The Mystery of Love 2.0 – when love and tech collide: A Review of The One and Love Alarm (Season 2)

I’m sure if you surveyed the average person, they would tell you that they wanted to find love (if they haven’t already.) However, that journey is a tough, steep one that holds many challenges for several reasons. Social media, and much later, dating apps have already transformed the dating process massively in a relatively short space of time. The two most recent dramas I’ve watch watched on Netflix explore how technology (and science) could further impact dating and relationships in the future and what the effects on individuals lives could look like. Worth a watch or not? Have a read and decide.

The One

The One, Netflix review - the downside of scientific matchmaking
Rebecca Webb (right) with co-founder of The One and close friend from university days, James (left).

This is a new British sci-fi drama and Netflix original consisting of 8 episodes, based on a book of the same by John Marrs. I watched it recently after seeing it in my upcoming list of shows and being intrigued by the blurb (the apps good ol’ algorithm never seems to fail, eh?) In the drama ‘The One’ is the name of the company which provides a matching service based on DNA. It’s as simple as you think – people take swabs, send them to the company and find out who their biologically destined match is! The series follows Rebecca Webb, co-creator and CEO of The One as she goes through desperate lengths to find happiness herself and maintain her position of power at the top of the company. Yet, as the series goes on we find out Rebecca is a woman with a lot to hide and this begins to look less and less possible as secrets are revealed and lives are lost. Definitely worth a watch.

Although, a slightly deterministic approach to love upon initial reading, the interesting thing about this matching approach is that choice does play a huge role in the success of matches. This is contrary to what many of the users of the service seem to think in the drama. Their mentality is ‘we’ve been ‘matched’ so you must be my soulmate, we’re meant to be!’ Which, as you watch the drama, will find to not necessarily be the case. DNA alone cannot be a sole indicator of a good partner, several other factors have to come together to create a successful relationship. As many of the characters discover – secrets, selfishness and lies can easily put an end to any potential happiness you may have or think you serve with your match.

Love Alarm (season 2)

This K-drama is based on a popular web-toon (online comic) of the same name. In the drama, relationships are largely dictated or guided by a widely used app called Love Alarm, which is able to notify you if anyone within a certain radius from you has feelings for you. It was originally created by the protagonist’s (Kim JoJo) former classmate, Chon Duk-gu – an illusive and shy character, who admits he created the app because of his difficulty deciphering the feelings of people around him. To simply the app, it helps users answer the question ‘does my crush (or partner) like me back?’

Is Love Alarm season 2 getting renewed? Here is everything you need to  know!!
Promotional poster for the show – from L to R – Sun-Oh, Kim JoJo and Hye-yeong

For those that have battled with frustration caused by mixed signals from someone they liked, this app sounds quite dreamy. Yet – since there’s always a yet – it doesn’t take long to discover it, like the DNA matching service in The One, has its problems. We don’t necessarily see how widespread usage of the app is working, but rather we see a microcosm of its effects through the drama’s main characters. One obvious effect it provides a very awkward and public display of unrequited ‘love’. If two individuals are in close proximity of each other the app will notify one of those people that ‘someone who loves you is within close distance’. However, for the other person…it won’t which can be both scary and heart-breaking.

The app starts to act as an obstacle for characters who are in relationships on the show. For example, Sun-oh’s girlfriend reveals that she dreams about him ringing her love alarm – something he is not able to do when they’re dating. Similarly, due to events from the previous season, Kim JoJo is not able to ring the ‘alarm’ of anyone she likes because she has a feature called a ‘shield’ installed on her app. In her relationship with Hye-yeong, this slowly starts to torture her as she begins to suspect that maybe this is saddening her boyfriend and causing him to doubt her feelings for him.

To Conclude…

Overall, I would say that both dramas show how technology – as we undoubtedly already know – can do more harm then good, even if created with the sincerest intentions. We already use much tech at work and in the home successfully. But with widespread and frequent usage in many circumstances we run the risk of using tech as a crutch, much to our own disadvantage. It tends to happen gradually and then – next thing you know, you can’t remember the birthdays or phones numbers of your friends with your phone, for example! (Based on a true story.) In both shows, we see technology has altered the process of dating and its requirements for many people. The agency seems to shift from self to tech so instead the characters fall into the trap of not thinking for themselves enough. Don’t get me wrong, love is an amazing thing but I think it needs a bit of mystery and effort; surely then the product is more rewarding?

Why don’t you like me?

I think this dance we do through life for the approval of others is interesting. On the one hand you’re told to stop seeking such approval, all you need is your own validation. But does that really transfer to real world? Honestly, the answer is no. Every now and then in certain situations you’ll find yourself hiding or exaggerating parts of your personality in order to be liked or gain the approval of the people in your company. Job interviews? You hide your insecurities and fact you can easily get overwhelmed. Instead, you exaggerate your intellect and ability to work with others. In that very moment you want to be liked, even admired if you’re lucky.

Relatable? This doesn’t make you superficial, don’t worry. However, is does make my point that to some extent we are all walking shapeshifters; adapting our personalities or perceptions of self to gain likability to various social situations. It’s actually necessary for survival and to achieve life goals we have; without being likable to others, we most noticeably wouldn’t be able to inspire or influence others. Teachers and coaches giving pep talks wouldn’t inspire their pupils or team respectively without the recipients of the talk liking their teacher enough to listen, if not respect the words they’re saying.

I was thinking more about this human longing to be liked, to gain approval from peers as I binged watched the first few seasons of The Office US during the first lockdown. For those familiar with the show. you’ll know that Michael Scott, the show’s regional manager and protagonist yearns to be liked by his colleagues a little too much, despite being their superior. This leads to him often pushing the boundaries of his working relationships with them which makes for uncomfortable yet hilarious viewing. Despite how exaggerated the trait is in Michael, it is a relatable one nonetheless, particularly in this age of social media where everyone is a small business of one – hoping to get more views and more likes on their content.

Love me or Hate me

So, we’ve established that people long to be liked and care more about it than they would admit. Yet, it’s impossible to be liked everywhere by everyone, so how do we reconcile our fantasy with our actual reality; that more often than none, people will strongly dislike you for no (obvious) reason.

Two things should be noted here:

  1. In the face of hatred always remember the people that love you – they’re the ones that see something special in you, and will always be your biggest fans. You realise how rare such people are when you realise how unkind the world can be. Never neglect these people or take their appreciation of you for granted!
  2. Be open and willing to take criticism: Dare I say it; sometimes a person’s disliking of you may have valid roots. I remember being close to a friend at university; we would often have random banter or go to society events together. After a few months had gone by I realised we hadn’t met up in a while and messaged her because I missed her company.‘Hey, we haven’t met up in a while, I hope you’re okay… blah blah’

As we discussed how quiet it had been between us, she admitted honestly ‘you always bail out of things we arrange to do and it’s annoying’. At the time I was obviously a bit annoyed and met that response with a flurry of denial. But looking back, what If she was right and in pointing out my flakiness had highlighted a bad habit I had overlooked?

That last point in particular makes a case for importance of self-reflection – sometimes it can be the key to spotting not so obvious bad habits in us before others do.

Then again, self-reflection can be a double-edged sword sometimes, as I find with myself, if we do it too often, too deeply we may find ourselves annoyed about traits we don’t need to change or can’t change [easily] but feel pressured to do so anyway.

There are no simple solutions to staying out of these mental thought traps (unfortunately.) It is worth reimagining it as a tight rope balance between self-worth and likability. The former shouldn’t depend on the latter, it should be something unshakable at our core. Of course, the reality is much different from this ideal, but there’s no harm in keeping it as something we can aim towards, right?

All is Fair in Love, War and death

Cast of the show: in the middle hugging – Dong-baek (right) and her son, Pil-gu (left)

Can someone be your miracle?

This is what the Netflix original K-drama When the Camellia Blooms (2019) tries to answer. Dong-baek is a 30-something year old single mum who runs a bar in the small Korean town of Busan. Although she is super nice and meek, she’s an outcast in the town, stigmatised by her single motherhood and the fact her bar has become a popular hangout spot for all the local women’s husbands. Out of jealousy their assumption is that she must be selling much more than drinks to them to attract them there. Of course, the reality is much simpler than that – the men have looked all around for a viable refuge free from prying female eyes and Camellia – Dong-baek’s bar has slowly become just that.

Her son Pil-gu on the other hand, is anything but meek – he has a vicious bite and has become a very avid protector of his mum who is often not only teased by adults but sometimes gossiped about by his age mates at school. In one amusing scene he shouts at some kids for using his mum’s first name – an indicator that to them she isn’t worthy of respect. However, Pil-gu is slowly getting tired of being his mum’s defender, he’s aware the other kids don’t have to be as protective of their mothers and that he’s perhaps doing too much for what is expected of a child his age. He had his annoying moments (like being insistent on his mum not dating) but if I truly tried to see things from his perspective I could understand the fear behind his behaviour. His mum and him against the world is all he has ever known, so he was understandably worried about a disruption to this dynamic.

When it comes to miracles Dong-baek is very sceptical, after all life has been very hard to her. No matter how hard she works she can’t seem to catch a break or make enough to make ends meet. We learn that she suffers from abandonment and trust issues- these stem from the childhood trauma she has around her mum abandoning her. The drama digs more into this set of events later on towards the end, so the drama is worth a watch until the end.

To make matters worse, Dong-baek is being targeted by a serial killer, nicknamed in the town ‘The Joker’ who has stumped the local police force for several years. There is no common thread between the victims except for notes left at every scene with the same words –  ‘stop being a joke’. She has a few close run-ins with him which mess with her confidence and make her fear for her safety. I think the murder plot line helps to sustain the dramas pace and entertainment. We get to play a mental whodunnit as we try to figure out which character we knew had the most motive and means. All I knew was that it had to be someone local that we’ve been introduced to already as an audience. 

Dong-baek reconnecting with her estranged mum.

Overall, this is a heart-warming story of family, love, friendship and redemption. I cried and I laughed. Although Dong-baek seemed annoyingly coy at first, you do grow to love her; every time you put her in a box she defies expectation and surprises you which is something I really liked. Not only does she toughen up as the program progresses, she learns the true meaning of love and friendship through her relationships with Pil-gu, her mum and her boyfriend, Yong-sik. Dong-baek is played by the actress Kong Hyo-jin who starred in one of my favourite dramas, It’s Okay, That’s Love. To some extent the drama is self aware of k-drama romance cliches – at one point Yong-sik askes Dong-baek if they want travel to an island and she refuses, replying that its likely to lead to the cliche of them missing the last boat and having to share a room together at a random inn. And there is no doubt she is very right – that cliche is all too common.

Other dramas that may be of interest that look more at parenthood; Hi,bye mum, Love and Marriage, Was it Love? and One Spring Day. They’re all available on Netflix.

Trailer for When the Camellia Blooms.

For more Netflix reviews from me you can find some here and here.

Life is but a stage

At the end of day and at the end of this life

When the last tear has been cried

and our last song sung

We just want to know

that we became someone

Numerous events throughout this year have made me continuously reflect on how fleeting life is. Attending a funeral service. Reading in the paper recently of a bride that died on her way to the church to get married. Walking to the station in West London and seeing the looming presence of Grenfell Tower under the night sky.

It can be scary mainly due to the unpredictability of it all. From apps that predict menstrual cycles to apps that display weather forecasts, bus times and TV schedules – access to information that predicts things happening before they actually do is usually right at our fingertips. Death, unfortunately, has never been one of those things and can pierce through our lives like lightning- violent, nosy, sudden and always unwelcome. Another unpredictable aspect is who it will happen to. In Macbeth Shakespeare likened life to a stage- with everyone in life having cues on when to enter but also on when to exit. But how do you know when the play is finally over and it’s your cue to exit?

It sounds quite depressing to ponder on but it should actually get us thinking and fill us with urgency. I’m always reminded of Beyonce’s song ‘I Was Here’ when it comes to legacy- the lyrics appeal to the fundamental part of everyone that wants to leave a positive imprint on Earth before they die. Not necessarily so that they’re remembered because of it but rather so that they can die with the peace of knowing that just one life was bettered through their existence.

Reflecting on it all, I’ve decided I want to be known for love. For loving people fiercely. That may take different forms- since God himself is love and reflects it in different forms. From defending the oppressed and campaigning against injustice to simply just being there and listening to people; letting them know I see you. I want to be the one that embodies all those things. It’s a tall task but one I feel I’m called to. And in the end, it may not get me named after a community centre or charity foundation but a big legacy is not always the most meaningful. Holding an intimate place in the heart and minds of a few loved ones is more than enough.

Have you decided what your legacy will be?

In the moment. In the now.

I miss you, yet I see you every day.

Is this how it feels to be so close to someone

yet so far away?

Disclaimer: I write this (as with all my posts) with no malice. In fact, I may sometimes be guilty of this myself so I’ll keep that in mind throughout.

Is it only me or do people find it so hard to be in the moment nowadays? By that I mean just savouring the present moment and appreciating what you’re doing and who you’re with. I can sometimes be with people and see they’re with me but actually quite distant all at once. Distracted by their phone either pinging with messages or simply not strong enough to resist the momentary urge to scroll through social media whilst you are talking. And that can be quite a frustrating state of affairs; firstly because it set a precedent for the whole evening and secondly, it means they may not have heard something that you felt was really important or took a lot of courage to share. In fact, it can be quite rare I find to be with someone I know and just be within a moment where you’re both talking whilst filled with genuine appreciation and joy at being with that particular person. With no one else. Or anywhere else. But there. I have a friend that will always tell me off for being on my phone and insist I put it away when with her. As a true phone addict would, I used to be annoyed at that but after some reflection and observation of my own social situations in the past few months I’ve seen the logic behind what I thought was once madness on her part.

It may not be intentional but being on your phone indicates you’ve only half-heartedly pushed time aside for that person. That you’re physically present but mentally you’re only half present here and God knows where else. The greatest sign of care and love is when you’re sitting opposite each other or walking side by side and you’re friend puts their phone away and looks you square in the eyes and says ‘talk to me’. That’s the cue that says to me (supported by action) that, I’m here for you, I’m listening and I’m all yours. The exclusivity of time is one of the benefits of a relationship and should definitely be taken more seriously. It may feel more intense without your phone there to buffer the awkward moments if they arise but at the end of your time together- whether long or short- you’ll know and love each other that little bit more. Because you’ll be reminded all over again of why you love that person and keep them in your life.