Get treated the way you deserve, or get out...
Love Island rightfully comes up against criticism every year. Whether it’s the show’s notable lack of body diversity, or the way the producers appear to manipulate events at the expense of contestants’ happiness (Teddy and Faye, we’re looking at you), the popular series is far from perfect.
But if one thing can be said in praise of Love Island, it’s the inadvertent lessons it teaches viewers about relationships and self-worth.
We live in a country where the quality of sex education leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m not just talking about the anatomy stuff. Among the most valuable lessons people can learn at an early age are those around consent and what a healthy relationship looks like, but with Ofsted having previously estimated that up to 40% of schools’ PSHE education is “not yet good enough,” it’s debatable how many of these vital teachings are actually filtering down via traditional means.
It’s no surprise, then, that young people tend to gain this kind of education from other sources – like TV programmes, for example. And Love Island is undoubtedly one of them.
My personal career as an avid Love Island viewer has spanned half a decade. In that time, I’ve witnessed countless dynamics unfold, each in turn leading to useful public discussions about the hows, whys and wherefores of a healthy – or an unhealthy – relationship. But perhaps the most important of all these lessons came last night, when contestant Millie Court dealt perfectly with the infidelity of her villa partner, Liam Reardon.
A quick recap for anyone who hasn’t been watching the show religiously for the past four weeks: Essex-born Millie and Welsh bricklayer Liam became coupled up almost immediately after meeting one another in the Majorcan villa, and had shown themselves to be fairly rock steady as a couple.
That was, until Casa Amor happened. The boys moved to a separate villa to enjoy a ‘lads holiday’ with the addition of six new female contestants, while the original girls remained in the main villa and were joined by six fresh men.
While Millie remained respectfully faithful to her other half, the same couldn’t be said for Liam over in Casa Amor. Viewers winced as he acted on an initial attraction to Lillie Haynes, sharing a bed with her for three nights and kissing her willingly outside of a challenge.
When it came to making the decision about whether he wanted to re-couple with Lillie and bring her back with him to the main villa, it was something of a surprise to learn that Liam had opted to stick with Millie. The news came as a great relief to Millie, however, who had been moping in her partner’s absence and was, at that point, none the wiser about his betrayal.
But it wasn’t long before Liam’s antics became public knowledge, when Lillie declared she was ‘shocked’ not to have been chosen by the 21-year-old.
The heartache was written all over Millie’s face as the details unfolded further during a one-to-one with Lillie; a mix of disappointment, humiliation, and total sadness. When she challenged Liam on his behaviour, she articulated exactly why he had broken her trust. “I wouldn’t do that to someone,” she said. “There were six girls in there and you happen to have found a connection with one of them. That just shows the connection we had wasn’t enough for you.”
Later, through tears, Millie said in the Beach Hut: “I don’t deserve this. I wouldn’t let this happen in the outside world, why would I let it happen in here?” And that’s the vital lesson at the heart of it – one that will hopefully ring true for any viewers who might find themselves in a similar situation in future: Millie didn’t deserve to be treated that way by someone who was supposed to care for her, so she wasn’t going to stand for it.
It would probably have been easier for Millie to believe Liam’s played-down version of events; to accept his pleas of apology, and to welcome him back into her arms. Comfort soothes pain, after all. But instead, she took the harder route, choosing to deny the lingering feelings she had for him and put herself first. “I personally don’t think I can go forward with this,” she told Liam firmly, later that night. “You’ve hurt me and I don’t trust you. I think you need to respect that decision.”
It was a move that clearly resonated with so many people. “Can’t get over how strong Millie was in that episode,” wrote one viewer on Twitter. “She stayed true to herself and will inspire women everywhere to not put up with men’s SHIT.”
“Good on Millie for showing respect for herself, even though she does like Liam. I hope other women learn from this, [because] trust is important,” said another.
Author Juno Dawson also posted about Millie’s resolve, sharing her own personal regret that she hadn’t made the same choice in previous relationships. “In the past, I was Millie and I took him back and I wish I hadn’t [looked] at it that way. I wish I’d been Millie in that moment. Respect,” she posted.
“This is monumental strength from Millie. I am praying she can hold this line until they leave this godforsaken villa,” added journalist Sarah Manavis.
Sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook also sees a real power in Millie’s display of self-preservation, with spokesperson Eliza Bell telling Marie Claire: “Love Island is a really popular show amongst young people so it’s fantastic to see an example of Millie highlighting qualities that are important to her in a relationship and sticking to her personal boundaries.
Shows like this can provide a great opportunity to begin conversations with young people and encourage them to place what they have learned in relationships and sex education into the context of real life,” Bell adds. “It’s really important that young people receive education around relationships and how to recognise healthy and unhealthy behaviours. The media is a prominent source of examples of the types of relationships that young people are exposed to, and unfortunately not all of them are positive.”
If last night’s scenes mean that even one young woman re-evaluates her mistreatment in a relationship and decides to empower herself to leave it behind, then that’s a win. Because learning to prioritise your own health and happiness over short-term gain is a lesson nobody will ever regret.