Turn the clocks back a week and there you’ll find me and my wonderful hairdresser Beth heaping praise on Love Island’s Michael. “I love the way he’s calling out the other guys on their bad behaviour.” “Oh, I know. And the way he has earned Amber’s trust is so heart-warming to watch. It goes to show there are some really good guys out there.”
Fast-forward a week…my, my what a twist this plot has taken.
Watching Amber walk down the stairs to find Michael – to whom she had been unshakably loyal, stood with another woman – was one of the most painful TV moments I have ever watched. In the build-up, when it became very apparent that Michael was about to humiliate the twenty-one year old in front of the nation, I wanted nothing more than for the ground to swallow me whole. If I felt that degree of embarrassment, disappointment and dejection having only watched the drama unfold from the comfort of my own bedroom, I hate to imagine the intensity of the emotions Amber must have felt actually living that heartache.
I could have forgiven Michael had the rejection of Amber stopped here. Sometimes you meet someone, you like them more than the person that you’re with, and you make a decision that you want to pursue a future with them over your current partner. It happens, I get that. However, what happened next plunged Michael so far into ‘villain of the series’ territory in a way that took me so by surprise that I nearly choked on my Tangfastics.
The man, instead of declaring a stronger attraction to Joanne as the reason for his dumping of Amber, quivered behind the fire pit like a spoilt child caught red-handed, spouting excuse after excuse as to what Amber – the woman who had stayed faithful to him throughout their time apart – had supposedly done wrong to force him into the arms of another woman. Without pausing for breath, Michael blamed Amber for his own head being turned by another woman. Is it just me hearing these alarm bells?
On the surface, Michael’s victim-blaming is abhorrent, and it only gets worse upon further dissection. His defence that Amber was a difficult nut to crack boiled.my.blood. Yes, she is a hard nut to crack, but Michael had cracked that goddamn nut (if this reads as a euphuism, please accept my apologies – it was not intended). He “grafted her” – to use the parlance of the show – for weeks, earning her trust, demonstrating to her that he was somebody who should know the softer, more vulnerable side of her until ultimately she trusted him with her emotions. And what did he do with that well-earned trust? Did he cherish it, nurture it, encourage it to fortify and flourish? No. He flung it over his shoulder without even turning back to see it smash as it hit the ground.
This criticism of women who don’t give their trust away within the first glimpses of a relationship is frighteningly imperious. The trope of one cheesy grin and a wink of the old mince pies qualifying as sufficient grounds for a woman to lower the drawbridge is unfortunately ubiquitous in Western lad culture. It would do all of us, both men and women, well to remember that somebody else’s trust is not a right, but a privilege. It is not handed to us whimsically in the hope that we treat it responsibly – it is earned with patience and grit. For Michael to have earned that trust, only to throw it back in Amber’s face almost immediately and use her shrewd self-protection as a reason for his own poor behaviour, made for chilling but unfortunately familiar viewing.
As far as Michael’s behaviour is concerned my consternation does not stop there, as Sunday night’s episode saw him take his malice to new heights when confronted by both the woman he dumped and the woman he chose. Following the time old tradition of telling both aggrieved women what they want to hear in a bid for a quiet life, Michael convinced Joanne that he had stated to Amber, in no uncertain terms, that romantic relations between them were long gone. As we back at home in sun-kissed blighty know, he was rather stretching the truth here. Regardless of the conversation Michael thinks he was having with Amber, or what he was intending for her to infer from his equivocal ramblings about relationships and ‘having her back’, at no point did he tell her that their once-blossoming romance was off the table. However, when Joanne’s gut rightly suspected that Michael’s account of his and Amber’s conversation may not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and she asked to bash it out with both of them together, Michael had the audacity to lie about Amber…in front of Amber! As his spite and aggression reared their ugly heads once more, it was all I could do not to book a flight to Majorca and give young Amber the hug she so desperately deserved. Many would have responded to his dishonesty with fury and antagonism, but she, ever the heroine, remained composed with maturity far beyond her years.
Watching Amber sob “what did I do wrong?” as Michael, who to his own belief is completely infallible, continued to sling mud at her for forcing him into the arms of another woman, confirmed one of my greatest fears about dating; in an age where ghosting is somehow deemed as standard behaviour, opening oneself up to the possibility of being hurt does not come easy especially when – as Michael has proven – the seemingly golden ones can turn out to be the worst of them all. Seeing somebody’s feelings change so dramatically literally overnight served as a staunch reminder of how happy a relationship can seem one day, only to be turned on its head the next.
I am under no illusions that swathes of the plot lines we consume on the show are scripted or at least staged, but something about Michael’s personality switch seemed so familiar that I (and the whole of Twitter apparently) felt personally hoodwinked by his inevitable duplicity. The phrase “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” sprung to mind pretty quickly.
Michael transformed from the villa’s hero to the personification of gaslighting in less than one episode and I, for one, hope Amber plucks him back from Joanne, wins the show and steals that 50K. Period.