In case you don’t know me, I am a sexologist, sexuality educator, and one of the experts on Married at First Sight. Yes, that show. You know, the one where social scientists arrange blind marriages? That’s me. When I started this journey last year, deep down I knew that I was taking part in something special. This was transformative television at its best. I knew that our couples would learn about themselves and about marriage during their experience; I knew the audience would learn through our couples. Now that we’ve begun season 2, I’m pleased to share how much I learned, too.
1. Having too many choices can be emotionally paralyzing.
I never experienced the world of online dating as a single person. I met my husband 19 years ago and we have been together ever since. This isn’t typical in our world today. Many people, millions, in fact, have explored the world of online dating. And if you learn anything from these sites, it is that the pool of potential partners seems enormous.
There could be hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people “just right” for you. It wouldn’t be a surprise to think that if your relationship isn’t close to “perfect” (whatever that means) you may start trolling those sites again. Is the grass always greener? Not always.
2. Our “fantasy” gets in the way.
As children, many of us have grandiose ideas about what our romantic future will hold and it comes as no surprise that our realities rarely match our fantasies. And if you’re walking down the aisle to a perfect stranger, it’s understandable that someone might panic — many of us still panic when we’ve known our partner for years!
Weddings force us to reconsider all of those childhood dreams. But there’s something else. Think about how superficial that fantasy typically is: it is based on what’s outside. Do we ever think about falling in love with someone who is respectful, conscientious, funny, charitable, or thoughtful? Some of us may, but most of us don’t get that far. The fantasy stops too early.
For Jamie, all she knew of Doug was what she saw down the aisle. We on the expert panel adored Doug from the start – he exuded charisma and charm from the moment we shook hands. Jamie didn’t know that. But viewers did. People were hard on Jamie but she was really in the dark. I’m not sure what she was expecting, but if that old fantasy had anything to do with it, chances are that anyone we had waiting for her down the aisle would have been problematic for her.
3. Love takes courage.
This one, by the way, was courtesy of my 9 year-old son. But he’s right. There are times when we get in our own way. We have fears and insecurities and all of these pessimistic assumptions that tell us how something – anything – is going to go wrong. This stops us from fully engaging in our relationships. It prevents us from knowing when something special is standing right in front of us.
Jason and Jamie had some serious trepidations during the process but it was only when they let those fears go that they realized what was right in front of them: the potential for real love. Have you ever considered that your own fears are preventing you from experiencing something special?
4. Be careful what you wish for.
Many of us ask for qualities that we haven’t thought out completely. Wanting a strong man isn’t the same as wanting a relationship where partners have traditional gender roles.
Yes, I’m talking about Monet and Vaughn and I’m not suggesting anything that they haven’t spoken about before. But what we haven’t always considered is why we tend to look for a particular “type.”
Think of your relationship role models. For many people, these are our parents (not always, but go for it for a moment). The problem is, we don’t know all the intimate details of that partnership. As children we only see our parents’ relationship through that particular lens. The likelihood is, unless we are exactly like our parents, what worked for them won’t work for us.
5. Vulnerability is not optional.
There is no doubt that Monet and Vaughn had some serious issues. However, what struck me as most problematic was their inability to admit fault – to say sorry – to take a step back and listen to what the other was really trying to say. In order to have a chance at relationship success, we need to acknowledge our feelings, but we also need to apologize. We have to remember that our words make sense to us, but not necessarily to another person. Civil. Stability. The meaning of these terms change from person to person. If we don’t stop to ask for definitions and intentions, well, you don’t need me to tell you what happens. We watched it.
I am very proud of the work we (experts, couples, and viewers) did on Married at First Sight and am thrilled to be back for season 2. What was perceived as trashy television wound up being a thoughtful and provocative look at relationships and what could really blossom when the fundamentals are there and individuals commit to working at a partnership.
I don’t know what the future holds for all of our couples, but I do know that they have all learned valuable lessons – not just about marriage – but about themselves. And I did, too.