I’ve always felt like people define themselves by what they hate, not what they love (me included). And during my last few summers in the U.K., Love Island is this one topic that seems to be right in the middle—some hate on it, some absolutely love it. For the few of you that have been living under a rock, Love Island is a reality TV show where hot young singles (all looking for love) move to a house in Majorca and couple-up with someone in order to survive in the villa. Weekly, the ‘Islanders’ with the fewest votes have to leave the show. The winning couple leaves the island with £50,000.
I only started watching Love Island last year, and although it made me cringe from its initial tacky look and feel at first, I slowly got into it. A year later, you’ll find me on my sofa at 9pm sharp almost every night, ready to watch the daily events unfold. Put people under a microscope for two months and you’ll get viewers. Why? Not only because it’s basic human nature to scrutinise, criticise and analyse other people, but also because Love Island has these added elements of love, dating, ‘grafting’, ‘humping’ and people talking about their ‘type on paper’. What’s not to like?
In a country where Brexit seems to be a main point of discussion, one that is stressful for most of us, Love Island is my distraction. And while it’s important that people call out the show’s lack of diverse representation (after last year’s first black female contestant ever, there have been numerous articles about Yewande Biala, the one black woman on this year’s show), it’s worth thinking about the wider positive effects it has on viewers.
My point is that even though there are a lot of things that are wrong with Love Island, there are also many positive outcomes. Viewers might not relate to the unrealistic body standards or, more precisely, the lack of (body) diversity, but there is one thing everyone can relate to, the Islanders’ need for love. Unlike the other famous reality TV show Big Brother, Love Island is about showing how people react to topics that viewers can easily relate to—rejection, betrayal; abandonment. Talking to Vogue about Big Brother, clinic director of Harley Therapy, Sheri Jacobson said the show had a “tactic of purposely bringing in psychologically unstable (and thus highly vulnerable) people into the mix for entertainment’s sake”.
Let’s make things clear, just like any other TV reality show, Love Island is heavily edited—intense romantic relationships or not, both are manipulated by producers before ending up on our screens. Once taken with a pinch of salt, you’ll notice how the show operates on a different number of levels, creating a ‘theatre’ where Islanders are part of the ‘cast’. And this is exactly why I like Love Island so much, it is one of the best (and longest) plays I’ve seen. I see the show as metatheatre as a half joke and half serious point, with the definition of metatheatre being comedy and tragedy, and giving the audience a chance to laugh at the protagonist while feeling empathetic simultaneously. Sounds about right.
Love Island also clearly defines the complexities of British society. Admittedly, that’s not the reason I started watching it, but anyone criticising the reality TV show for its lack of intelligence should then decide to put their focus on what the show reflects of our society and our way of interacting with each other, not on the bare bums and silly arguments. One of the rules that the Islanders are given before going on the show is that they’re not allowed to talk politics or share their political views. Why exactly is that prohibited? Would it not make Love Island appealing to more viewers by showing Britain’s diverse political opinions, or would it just end in another Sherif drama?
Love Island is definitely not perfect, but it compelled me not to be so judgmental. Who am I to judge people on TV, especially people that just want to find love (and, okay, possibly win £50,000, something that is a big enough incentive to be accepted by everyone as the main goal of the journey, and yet last night Molly-Mae was fuming after being accused of doing that exactly)? The show points out the social dynamics that we also have in our own lives and pushes me to reflect on my own relationships (romantic or not). Maybe you should have a go as well, have a little Love Island therapy session.
If you have been on a dating app recently, you will likely have seen the phrase ‘ethically non-monogamous’. Overused to the point of cliché, it’s hard to tell what distinguishes the term from its non-ethical counterparts. So, what exactly does it mean?
While many of us have practised non-monogamy or been in an open relationship at one time or another, sexual and romantic exclusivity remain the norm. Some people, however, decide to see other partners outside the relationship, a choice requiring openness, communication, and boundaries (however loosely defined) to make it work for everyone involved.
This is where the ‘ethical’ dimension comes in; being mindful of your sexual or romantic partners’ needs alongside your own and, accordingly, treating them with respect and honesty. It is a term which is often used synonymously with polyamory and, just like polyamory, it comes in all shapes and sizes and—though you might not think it—has been around for a very long time.
The common misconception about polyamory is that it’s a modern invention, a destructive fad that seeks to wreak havoc on the altogether more ‘natural’ dyad relationship structure. Yet, it’s important to recognise that relationship standards are culturally specific and that although Western culture privileges one relationship style, this doesn’t automatically make it the ‘right’ one.
According to research by Prof. Roger Rubin, only 43 (of 238 societies across the world) are monogamous. Polyamory has been and still is traditional to many indigenous cultures, and academics like Dr Kim Tallbear have theorised what they call ‘settler sexuality’ as the colonial imposition of compulsory heterosexuality, cisgenderism, and monogamy on indigenous peoples of Canada and the U.S.
Within the context of Western settler culture, polyamory boomed in the ‘60s and ‘70s when it arose from the free love movement and developments in feminist and queer thinking that questioned the traditional family structure.
When we accept non-monogamy, we pay homage to these radical roots and commit to thinking critically about why we’ve been told to aspire to one particular kind of relationship. Through polyamory, individuals can define new forms of kinship on their own terms, with some building an expansive support network of partners and others developing alternative forms of parenting. Non-monogamy, however, can also serve as a tool for rethinking the hierarchy of relationships that positions coupled romance at its pinnacle and creates the expectation that one person can and should satisfy all of our emotional, romantic, and sexual needs.
It’s important to note that, in practice, polyamorous relationships are not free from abusive power dynamics, just like monogamous ones. Polyamory, however, can help us diagnose some of the more problematic aspects of mainstream relationship culture—just as mainstream relationship culture has generated its own critiques of polyamory.
For example, in recent years the term ‘toxic monogamy’ has emerged from online polyamorous communities as a way to describe more problematic manifestations of monogamy. These can include the idea that possessiveness is an expression of commitment, as well as forms of co-dependency facilitated by the idea that your romantic partner has to function as the be-all and end-all in your life. For those who continue to seek monogamous connections, it’s worth giving real thought to how these potentially harmful dynamics might play out in your relationships.
While neither monogamy nor polyamory is ‘more ethical’ than the other, I have found myself in the latter camp, over the past five years. I have experimented with forms of non-monogamy but often found that my behaviour was less than exemplary. Struggling to come to terms with non-monogamy in a relationship environment that’s dominated by a monogamous commitment on the one hand and a poorly defined dating culture on the other, I can admit that at times I have been too casual with other people’s feelings and at others, I have been pressured into ill-fated monogamous setups.
Throughout this period, I was reluctant to recite terms like ‘polyamorous’ or ‘ethically non-monogamous’. While I was aware of the related subcultures, I was put off by what seemed like an excessive focus on rules and jargon and the often holier-than-thou attitude that I found in these environments. Spending the past few months trying to learn more about ethical non-monogamy and how it can help me become a better partner, whether sexually or romantically, has displaced some of these reservations. Accepting it as a process, rather than a label, I have come to see it as a roadmap to explore alternative relationships on my own terms.
This article is the first of a two-part series exploring unconventional relationships, created in partnership with Feeld.