What is cookie jarring? The problematic dating behaviour seen on Love Island

·5-min read
‘Love Island’ stars Liberty and Jake (ITV)
‘Love Island’ stars Liberty and Jake (ITV)

There is no better recipe for an insight into toxic behaviours in modern dating than placing a group of single men and women in a villa together for eight weeks.

This year’s Love Island series has already showcased some of the most problematic relationship dynamics, with Women’s Aid recently accusing contestant Danny Bibby of gaslighting Lucinda Strafford.

Less than a week later, as the boys leave the villa for a short trip to Casa Amor, the show is depicting more problematic dating behaviours. The latest example is cookie jarring, which can be “irritating at best, devastating at worst”, dating and relationship coach Kate Mansfield tells The Independent.

While Jake Cornish and Liberty Poole are the only contestants to have committed to a relationship before Casa Amor, others like Millie Court and Liam Reardon have been coupled up for more than two weeks, with Reardon even giving her the nickname “Millie-moo”.

As a result, Reardon’s lack of loyalty towards Millie, as he pursues new girl Lillie, has left viewers shocked.

“I’m so disappointed in Liam. How do you go from gushing about ‘Millie moo’ to ‘Millie who?’ because a new piece of blonde is dangled in front of you. Even the Casa girls are shocked. Love Island is great promo for staying single!” one person wrote on Twitter.

What exactly is cookie jarring and why is Liam’s behaviour problematic? We asked the experts.

What is cookie jarring?

Cookie jarring refers to when the person you have been seeing (without an official status)has little intention of entering into a relationship with you but keeps you as a backup option while they pursue other people.

In other words, you are just one cookie in a jar of many rather than, as Love Island would have it, a basket for all of their eggs.

How is cookie jarring different from rotational dating?

As dating coach Hayley Quinn explains, dating multiple people, also called rotational dating, is the act of dating people in parallel to each other.

“With rotational dating the intent is, ‘I’m trying to find a partner’,” she says, explaining that people will go on casual dates with multiple people until they find someone they would like to pursue further and commit to.

With cookie jarring, someone invests substantial time and energy into one person, giving them the impression that they are only dating them and are moving towards commitment, while also seeing other people.

“The [person who is the] cookie doesn’t seem to have much agency. They’re not saying they’d like to keep their options open too,” Quinn says.

“It’s almost like a false sense of a relationship has been created, which means the cookie feels all safe and snug inside the jar, when really, they don’t know they are one of many options.”

Why is cookie jarring problematic?

Cookie jarring is problematic because of the imbalance it creates between two people.

“Being someone’s backup option or being strung along and having your time wasted by someone who has no intention of pursuing a long-term relationship with you can be irritating at best, devastating at worst,” Mansfield says.

Both experts agree that cookie jarring is a product of modern dating culture, with dating apps providing the ability to connect with lots of different people at once.

“But it’s certainly made the question of commitment a lot blurrier,” Quinn says.

“Although Liam hasn’t sat down with Millie and said, ‘I’d like you to be my girlfriend’, it is a bit problematic if you spend two weeks going on dates and kissing someone, to then immediately dropping them and thinking you’re a free agent to go with everybody else,” she explains.

Quinn says it is easy to see how Millie might have perceived Liam’s actions as an indicator of some form of unspoken relationship between them, despite there being no label.

“But from Liam’s perspective, he might say ‘well because we haven’t had that conversation [about commitment] it’s all fair game’.”

“That’s where different people can have very different views or perspectives on exactly the same situation,” she adds.

What are the signs of cookie jarring?

While Quinn advises against going into dating with a “sixth sense of danger”, there are some obvious signs that your potential partner might not be ready for a relationship.

To avoid being cookie jarred, Mansfield advises being wary of people who display signs of unavailability.

“This most often shows up as reluctance to make even short-term never mind long-term plans, flaking out last minute, and being evasive around commitment,” she adds.

Additionally, if someone is consistently making time for you, there’s a good chance they have good intentions.

“If you’re getting a breadcrumb of a text every couple of weeks, they want to see you one week and disappear the next, then they are not really giving you those indicators that they might be open to a relationship,” Quinn says.

How to avoid being cookie jarred

As seen in the lesson of Millie and Liam, the best way to avoid being cookie jarred is to have open and honest conversations about what levels of commitment you and your potential partner can offer each other.

“I’d advise people to state their preferences and say, ‘I’m the kind of person who likes to focus on one person at a time’, or that ‘I enjoy meeting lots of new people’,” Quinn says.

She adds: “Listen to the other person – if they tell you they aren’t sure about what they want, that they’ve just had a break-up, or that you deserve someone better, then listen to people and take them at their word.”

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