When Married at First Sight first premiered last year, it was barely on my radar. I remember hearing a friend gush about how great the show was, but I was busy licking the wounds of being newly-widowed, and the concept of the show made me angry. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could be so flippant about love, and more so, about marriage. To marry someone you’ve never even met? How irresponsible. How cheap. How … how could anyone do that? So I wrote it off, and forgot all about it.
But the wounds slowly healed over, and eventually I threw myself headfirst into the world of dating, online and otherwise. I figured that as long as I was going down that road socially, I might as well take on all of the dating and marriage TV I could, professionally. There’s some junk TV out there, that’s for sure. When a coworker suggested perhaps I watch this series, I acquiesced, and filed it in my head amongst the other junk TV. Yesterday, I sort-of-grudgingly watched the 1 hour matchmaking special, which airs before tonight’s 2 hour premiere, and I’m not ashamed to say it: my grudge disappeared, and I’m actually — dare I say it? — excited for this show.
I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, nor a man by his online dating profile. So maybe I can’t judge a series by its matchmaking special, but I’m going to consider the hour I spent watching it to be my first date. Know what? I have a good feeling I’m going to get into a long-term relationship with this show. It’ll be the first LTR I’ve been in, TV or otherwise, for quite a while.
For those of you who, like me, largely ignored season 1 of Married at First Sight, I’ll explain the premise. Singles are extensively psychologically tested, and go through assessments on personality, sexuality, spirituality – you name it. Eventually, these singles are whittled down to a group of six, paired-off into 3 couples. The show uses science to modernize the concept of arranged marriage. (We, as a society, fall under the assumption that we’re meant to fall in love; the concept of arranged marriage says that we don’t need to fall in love but rather grow into love with someone who is right for us.) Each couple marries, but here’s the hitch: they don’t meet each other until they’re already down the aisle. They then have a honeymoon, and move in together, and the only way out is divorce.
It all sounds very la-ti-dah, and kind of … renegade … doesn’t it? That was my assumption. But I’ve done the online dating thing, and this is about a million times more scientific, so I can actually see this concept working. In fact, out of last season’s three couples, two are still married. With online dating, you’re relying on people to fill out profiles honestly, to use current pictures, to actually be themselves, and then you’re being matched up by computer algorithms. (Or you’re matched up just by looking at profiles and saying, “Eh, that one looks pretty good.” It’s a little like significant other shopping.) Married At First Sight, on the other hand, uses experts in their fields, who perform exhaustive assessments on their subjects. It’s definitely a lot more scientific, and more human. It’s also definitely not for everyone, and as the show mentions repeatedly, it’s a social experiment. But it’s an experiment grounded in love and commitment. The way the matchmaking special presents the show’s methodology, it actually seems a lot more responsible than I envisioned it would.
This year, over 7,000 people requested to take part in the social experiment. After extensive background checks and vetting, over 100 singles were invited to workshops for closer examination. From there, 4 experts, whom we’ll meet in a moment, aimed to whittle this group down to a mere 6, for the purpose of arranging 3 legal, binding marriages.
Throughout the matchmaking special, we meet a lot of different potential subjects who talk to the camera about what they’ve experienced in life, what they hope to get out of this if they’re picked, what their preferences and dealbreakers are. (The experts take this whole process very seriously, and must pay close attention to any dealbreakers. As someone points out, this is not the time for the potential subjects to be polite or politically correct.) What I note about a lot of these subjects is that while many seem hopeful, they don’t seem desperate. A recurring theme about many of these people is that they are generally happy with their lives (career, home, family) and are looking for love to complete – not to fix – their lives, like a final puzzle piece (rather than the puzzle itself). This is an attitude I applaud, as I think it’s so important that you have love for yourself before you can bring someone else into your life. This is part of why I’m so excited for the show: it doesn’t cheapen love, and it doesn’t present marriage as a quick fix. I found myself wondering as I watched, “Will this person make the cut? Is this one of the six?” We find out the six subjects at the end of the show, though we don’t see who is matched with whom.
So who picks these six subjects?
Dr. Logan Levkoff is a sexologist. (Yes, that’s really a thing.) She’s an author, and an internationally recognized expert on relationships and sexuality. Levkoff looks at who each subject is as a sexual being. This includes finding out how each person initially learned about sex, what their expectations are of sex within a relationship, their attitudes about and toward sex and sexuality, and how they interact sexually with others.
Dr. Joseph Cilona is a licensed clinical psychologist, life coach, author and psychology expert. He looks at the applicants’ personalities and how they may or may not fit together. He uses a battery of questionnaires and tests and interviews on each subject, to get a good look at everyone’s character and personality traits, and attitudes. He does formal psychological evaluations and makes sure that each subject is well-equipped to handle this type of experience. Remember, this is definitely not for everyone!
Dr. Pepper Schwartz is a sociologist; she’s an author and Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, and has dedicated her professional life to learning about people and about love. Dr. Schwartz goes into people’s living spaces to look at how people live and interact, and assesses how they may interact with a potential partner. She meets with the subjects’ families and friends, and she assesses each subject’s informal self.
Greg Epstein is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, as well as an author, and acts as the show’s spiritual advisor. He talks to each applicant about his or her spirituality, and religious background. It’s very important, even when matching people of different faiths, that people are compatible in terms of their attitudes and feelings about spirituality.
Essentially, these 4 people cover the majority of what’s needed to match people together, and work together to make sure that their expert matches are, well, expert. (At the end of the special I sat for a second and thought about how different we all are, in so many aspects of our lives, and marveled at the fact that despite all of our amazing differences, there are so many people out there that have found their soulmates.) The experts point out throughout the matchmaking special that they don’t take their responsibilities on the show lightly, and that whatever decisions they make for the final 6 will have profound effects – either positive or negative – on every one of those subjects’ lives. They’re looking for people who are optimistic, committed, and open to take part in this experiment. They’re looking for couples that can not only be best friends, but best friends who can be attracted to each other and who can experience passion. Throughout the special, we hear them discuss candidates and their situations and possible matches – very intriguing stuff. And, as I mentioned, we do find out at the end which 6 singles have been picked to be married, which then leads into the 2-hour season 2 premiere.
Tonight’s matchmaking special premieres on A&E at 8/7c. It’s followed by the 2-hour season 2 premiere at 9/8c, where we’ll meet the couples and follow them while they tell their families, prepare for their weddings, and watch as one couple meets for the first time. I’m excited to start my first long-term-TV relationship in some time! Who’s watching with me?