Married at first sight: A review (mainly of the concept)

There was a show on Channel 4 recently called “Married at first sight” in which the basic premise was that a group of psychologists, anthropologists, an Anglican vicar, and so on, would discuss and match up two random strangers, who would only meet on the day of the wedding and see how it would pan out.

It was interesting, I’ll give it that but as a Catholic, I think marriage is a serious, eternal commitment. It is binding yourself to someone for the rest of your life and beyond the grave. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. It certainly shouldn’t be done for entertainment purposes. That, to my mind, devalues marriage.

Obviously, a programme like that that lays bare a dystopian view of marriage, and it has to get past the commissioning editors (the people who pick TV shows) and to do that it was framed as an “experiment”. They framed this experiment as, if two people were matched using scientific methods (like all dating sites use but e-harmony makes a point of saying they use it) then if they had an arranged marriage on the basis of this, would it work?

Now, this is only going to attract two sorts of people. It will attract desperate people and opportunists. They may feign curiosity, but no-one makes a life decision as big as marriage, out of curiosity. Nothing is as involving to a person’s core as the person they share a sexual relationship with. That is the Catholic view, but I have a lot of atheist friends and they seem to share that belief when I’ve shared it with them. Given that it involves something so core, it shouldn’t be the subject of a television programme as these are human beings. Inevitably, someone will, as someone did, get deeply hurt and driven to tears. The programme was well produced and presented but watching the inevitable happen was actually rather unpleasant. I think the science of it is interesting, but in a series such as this, to describe it as anything other than entertainment is misleading. It is called an experiment to try and validate the selatious nature of the show.

If dating sites use this logic, how many times daily are these logarithms run and how many potential partners are identified? Of those potential partners, how many result in them actually meeting, or having a relationship, or an intimate relationship? Crucially, how many people, with time and space given, actually end up marrying the person that the dating site says is best? If it doesn’t happen in the real world, why would it work in a controlled environment? Even when they do, are those marriages successful? It is a naive concept to thing that this would work and could be done ethically and it was opportunist of the show’s production team to exploit that curiosity. People generally don’t end up marrying people as a result of what a dating site says because it is generally a bad idea.

One general rebuttal that I’ve heard in response to this is that if the marriage doesn’t work out, there is always divorce. In my opinion, if divorce is something you are considering on your wedding day, you really shouldn’t be getting married. Marriage should be a rest of life commitment and not something done to get viewing figures.

If indeed, it were a genuine experiment and there was a genuine desire not just to make a television show but to see if an arranged marriage based on dating website logic could actually work, then the ethics must be considered. Given the subject matter of the experiment it would be wise not to use human subjects where possible. This is why, if it were an experiment, it wouldn’t actually need to take place. Given the immense human and emotional hurt, and spiritual collateral damage that could be involved in something like this, it would make sense, if the outcome could be theorized or predicted, not to actually use people in the experiment. In this particular case, it can. The idea for this show experiment actually comes from a Danish show experiment that has been exported globally so that there are several international versions of this show experiment. In all of the other versions the outcome is overwhelmingly similar. In the Danish one, the couples are divorced. In the Australian one, all but one of the couples are separated. The American one is the same. Therefore it does not take much of a leap that in the English one, at least one couple would fail and very few couples, the exception rather than the rule, make it past six months, let alone a year. A marriage failing, however dubiously entered into, is always an emotionally draining and stressful experience, as I can personally attest to having witnessed several of them break down.

In summary, this show has a really interesting concept, but it turns extremely dark and very disturbing when it becomes apparent that these people are being drawn into an obviously doomed situation, one that will undoubtedly damage them, and at that point, the show ceases to be a piece of fun entertainment and just becomes depressing.

If we strip away the illogical instruments of reason from this situation, we examine it logically and pragmatically. If we remove subjective elements from this, such as love, emotion, it can be seen to be hugely damaging in ways other than spiritually or soulfully, marriage is contract. It is a hugely complicated legal contract and one that can be enforced through the courts. Radmacher vs Granatino [2010] UKSC 42 is a legal case that declared that pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding. There is therefore no guaranteed legal protection for anyone from being legally bound to someone they might not want to be bound to. Signing any document, especially one as legally important as a marriage contract, should always be given due diligence and consideration, and to enter into such an arrangement with someone that one doesn’t know could potentially be devastating. I can’t see how they could have factored the UK’s strict marriage laws into the making of the program.

To quote the Simpson’s “You have given a chance for everyone to express love In its most purest form — a binding legal contract.”

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