From last year’s wildly addictive series of The Bachelorette to 2018’s ratings powerhouse Married At First Sight, it’s safe to say Australian television audiences are hooked on watching how others find love.
This Tuesday’s episode of SBS’s Dateline, airing just before Valentine’s Day, also offers a fascinating look at modern dating culture, this time in the remote Faroe Islands.
Located about halfway between Iceland and Norway, the collection of 18 islands is home to 50,000 people (there are more sheep than men and women combined) and has just three traffic lights. Finding love in the Faroe Islands is, obviously, not without challenges.
As Dateline Executive Producer Bernadine Lim tells marie claire, dating is made even more difficult by the fact that the number of single men far outweigh single women. Consequently, many men are turning to online dating sites—including Tinder—to find love, and often marry women from South East Asia and Africa.
To interview locals in the Faroe Islands about their quest for love, Lim trawled through online dating websites—and even created her own profile.
“I have a partner, but I listed myself on singles dating sites to research this story. And it was full disclosure: I made it very clear that we were coming to film, there were no false pretences in my post,” she recounted.
“But that’s how we found Bjorn and a few other guys.”
Bjorn, one of the figures profiled in the documentary, is a sweet yet rugged fisherman in his 30s who wears a cardigan knitted by his grandmother. Although he’s waiting to meet the woman of his dreams and get married, his prospects of finding “the one” in the Faroe Islands are slim.
“I’m a fisherman and half of the year I’m gone, so It’s never easy being a fisherman’s wife,” he says in the film. “I’m pretty sure that if I find a wife, it will be somewhere else.”
In the past 30 years, many local women have chased employment and education opportunities outside of the Faroe Islands, and married overseas. But conversely, more and more foreign women have moved to the islands after marrying local men; Southeast Asian women are now part of the second largest ethnic group in the archipelago.
“Most [of the women I talked to] had a 1-2-year online relationship with the person they ended up marrying, and then normally 1-2 trips seemed to be the familiar pattern. And then, someone would make the decision and they’d get married and move over to the Faroe Islands together,” Lim explains.
While Tinder means finding a date is just a swipe away, getting private one-on-one time with a match can prove difficult. The capital city, Tórshavn, has just a few restaurants, making it near impossible to go incognito on a first date.
“If you go out, you will be seen,” Lim shares. “I didn’t get this on camera, but one of the single ladies did say to me that you often have to go on secret drives in the Faroe Islands to go on a date because it’s so small.”
The documentary not only explores what it is like to move across the world for love; it also examines how this new wave of migration has shaped the region in the past 30 years.
“What’s happened there is people have been quite monocultural and all of a sudden you have technology bringing diversity and multiculturalism for the first time through internet dating,” the Dateline EP says.
“It’s challenging them on who they are, and it’s challenging their identity and how they define themselves, and they’re seeing that diversity for the first time ever.”
But not all villagers have been welcoming to new residents. Enter the term “eBay Wives”, which some locals use to describe the foreign women now living alongside them.
“A lot of the women are in very genuine relationships and of course it’s upsetting if there’s an inference that you’re an ‘eBay Wife’. That is quite a shadow on them and a very difficult thing for them to work through at times,” Lim tells marie claire.
“I was probably more pessimistic before I went over there about how many couples were genuinely in love, but I was actually really surprised. I think they are very brave, courageous women to move for love and a different life, and that’s the migrant story.”
Marriages between Faroese men and women from abroad inevitably brings new children to the islands. While making the documentary, Lim met 22-year-old Lena Jacobsen, one of the first mixed-race children born in the region.
“When she grew up, she didn’t meet anyone from any part of the world, really, until she got to 15-16 and started travelling a bit more. She just didn’t know people like her, and that’s incredible,” the executive producer explains.
“Through her, you can see what the whole place is exploring and discovering, not too dissimilar to what Australia is exploring and discovering and still grappling with.”
After watching the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder if the islands’ dating culture might inspire a reality series. Could we see a Married At First Sight: Faroe Islands Edition, or perhaps Fisherman Wants A Wife?
“I’ve been in the television game for a long time and I’ve definitely directed those kinds of shows before and learnt a lot,” Lim says.
“The first thing that I thought when I went out there was, ‘There’s a whole reality show in the Faroe Islands about this and someone needs to tap into it because it would be a ratings winner, definitely’.”