Even if you have no interest in or knowledge of modern dating, Fools for Love? (Wednesday, RTÉ One, 9:35pm) will make you want to delete every one of your apps and chuck your phone out the window. This fascinating profile of online love paints a picture of the internet as a cesspit crawling with creeps, compulsives and crazies. I don’t even know what “swipe left” means and it made me want to hide in the attic.
Presenter Aoife Moore is best known as a political journalist and has recently published a book about the inner workings of Sinn Féin. Fools for Love is, by contrast, about the politics of love – and what a horrific subject it turns out to be. Especially if you’re a woman. “New innovations bring new problems,” Moore says. “When women worry about their physical security, it’s for a good reason.”
Moore is a rigorous journalist and a good interviewer. She empathises with the women sharing often traumatising memories of being ghosted or scammed. Paula reveals how she was conned into sending a man €2,000 after he shared sob stories about his children with her. It was “Walter Mitty” stuff, she says of the suitor who vanished into thin air. “All codswallop.”
The consequences can be even scarier when the men turn out to be real. Karen recalls connecting with a stranger she met on a dating app. When he called around for an introductory cup of tea, however, he had three cans of beer in hand and waltzed into the kitchen, opening the fridge as though he had already moved in.
Feeling unsafe, Karen messaged her sister, who came to rescue her. But what if her sister had not been in a position to intervene? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
If the film lacks for anything, it is a male voice. That isn’t to suggest Moore give the men’s “side” of these horrid stories – we don’t need to hear from abusers. It would have been instructive, however, to hear from men who had engaged in inappropriate behaviour. Why did they do it? How did they feel about it now? How would they react if a woman in their life – mother, sister or daughter – was treated in that way?
Still, even in their absence, it is hard not to conclude that online dating is a digital hellscape. The internet encourages people to set aside their inhibitions, explains Dr Nicola Fox Hamilton, a researcher in cyberpsychology and lecturer in applied psychology at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire.
“When you’re online, there is a reduction in your feeling of public self-consciousness‚” she says. “You can’t see the other person. You might forget they are also human beings with emotions.”
The unsettling conclusion is that the world is full of weirdos – and that an awful lot of them are glued to dating apps. “They go to a sexual level very quickly,” says one woman. “Would they do it in front me? No, they wouldn’t.”