Is there such a thing as The One? Itâ€™s an age-old question posed by the polished new Netflix show of the same name about a dating world where DNA pairing offers the answer to finding your ideal romantic pairing, too.
Based on John Marrsâ€™ 2017 novel, The One is an eight-parter that pivots around CEO Rebecca Webb, whose matchmaking service is based on DNA science. â€œWe deserve the fairytale,â€ she tells a rapt audience at the start. â€œNo one has to settle anymore. I have loaded the dice, everyone gets to roll a six.â€
This being a thriller, and a dark one at that, the fairytale soon turns for several central characters.
The quest for a perfect match isnâ€™t new to TV, of course, propelling the plots of countless rom coms, dating reality shows, and dramas. (Nor is fiddling with DNA to achieve implausible results unprecedented â€“ Jurassic Park, anyone?). In Amazon Primeâ€™s parallel sci-fi serial, Soulmates, the discovery of a â€œsoul particleâ€ also enables a test people can take to find their perfect partner.
Howard Overman, creator of The One and sci-fi E4 comedy-drama, Misfits, before it, says he was already curious about the rise of genetic-based dating apps before he read Marrsâ€™ book, â€œand even though Iâ€™m a bit of a ludditeâ€.
And it seems audiences are hooked, too, with the show tending top of Netflix with UK viewers a week after release.
â€œI guess the central idea was: we look to science to solve problems medically, and we look to it in terms of meeting people, with Tinder and those sorts of apps, but the one place we havenâ€™t looked to it for is how we are connecting with those people,â€ Overman tells HuffPost UK.
â€œIf science can solve all these other problems should we look to science to solve one of the biggest problems, which is meeting our life partners, and can it help us do that?â€
The notion isnâ€™t 100% science fiction. Several startups already claim to use genetic testing to matchmake â€“ though many critics call it pseudoscience.
â€œThe very short answer is no, these apps that are based on finding a partner through your DNA are not worth peopleâ€™s time,â€ says Turi King, Professor of Public Engagement and Genetics at the University of Leicester. â€œOur DNA is only part of who we are and our personalities are shaped by numerous other factors alongside our DNA.â€
Test or no test, the idea of â€œthe oneâ€ has a strong pull on us. But therapists caution against a narrative that can be reductive at best, toxic at worst. When it plays out as torturous wishful thinking, it can limit our approach to finding â€“ or keeping â€“ a partner by suggesting that happiness lies just around the corner, if only we keep on looking.
â€œI think it really restricts peopleâ€™s mindsets,â€ says Laurele Mitchell from the Counselling Directory, who encourages her clients to approach the idea of relationships with an â€œabundanceâ€ rather than â€œscarcityâ€ philosophy.
â€œWe peddle this message that everythingâ€™s scarce. Now, some things are, but people arenâ€™t,â€ she says. â€œIt you take it to its logical conclusion mathematically it does seem a bit ridiculous that thereâ€™s only one person in the world for us.â€
Even when you have a partner, thinking about â€œthe oneâ€ can be unhelpful. â€œThe enormous pressure it puts on one person to be everything to that other person,â€ sighs Mitchell. â€œIt also leads to a huge dissatisfaction with the person youâ€™re with. That chronic sense of â€˜is there somebody better?â€™â€
This approach can also make it harder to feel satisfied in and of yourself, she adds, fuelling the idea that meeting someone else could just make for an improved version of you. The reality is usually more modest, says Mitchell.
â€œThat myth of the soulmate, the other half, is narrow and restrictive. We donâ€™t apply that to our friendships, theyâ€™re much more open and expansive.â€
– Laurele Mitchell, counsellor
A good relationship should simply involve â€œtwo individuals who come together to form a unit which is hopefully greater than the sum of its partsâ€, she says. â€œThat myth of the soulmate, the other half, is narrow and restrictive. We donâ€™t apply that to our friendships, theyâ€™re much more open and expansive.â€
For Cath Foster, a counsellor and psychotherapist who specialised in queer relationships, â€œthe oneâ€ starts from a firmly heteronormative base. â€œItâ€™s that idea of relationships: you meet when youâ€™re 15, you marry at 17 and have children and thatâ€™s how society runs. It really fits into that old-fashioned view.â€
While there are more visible alternative relationships and lifestyles now, from open relationships and polyamory to â€œalonementâ€ philosophies for single life, popular culture is still catching up, and is slow to let go of its addictions.
â€œLook at TV, look at music,â€ says Foster. â€œWe still have this idea of love at first sight, meeting this perfect person who youâ€™re going to be with until youâ€™re 90 and youâ€™ll be together forever. Itâ€™s a romantic ideal, but I think actually for a lot of people that pressure is there. Particularly if they feel like a real romantic soul.â€
If MatchDNA, the dating site in The One, were reality, would people sign up?
â€œOh god yeah!â€ reckons Overman. â€œItâ€™d be huge wouldnâ€™t it. Iâ€™m married and things like Tinder werenâ€™t really around when I was dating, but if you look how many young people use them, if there was a version of that which wasnâ€™t just swiping left or right, but promised to provide you with a biological match you had a huge biological connection with, I think people would lap it up.â€