So devoted am I to the Guardian magazine’s weekly Blind Date column that every Saturday morning, after driving to a nearby village to purchase it in physical form, I read it to my co-habitant. I have been known to adopt humorous voices in order to distinguish the participants and to add to the general gaiety. I once suggested to the magazine’s editor that they replace the “good table manners?” question because too frequently the answer is a dull “impeccable” or even a mere “yes”. I remain steadfast in my opinion; it is not a question that earns its keep. I would replace it with something like: “Did you at any point wonder if your date was a member of the secret services?” or “Did you cry?”
But before this begins to sound like an in-house advertisement, a grievance. Scroll back and you will find but the smallest sprinkling of anyone approaching midlife or beyond; we can only assume that either those in their 20s and 30s are more willing to put themselves forward, or else (relative) youth is more attractive to those doing the matchmaking.
And yet, when the doddering old do appear, they are glorious. They do not worry about getting home early because “it’s a school night”; they’re either retired, with bog-all to do in the morning, or strengthened by decades of candle-burning. They are often kinder, and seem aware of the truth that we can all be boring at times; they have had longer to come to terms with not only the imperfections and idiosyncrasies of others, but also themselves. They do not pin their hopes on the much-referred-to and usually elusive “spark”. And to conclude this list of admitted generalisations – for we all know an ageing curmudgeon – the advancing years have not dimmed their appreciation of the cheerful bunk-up.
Dating – whether facilitated by the chance encounters of real life, the machinations of well-meaning friends or by swiping a screen – is not the preserve of youth, especially in the era of multiple marriages and conscious uncoupling. There are, indeed, several bespoke websites aimed at the over 50s. And yet we persist in believing that you can only be flirty under 30.
How would older romantic adventurers fare, one wonders, in the goldfish bowl atmosphere of Love Island? On current evidence, we will never know. The antics there are for the young and gilded only; the crows’-footed and lacking in collagen are not welcome here, their raddled faces and saggy arses simply an unwanted memento mori.
What madnesses do the TV execs fear the older among us would get up to? Fail to sync with the atmosphere of compelled libertinism and fall into a contented conversation about the delights of seed catalogues, perhaps. Or alienate younger viewers by talking about easy home-ownership, life before decimalisation and the three-day week. Or reminisce about episodes of Tenko and Van der Valk. Anything except submit to the tedious torpor of enforced coupledom, romantic intrigue and the relentless pursuit of the unattainable beach-ready body.
Certainly, that would spell death to the programme, and those of its type, as it is currently constituted. But in my May to December Love Island, there would be unexpected liaisons, alliances and undercurrents. An older contestant might find themselves drawn to a younger, and vice versa; love might flourish across the generations – or at least beyond a prescribed gap of a couple of years.
The young might find, amid the bougainvillea and flickering firepits, that they could explain to an older person to whom they are not related their generation’s anxieties about job insecurity, social media surveillance and climate crisis. The more mature might be able to confide that they feel not cock-a-hoop that they snuck under the chicken wire of the housing boom, but fearful of living longer into an unsupported old age, and of the precarious world that they leave behind to their descendants. We could tell them about the club nights of our youth; they could explain whether we need to worry about understanding TikTok or whether they’ll be on to something else next week.
I get it. This is not what Love Island is for. It is for watching preening youth perform a tension-filled parody of partnership in a bubble far away from the real world. It is for populating timelines with destination TV watchers communicating their rage or delight at the latest developments in the petri dish of passion in real time. It is about making sure that we all keep to our assigned boxes – the easier to translate our likes and dislikes into consumer loyalty. And those beyond the first flush of youth can’t complain that much: they get let in to I’m a Celebrity, after all, where they can elicit admiration for their resilience and wisdom. But still, I say: let the oldsters into Casa Amor – don’t lock us out of the love-in.
• Alex Clark writes for the Guardian and Observer