Why Our Culture Is Obsessed With “Married At First Sight”

By Brooke Conrad··  6 min read
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Married at First Sight A and E

The reality TV show “Married at First Sight” — a dating show about arranged marriages — is somehow becoming increasingly popular, despite arranged marriages being exceedingly uncommon in the U.S.

An obvious draw to the show is the shock factor: what would it be like to meet your new husband/wife for the first time on your wedding day? The show explores just that scenario. During the first season of MAFS, four experts — a sociologist, a psychologist, a sexologist, and a humanist chaplain — conduct thorough interviews and then match couples based on their personality, interests, family, religion, job, etc. When the two individuals meet at their wedding ceremony, they don’t even know the other person’s name. 

Arranged marriages are exceedingly uncommon in the U.S.

But I think the show has one other draw. When two people enter a relationship expecting not only that they will enjoy it, but that they also have a lot of work to do — i.e. that the relationship will require self-sacrifice and character formation — it’s a lot more likely to last. 

Let’s Please Talk about Doug and Jamie

Doug and Jamie’s story captured America’s attention from day one. They still remain one of MAFS’s most popular couples, but they didn’t exactly hit things off from the get-go. 

In fact, when Jamie walks down the aisle in March 2014, she tears up a little because she realizes she’s not instantly attracted to her new partner. Doug eagerly says his wedding vows, but there’s an uncomfortable silence as the audience waits for Jamie’s “I do.” After the ceremony, Jamie bursts into tears while surrounded by family members. Later, she and Doug perform an awkward photoshoot and dance separately for a good deal of the reception. Yikes.

But as Jamie gets to know Doug better, she begins to appreciate his personality and character. He’s extremely patient with her, even though she continually pushes him away. He respects her physical boundaries and doesn’t act offended when she admits that she wasn’t initially attracted to him. He knows how to make her laugh, and best of all, he comes from a stable, loving family, which Jamie had told the experts was her top priority, after growing up in a rough home.

Jamie and Doug’s love grows over time — and it actually takes far less time than you might think.

In other words, Jamie and Doug’s love grows over time — and it actually takes far less time than you might think. By the end of their first week, Jamie and Doug exchange their first kiss, and she secretly admits to the camera that she “likes” him. 

But as with any marriage, the couple hits a bump in the road.

Doug decides to smoke a cigarette about a month into his relationship with Jamie. He had struggled with cigarette addiction in the past but hadn’t told Jamie about it. When he kisses Jamie, she asks him about the smell, and Doug repeatedly asserts that he hadn’t smoked. He even tells Jamie, “I swear on my mom’s life I didn’t have one” — only to admit later that he had lied.

Jamie is absolutely crushed by the lie, as it reminds her of similar experiences with past boyfriends. “I just wonder how many times you’ve lied to me before,” she tells him that night. “I feel like you’re super juvenile, super immature. I don’t feel like you’re ready to be a husband.” She says later that if they had only been dating when this happened, she would have dumped him.

Marriage protects the couple’s initial commitment and gives them a reason not to give up.

And that’s where marriage comes in. If Doug and Jamie hadn’t made a firm commitment — a promise that they would remain together through both highs and lows — then Jamie would have given up after the first roadblock. The beauty of marriage is that it protects that initial commitment and gives people a reason not to give up when there’s a conflict or when someone exhibits a character flaw.

And if Jamie had given up, she never would have known the fulfillment of the beautiful marriage she now has. She and Doug recently gave birth to their second child and regularly update their Instagram page, which now has 86.2k followers. Their YouTube channel includes an adorable video of Doug surprising Jamie for Mother’s Day, and a hilarious clip of Jamie making Doug try a labor pain simulator, among many others.

Arranged Marriages Are More Likely To Last

The stats speak volumes: compared with other dating shows, Married at First Sight’s couples tend to stay together more than almost any other dating show. As of April 2019, MAFS had six couples still married after eight seasons, while The Bachelor had only one still-married couple out of 23 seasons and The Bachelorette had three couples out of 14 seasons. 

In real life, the difference is even starker. While the U.S. divorce rate hovers between 40% and 50%, the divorce rate for arranged marriages is only about 4%. That may be partly due to the fact that divorce is heavily discouraged in countries like India, where arranged marriages are still common.

The divorce rate for arranged marriages is only about 4%.

But statistics show that couples in arranged marriages are often quite happy. One study of Indian couples married in the U.S. showed no difference in passion, friendship, satisfaction, and commitment between those who had their marriage arranged and those who married based on love and free-choice.

What We Can Learn from Arranged Marriage

So why do arranged marriages tend to last longer than free-choice marriages? Watch one episode of The Bachelor, and you’ll understand the difference. The whole show is focused on physical attraction and surface-level interactions. The producers will even stir up drama, find ways to make participants cry, and encourage participants to play the “villain” for the sake of a more intriguing plot. The Bachelor is basically just an exaggerated version of what modern American dating often looks like. So when a couple finally decides to get married, the foundation is often too shallow to last. 

The Bachelor is basically just an exaggerated version of what modern American dating often looks like.

Arranged marriages obviously aren’t the only path to a good relationship. But there’s certainly something attractive about couples who enter a relationship with no expectations about the other person, except that they know it’s a good match in regards to compatibility, they know they will need to put in work, and they’re committed to making the relationship last. 

Closing Thoughts

You certainly don’t have to have your marriage arranged by your parents — or even by marriage experts — for it to be happy and fulfilling. The important thing is that if you do find someone who matches you on all the essential things — character, personality, and faith, for example — you approach that relationship with a growth mindset and ensure the other person is just as committed to the marriage as you are.

  Pop-Culture  Marriage
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