What ‘Love Island UK’ can teach us about the importance of exclusivity


Illustration by Victoria Pittella

Adelaide Verdugo-Thomson, Contributing Writer

This article contains spoilers from season eight of ITV’s “Love Island UK.” 

If there’s one thing to learn from bad reality TV, it’s that the solution is always to communicate — especially about boundaries and intentions.

ITV’s “Love Island UK” is a reality game show centered around attractive eligible singles with one common goal: finding love. Contestants must couple up with each other each week based on their romantic feelings.

“Love Island UK” has perfected an intoxicating blend of reality TV and love, captivating viewers to tune in every night to see what their favorite contestants have been up to, and of course, witness the heart-wrenching miscommunication that comes with young love.

The first time I watched “Love Island UK,” I felt an intense mix of sympathy and closeness to the contestants. After all, everyone has a painful story about romance: lost connections, petty fights or even heartbreak. While “Love Island UK” has the veneer of a shallow reality TV show, it reflects a deeper instinct of our desire to love and be loved. The sheer popularity of romantic reality TV tells us this. We want our partner to love us so much that they’re willing to scream it from the rooftops, but why are we reluctant to do the same for them?

Fear of commitment can be debilitating, with individuals fearing emotional intimacy, rejection and the devastating heartbreak that may result. Situationships — relationships characterized by a lack of boundaries or labels — can appear to be an easy solution to those who are afraid of commitment but still value romantic relationships. However, situationships are a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Situationships are rampant on “Love Island UK” as contestants don’t want to appear too eager or too attached. Yet a majority of contestants expected exclusivity without holding an explicit conversation with their partner. This expectation would sour into jealousy when contestants couldn’t read each other’s minds. 

Exclusivity is a taboo concept in the “Love Island UK” villa. Contestants are hesitant to have a label and often avoid the topic. Other times, contestants never say explicitly they’re exclusive but say “their heads wouldn’t be turned” — a romantic way of saying they wouldn’t be interested in pursuing somebody else.

“Love Island UK” producers introduce a clever solution halfway through each season to exaggerate this problem: Casa Amor, a villa with swaying palm trees and secrete alcoves, enticing contestants to “turn their heads.” Even better, the coupled male and female contestants are separated and must be away from each other, introducing contestants to a whole new set of people. The lack of explicit conversations about exclusivity suddenly becomes an excuse. How were they supposed to stay loyal when they weren’t ever exclusive?

Season eight of “Love Island UK” stunned audiences as this year’s Casa Amor revealed the contestants’ unashamed excitement to date new contestants despite loyalties to their existing partners. Contestants Dami Hope and Indiyah Polack recoupled with new contestants from Casa Amor, despite not wanting the other one to find someone new.

The loyalty the contestants owed to one another was up for debate. If they were coupled up, did that mean they were exclusive?

Less than half of romantic couples have an explicit conversation about exclusivity, leaving the majority of romantic couples to assume exclusivity through implicit behaviors, according to a study by the University of Toronto Press. The lack of open communication can leave room for genuine error that can result in heartbreak.

Contestants Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu and Davide Sanclimenti got into a heated argument after Cülcüloğlu snuck a kiss on the terrace with another man. Sanclimenti was hurt by Cülcüloğlu’s disloyalty. But, as the saying often goes on “Love Island UK,” “you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Indeed, the idea of playing the field is deeply entrenched in our modern dating culture. We are conditioned to be strategic and wary of emotional intimacy, so much so that we miss out on great opportunities. We trade exclusivity and trust with distance and suspicion. 

Once contestants began to have conversations about exclusivity and declared their love for one another, it was smooth sailing. Cülcüloğlu and Sanclimenti went on to win the eighth season of “Love Island UK” with around 64% of the public vote. Hope and Polack took third place and won the hearts of many viewers. Defining their relationships gave both the contestants and the audience a sense of security.

That security is imperative in relationships, and exclusivity is an effective tool for doing so. Both parties must understand the boundaries and expectations of being exclusive.

Emotions can be nebulous and ever-changing but being honest with your partner about your intentions can save a lot of heartache. There’s nothing more romantic than a leap of faith.

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