Say what you will about reality TV, but I reckon Love Island has a lot to offer us. Eight whole weeks of memes and great office chat, for a start. But life in the villa also provides some fascinating and genuinely quite important lessons about love, life, toxic masculinity and how we view relationships in 2018.
I’m semi-ashamed to admit I easily churned out about 5000 words of draft copy for this blog; seriously, I’ve had to finalise it on a Saturday when there wasn’t any new fodder for me to comment on. I could write endlessly about the gender dynamics and attitudes at play in the villa. But nobody wants to read my Love Island dissertation, so for a start, I’ve whittled down this post to three things the villa can teach us about love and the dangers of toxic masculinity.
Love Island Lesson 1: A ‘bad boy’ usually makes for a ‘bad boyfriend’
Why do we persist in loving bad boys when the clue is quite literally in the name? I get it: they’re usually bloody attractive. Adam is a handsome rogue, you have to give him that.
I’ve done it. Your mates have done it. We’ve all bloody done it.
But WHY? Why is this a thing? I think we tell ourselves that we really mean: ‘I love cheeky guys, with good chat’. But in reality, on 9/10 occasions, this really equates to ‘I love people who treat me like shit, ghost me on WhatsApp, have a track record of cheating, and give me post-coital tristesse at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon.’
I know it’s a game show, so Adam theoretically has license to churn through women like I churn through Holland & Barrett raisin and cashew nut mix. But Adam has shown his stripes repeatedly; I’ll never get over his smirking arrogance despite Rosie’s visible distress. Another level of callous. But now, a week or two later, all seems forgotten? At any rate, the gals are still remarkably keen to crack on.
It’s a truly bizarre notion and it stinks of toxic masculinity. Because every time we knowingly decide to take a spin on a bad boy, we reinforce the notion that if you’re good looking enough, treating women like shit is okay. Granted, poor Kendall wasn’t to know. But Rosie really had the warning signs in front of her. And Zara? Oh, love: when somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time. (Granted Darylle is yet to properly declare herself, but I’m not holding out much hope).
And women aren’t the only ones at risk here. The notion of the desirable bad boy is just as damaging for men. It enables and encourages bad behaviour. How can men feel comfortable displaying softness and warmth and empathy, when we constantly reinforce the idea that being a dickhead is an attractive quality?
And look, I get it: it’s a game show. But Adam’s complete lack of remorse/empathy/human emotion for Rosie as she poured her heart out was terrifying, and it really worries me that people might still be looking at him and thinking: ‘yes, he’s a literal turd, but he’s very handsome, and I’d definitely still have a crack’. Gals (and guys), it’s a no from me. Bad boys make bad boyfriends at best. And at worst…
Lesson 2: Think he’s gaslighting you? He’s probably gaslighting you.
It’s okay for your partner to drive you crazy. I often infuriate mine, with my propensity for squirrelling hairbrushes under the covers and leaving jobs half finished.
What’s not okay is for your partner to make you feel crazy. If the person you’re with repeatedly makes you uncertain and confused about your version of events, it’s important to take time to question what’s going on.
Warning signs include: overtly making you feel jealous and then denying all knowledge; recounting conversations in a way that jars with your memory of events; twisting something you did say so you can’t technically claim innocence; and insisting that your intentions were different to what they were (“you were flirting with him!” “no, I just smiled at him for serving me dinner”). Bonus point for any “I just get jealous and angry because I love you so much” manipulation.
Serious red flags include feeling permanently more anxious than you used to, walking on eggshells, avoiding confrontation, and constantly feeling like you’ve done something wrong.
Obviously this happens on both sides. But it’s in many ways trickier for women, because accusations made by gaslighters are often reinforced by negative gender stereotypes—‘she’s crazy, she’s insecure, she’s embarrassing herself’.
Not only is this toxic masculinity at its finest, it’s also bloody difficult to spot, because it’s insidious and creeping. To make it worse, these unhealthy relationships often start in a whirl of romantic passion, so you’re left thinking: ‘but this person was so great to me—surely I’m imagining this?’ Gaslighters, as a rule, are charming. They’re often good looking, and charismatic, and completely oblivious to the noxiousness of their own behaviour.
Fortunately, with Love Island being televised, it’s much clearer that Adam is indeed trash. But for those of us who don’t have the privilege of round the clock camera crews, a simple bit of advice. If you’ve got a stage where you seriously wonder if you’re being gaslit: you probably are. Please, please, get out. This can so easily spiral into serious emotional abuse. I know too many women—strong, clever, beautiful women—who have been reduced a shell by this sort of behaviour. Compile some screenshots. Share them with loved ones. You are not alone. You are not insane.
Lesson 3: Being a ‘nice guy’ doesn’t make you the ‘right guy’
Now let’s swing to the other end of the toxic masculinity pendulum. The nice guy. The spiritual guy. Lord forgive me, but I’ve fallen for this one before. Bad boys might be horrendous, but as least they’re obvious about it.
Let’s lay it down: virtually every single man I have ever met who makes a visible point of highlighting his own ‘niceness’ has had more than a hint of the ‘tremendous shit’ about him.
Seriously, this is just not something that genuinely kind people do. Kindness is always visible without overt reference. It announces itself quietly, as does true spirituality, arriving with a soft, unflappable aura of general loveliness. It’s just obvious. Decency is like… sticky toffee pudding. Not much too look at, but by god, you know it when you smell it.
And we’ve had two notable cases of nice-guy syndrome in the villa, albeit expressed quite differently. Presenting the defendants: Eyal and Alex. Whether you agree with me or not, I offer two pieces of evidence:
Alex: ‘I was ready to treat Ellie like a princess and she’s thrown it in my face’.
Eyal: ‘I didn’t expect everything I’d worked towards to be thrown in my face’.
Sorry: nope. I had so much material for this segment, but really it boils down to the above. WTF? I’m sorry, but you virtually never hear women saying this sort of shit. And I’m not here for it. Women are not coinstars. You cannot shove pennies of niceness into us and expect to get a paper bill of adoration (or for us to ‘do bits’) in return.
Where does this attitude come from? Maybe it’s the flip side of the bad boy problem. Are we inadvertently teaching our boys that some men are so awful to women, the act of being ‘nice’ merits romantic affection? This is a gross disservice to all genders, if true.
Because let’s be clear: having nice-guy syndrome doesn’t make you a bad person. I don’t seriously dislike Alex; I think he’s probably well intentioned and quite sweet in his bumbling way. And yes, being rejected is hard. (I do think Eyal is a toe, soz). But it can make you dangerous. My stomach dropped when I saw Alex’s reaction to Ellie parring him off.
Rejection can make your chin tremble with impending tears but it shouldn’t make your nostrils flare with rage.
TLDR: 3 lessons from the men of Love Island.
- When somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time. A bad-boy dickhead will always be a dickhead, and you really don’t deserve it.
- When your partner makes you feel crazy, walk away. (Unless you are Beyonce, crazy in love, in which case, proceed.)
- Nice guy ≠good guy. Approach with caution.
So there we have it: my three lessons on love from the villa. You may think be thinking: ‘this is a mental heath blog, what are you blathering on about?’ but I know categorically how ignoring these lessons can lead to the detriment of your mental health. Romantic love won’t fix your mental health, but by God it can destroy it.
And this is never truer than when some poisonous gender fuckery is at play. (I’m aware this is all very binary man/woman, by the way; that’s simple because I’m limiting this to the villa. I know it’s more complex.) Learning to recognise toxic masculinity and react appropriately is vital for your self-preservation. It’s the curly-haired hippy with a nasty streak when you don’t play ball with his chakras. It’s the gorgeous, dead-behind-the-eyes lothario. It’s the well-spoken Doctor whose nostrils twitch with anger when yet another girl fails to fancy him.
And it’s complicated, because these same men can be kind and funny and good. Silly and soft, sweet and shy, charming and charismatic and side-splittingly funny. We all exist on a spectrum, and we are all products of our society.
You might think this is just 1500 words of me ranting about the opposite sex, but it’s not. I certainly have my Angry Feminist™ badge, but I adore the opposite sex; I am fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant, decent men, so there’s no reason for me not to. The reason I want to call this shit out is because it benefits all of us to identify and cull these sorts of behaviours. We all stand to benefit from living and loving in a world without toxic masculinity.
So what can we do? We can call it out, when we see it. We can reject it, when we encounter it. We can do more to teach our men that we value them most when they’re decent and thoughtful and good. We can teach women that they never deserve to be spoken to like shit, manipulated into feeling insane, or made to feel obligated by the basic human quality of kindness.
It’s not much, and it’s just some silly lessons from a silly TV show. But it’s a start.
Sorry to go all ‘he’s just not that into you’, but as a closing note… Want to know the sign of a healthy, emotionally stable man?
If somebody really likes you they will make it fairly obvious, generally be quite decent to you, and then ask you to be their girl/boyfriend.
It’s that simple.
(Love you, Jani).
Girls, if you’re wondering how to remodel your attitudes toward men, and how you deserve to be treated, I present: Queen Laura.