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The Allure of Reality Dating: Why We’re So Obsessed with Love on TV

Love Island showcases some of the many struggles of modern dating. How soon should you put all your eggs in one basket? Will his head be turned?

Photo Credits: Shutterstock / Tint Media

With Love Island returning to our screens for another triumphant year, this time recycling its previous contestants for an ‘All-Star’ edition, it is time we finally asked ourselves:

Why are we so obsessed with love? That is with watching others find it.

Is there still love on the island?

The enduring popularity of Love Island discloses, aside from a desire for overnight fame, our strong voyeuristic pleasure in watching the most intimate moments of somebody else’s life unfold with maximum drama. Moments you would never normally, and arguably never should, see can suddenly be inches away from your face and observed in the comfort of your own home.

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Is it easier to open up your heart when in paradise? Or can it break just as easily as in the real world? Photo Credits: Shutterstock // Anusorn ThaiLand

Reality TV has brought about an entirely new lack of boundaries and a fresh blueprint for dating. The love stories typically depicted in Hollywood films and scripted TV shows have always had a reputation for being well…. unrealistic.

From predictable rom-com plots to musical sing-alongs to Disney kisses (ranging from creepy to necrophiliac), there has been an undeniable chasm between love on and off-screen. The reality of being taken on a first date to McDonalds wouldn’t be so crushingly disappointing if it hadn’t been for watching Cinderella as a child.

How Real is Reality TV?

For better or worse, reality TV has changed all that. As an English Literature student, I got a giggle from hearing last year’s Love Island contestants Samie and Tom’s love poetry for one another, which featured poor rhyming choices and a limited vocabulary.

Nevertheless, it was this imperfect simplicity that made their love story relatable, for the average Joe doesn’t always have a perfectly worded poem, letter or speech lined up, as Hollywood film creators would have you believe. Sometimes the words we speak in the heat of emotion are just a bit awkward, poorly chosen, and full of clumsy sentiment.

Love Island showcases some of the many struggles of modern dating. How soon should you put all your eggs in one basket? Will his head be turned? Although, with completely unrealistic body standards and in the artificial setting of a tropical villa (which at times seems more like an oversized playground or prison), we witness some strange yet familiar moments. First kisses, betrayals, petty arguments. The stuff that makes up and tears apart relationships in the real world as well.

More than skin deep?

Despite my claim that there are plenty of relatable moments to be found within, Love Island is most often criticized for focusing on the superficial attraction between very hot, dolled-up, and often surgically-enhanced people. The antidote to this show duly arrived in the form of Netflix’s Love is Blind, which became an overnight hit.

Does falling in love blindly mean falling in love more authentically? Photo Credits: Shutterstock // Bagus Production

A show designed to prove that you can fall in love, sight unseen, through purely conversational dating. The message completely reverses the existing narrative of reality dating shows being constructed around physical attraction.

Already in the first season, with the wholesome and genuine relationship found between Lauren and Cameron, the show’s hypothesis was proven correct. Yet, as with many other experiments, only a few lucky participants out of a large group were successful, with many falling by the wayside.

Despite Love is Blind being fundamentally not superficial, it became clear from the second stage of the experiment, that a deep emotional connection through a wall doesn’t necessarily equal a strong physical attraction. The temptation of seeing other participants after a few days was enough to tear some couples apart. For others, it was family, finances, bad habits, or simply not fancying one another enough.

Voyeurism? Indulgence? Sadism?

There is something fundamentally sadistic in the way dating shows pit people against each other to compete for the affection of others. Whilst this reflects the real dating landscape, it is also unusual to be sharing living quarters and even bedrooms with your romantic competitors, as these shows often require. It is no wonder that with traumatic plot points such as Love Island’s “Casa Amour”, so many end up distressed after participation in these shows. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why we enjoy seeing others suffer in the name of “love” on screen.

We can just enjoy the chaos from the comfort of our couch! Photo Credits: Shutterstock // Antonio Guillem

Could it be the safety of getting to watch these confrontational horror scenes play out from the comfort of our couches rather than venturing into the real world and putting ourselves at emotional risk? Or could it be that we are a little bored in our relationship and it’s fun to relive the ups and downs of initial attraction in dating whilst enjoying the security of our situation?

Lessons in Love…

The recent development, Love is Blind Sweden has been praised for its down-to-earth contestants and interactions, contrasting the exaggerated and theatrical moments in the original American version. I, for one, can’t wait for the upcoming Love is Blind UK, which I hope will include deep conversations about favorite takeaway orders and discussions of going on the pull.

Despite having very different ethos’ and messages, most reality dating shows seem to be pointing towards a common goal of establishing better communication. Whilst this is executed by forcing participants to be around each other in intense 24/7 environments, maybe we could simply learn to be more present when it comes to getting to know new people.

While the shows each have their undeniable flaws, we can nevertheless pull some guidance from each. Maybe love is blind, but maybe it also has a type on paper, and maybe that type is sometimes too hot to handle.

I am a third year English Literature and Creative Writing student, interning here at Trill Mag. I am passionate about people, food and travel, and am endlessly curious about the world around me.

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