I’m obsessed with the television reality show: Married At First Sight. The show promotes itself as a social experiment: over 30,000 singles apply to have experts find them a suitable spouse, out of which, six are chosen.
It’s a bit like coming across a car accident, and not being able to tear your eyes away; but it also appeals to the part of me that wants to know what makes marriages work.
“Why do people even bother to get married?” my thirty-three-year-old daughter asked me recently. “I mean no one is really that happy.”
She had just been talking to a cousin of mine whose marriage to her husband has been “difficult” although they’ve stuck it out.
“You know what she told me? She said that he didn’t learn to be responsible until he turned forty-five, and then he retired at fifty-one and became a big kid all over again. What was the point of that? So that they can grow old together?”
Not even that, I think, she has cancer and little time left to live.
“Well, given all that Ric have I endured, we really appreciate having each other.”
“That’s nice, Mom. But is that it?”
I can see it from my daughter’s point of view. She was a teenager when her father and I split, and she still harbours a lot of anger about the fallout. The father of her child turned out to be a major cheat, who left her financially and emotionally destitute. I don’t know what to say.
The experts on Married At First Sight say that marriage is about being willing to change, looking for the good in the other person and overlooking the bad. I watch as one new wife throws in the towel days into the honeymoon, because her new husband smokes more than she would like. As an outsider, I can see the inflexibility in her stance, but haven’t I been guilty of the same thing?
“I think for a marriage to work, couples have to be willing to work on themselves and grow,” I offer. “Marriages that stay together seem to go through many transformations.”
“But is anyone really happy?”
My husband says marriage should be your soft place to land, and I have certainly felt that throughout our relationship.
“Maybe ‘happy’ isn’t the right word. Marriage is about more than that.”
In the meantime, she is in a close relationship that appears to be headed to a permanent union. Is she questioning her choices? Is she just afraid? I can relate to that.
The couples on the show quickly lapse into personal insecurities – one is afraid of being rejected for his lifestyle choices; another feels she is not attractive enough, and so on. All common, and very real feelings of inadequacy. As a viewer, I can see that the individuals will need to overcome their own fears if they ever hope to make the relationships work.
In real life, there are no experts offering guidance throughout the marital process. The commitment to another person is really a promise to try to be one’s best self in good and bad times. The hope is that both partners fulfill that promise. The guarantee is that there will be a bit of both. Or a lot, as my husband and I have faced for a few years now (tough stuff, anyway.)
“It’s like we are hard-wired to find a mate,” my daughter adds.
Now, that I can agree with.
Maybe that’s all there is to it. Reality TV certainly seems to count on it.