Love Island invites so much commentary because it's essentially a televised study of modern dating, particularly for straight people – though some of the behaviours exhibited do have their place across the sexuality spectrum.
As I wrote earlier this week, the intensity of the process speeds up the formation of relationships: where, in the real world, you might hang out with a new partner a few times a week, the contestants spend all day, every day living alongside one another, and it's easy to see how attachments form, and to be entertained by, and relate to, them when they do.
Over the last couple of days, however, this has shifted from "omg looool been there" group chat fodder to genuinely upsetting viewing, with one contestant behaving in a way that, unfortunately, too many of us – in particular women – not only recognise, but find deeply troubling.
This week, the programme has shown the breakdown of the relationship between sentient chest day Adam Collard and Welsh lawyer Rosie Williams, which has prompted discussion of gaslighting and emotional abuse. Adam's behaviour has been so concerning, in fact, that yesterday Women's Aid released an official statement on it, which notes that, "In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse."
In case you missed it, a potted history of Love Island’s A-plot so far this week goes something like this: Adam recognised new arrival Zara McDermott as "his type" (on Monday's episode he observed that Kendall, Rosie and Zara – the three women he has been romantically involved with so far – "could be sisters"; all three women have long, brown hair), and swiftly sent his pheromones in her general direction, by looking at her a lot and saying things like "Where's your head at?"
During this period, he grew more distant with his official match Rosie, who felt his frostiness and questioned him about it, though he denied anything was wrong (despite the fact footage had clearly shown him taking an interest in Zara). In a later confrontation, Rosie described how hurt she felt by the ease with which he had changed his mind, particularly as the two had become closer sexually. She held back tears as he smirked and belittled her, refusing to accept responsibility and telling her, "I just think it's funny, the way you react."
For me – and I'm sure for others who've experienced emotional abuse in relationships – seeing her essentially told that her feelings about someone else's bad behaviour were invalid felt like all of my lowest points played back to me, acted out by a man with an aggressive suntan.
Gaslighting happens when someone – anyone, but usually a romantic partner – behaves as though your recollection of events is wrong in order to suit their own narrative. It's easy for Adam to leave Rosie behind if she is simply "too much" – if the blame lies with her and not him. It's a common tactic of abusers, and often involves invalidating someone's feelings, as Adam has with Rosie, or even putting their mental health into question; it's the logical starting point of a comment like, "My ex-girlfriend is absolutely MENTAL," which often really means, "My ex-girlfriend expressed her basic feelings and I didn't like it." It can also have disastrous results, leaving the gaslit person wondering about the veracity of their perception of events and feelings.
Love Island’s demonstration of the matter, as Juno Dawson points out for Metro today, goes beyond only Adam and Rosie – it raises questions about how we deal with it when we see it.
On Wednesday's episode, contestant Jack Fincham noted to his couple partner Dani Dyer that he knows Adam's behaviour is bad, but hasn't raised it with him. This, too, is part of the fallout of gaslighting: when someone faces no consequences for their poor treatment of another person, they continue acting similarly. For the gaslit person, the lack of support and recognition from others who can see what's going on can be doubly damaging, because it seems to reinforce the point of view that they are wrong.
As Adam's family have pointed out via his official Instagram account, Love Island is "a reality game show", and it's not difficult to see how situations like this unfold (this week has also seen a similar issue between the previously solid-seeming coupling of Wes Nelson and Laura Anderson: Nelson made Anderson's concerns about their relationship seem irrational, despite footage showing him taking an interest in new contestant Ellie Brown) when participants essentially have to stay in a couple to remain in the competition. At the same time, however, when real feelings are involved, reality and game become blurred, and the show owes a duty of care to both the Islanders (it was clear from Wednesday night's episode, which showed Rosie in distress as Zara and Adam took part in a challenge together, that she is still struggling with the development of their relationship) and its viewers.
Back in April, it was reported that the show would offer contestants the chance to see a counsellor following any sex, but whether wider access is available is unclear. Though there's not much that can be done for viewers who may have been distressed by the footage of the last few days, the show could apply content warnings to the episodes in question on its ITV Hub platform, and to demonstrate that it's serious about stamping out abusive behaviour – which has been so worrying that a domestic abuse charity has added its voice to this conversation – Adam (and any contestants who act similarly) could be issued an official warning.
While Love Island has made for hard going over the last few days, in depicting such a clear case of gaslighting, it has viscerally demonstrated the turns that emotionally intimate relationships can take. In many ways, it has been valuable – especially for those who might have experienced gaslighting and never seen those experiences represented anywhere else. But the show's producers must also deal with those involved accordingly, ensuring they're provided with proper support.