we've certainly seen that transition play out.
In this pressurised dating environment, people's true colours do also bubble to the surface, though. Dr Spelman describes Laura as quite an insecure person and she's 'getting triggered in all of her relationships'. She adds: 'She started showing quite strong signs of not being secure and patient with a relationship, and that puts a lot of pressure on the partners she's with'. Wes unceremoniously jumped ship in the worst possible way, and new Jack gave up on trying to convince Laura that his kiss with Georgia wasn't what it seemed. 'She's showing signs of insecurity really early on and so they don't want to compete for her and then they lose interest and move on to the next person.
It all sounds textbook, but the one refrain that has grated on us the most over the last few weeks is the boys' 'I'm not unhappy, but I could be happier' mentality that translates into frustratingly disrespectful levels of treatment towards the girls. 'In a house full of beautiful people, people have upped their standards and where they may have been happy in the outside world, because they've got an abundance of choice and they know that there are other options in the house, they want the best', Dr Spelman explains.
'They're very confident in their behaviour so they're not afraid to go for what they actually want - the show has cast extroverted cast members, there are virtually no introverts in that house so the "I'm happy but could be happier" goes with the type of personality that they recruited for the show'.
The one potentially positive side effect of the Love Island dynamic is that the speed at which things move means that the contestants are forced to be more sincere with their choices than we perhaps give them credit for. 'In Love Island, whoever you're coupled up with, you have to make the decision really fast as to whether you're really going to focus on them or not so there's actually less beating around the bush and more honesty', Dr Spelman says. That is, more honesty than we're used to in the real world dating scene where stringing people along and incidental ghosting is often considered the easy way out of a relationship you don't want.
When you're battling for survival, gunning for a place in the Do Bits Society and desperately trying to make a condensed whirlwind romance appear idyllic enough for the unforgiving British public to keep giving you air-time, the last thing any of the Love Island contestants want to face is whether their relationships will work 'on the outside'. We're talking legitimate real world coupledom. The type of long-term dynamic that'll work beyond the first few months of joint club night appearances and teeth whitening endorsements. One that doesn't rely upon being forcibly all over each other.
The dynamics are hard to decipher because our intimidatingly beautiful Islanders seem very connected to the fact that 1) they are taking part in a competition and 2) at some point they'll have to leave the well-catered confines of their Majorcan villa, with or without a boo to take back to mum and dad and 3) we only see a chopped up snippet of what's really been going on behind those walls. But Dr. Spelman assures me that faking an attraction isn't as easy as the skeptics among us would like to believe, despite the numerous games of Musical Beds that have happened this year.
'Its very hard to fake being attracted and its pretty impossible to take things slowly', Dr. Spelman says. 'It’s fast dating and much faster than in the real world and there are pros and cons to it. I think the pros are that people are more honest and are forced to make strong decisions and stick by them ... the disadvantage is that it's a very artificial dating set up and therefore odd things happen that would never happen in the real world, such as a lie detector test'.
The lie detector test is the weird highlight of each series of Love Island - resulting in juicy fall outs and heartfelt declarations of genuine affection. But that doesn't make the glorified game of 'true or false' any more of a fair exercise to put relatively new couples through. Dr. Spelman calls up questions like 'do you want to marry me' or 'will we stay together in the outside world' as being particularly unfair. 'If the person says no you’re in trouble but how can they possibly say yes if they’ve only been dating someone for a few weeks'.
'I think that certain things are designed to trigger emotions are really unfair such as bring Jack’s ex in – that was completely unfair and that would never happen in the real world and Dani was brought to tears and challenged in a completely unfair way'.
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