Wouldn’t you rather have a team of four human relations experts choose your marital partner for you rather than go through this daunting task yourself? In the second season of “Married at First Sight” now on the A and E channel, four experts- a sociologist, a psychologist, a sexologist and a spiritual counselor- spend long hours scrutinizing 7000 applicants to select three women and three men and pair them into three couples who agree to be married on the arranged marriage date when they would for the first time see each other or even know the name of their partner as they approach the altar.
This would seem to be setting our “select your own partner through dating” culture on its ear and returning to the millennia tested arranged marriage cultures typical of so many societies around the globe. At first glance this is a fascinating experiment with competent professionals applying their best skills at selecting and matching marital partners. Surely they can do a bang up job of this. As I’ve said elsewhere, Americans have long been exporting our mate selection through dating institution around the world, with little hard evidence that our marriages are more successful than the traditional arranged ones. Could this be the wave of the future? Could this approach produce more successful, more stable marriages than the way we’ve been doing for the last few centuries?
For years in Dallas I taught a course designed to aid singles in making wiser choices in the mate selection dating game. The people who need this information most are those who have not yet made their first marital choice, older teens through younger twenty somethings. Yet most of the people who took the course were in their late 20s and up, licking their wounds from a failed marriage or two and frustrated with their ongoing dating experiences. When teenagers or early 20s came they usually were brought by a parent who wanted them to gain wisdom hopefully avoiding making the same mistakes the parent had. Apparently when we are in our teens and early 20s we are bulletproof in the area of romance just as we are in all other areas of life. We need no help. We just want to have fun. We have all the necessary wisdom.
In watching the first segment of the new season I was struck by how similar the six people selected by the experts are to those who attended my classes. All were in their upper 20s through mid-30s and from their reports had been single for two years or for seven years indicating marriages or at least long-term live-in relationships after teenage years and prior to being cast out again into the cold world of singlehood.
Another critically important point is that these six people – and likely most of the 7000 who applied – are specifically looking to find a mate and get married. This is in sharp contrast to so many people in the same age range today who are not interested anytime soon in getting married or are specifically deciding to avoid it. The most natural marriages are between two people who have very similar sociological backgrounds, such as similar age, education, subculture and even geography. The strength of diversity tends to show up in psychological or personality traits, where the differences in temperament, interest and skills tend to bring real benefits to the union, where this complementarity adds real strength to the partnership. This is contrasted with the typical arranged marriage culture where the sociological factors are very nearly identical except that there is typically a significant age gap, with the woman marrying soon after puberty and the man having more years to establish himself as an adult prior to marriage. Each of the couples in this show are virtually identical in age.
One of the most profound differences between picking a mate through dating and having a mate picked through arrangement is that arranged marriage cultures traditionally do not put high emphasis on or expect romance and strong physical arousal in each other’s presence. Such an emphasis is typically seen as being shallow and even to potentially add an instability factor to the relationship. Yet in our culture being physically and emotionally in love with your partner is virtually the holy grail to be sought in order to guarantee a fulfilling marriage. In our movies and stories, to be married for any number of practical reasons unconcerned about physical and emotional chemistry is downright un-American.
My brief viewing of this first installment of the new season displays the thinking of our four experts in applying their best insight to selecting the best matches. They seem to have given real emphasis to selecting mature and stable individuals and to pairing partners with promising similarities. They seem much less certain of what will be the chemistry that will be generated beginning at the moment each partner for the first time lays eyes on an individual he or she has promised ahead of time to marry, trusting that the experts who arranged it can make the right choice.
It will be fascinating to see how all this plays out in successive installments. As time moves on will each couple be pleased to have turned this much of their future over to recognized professionals? If the experiment comes to disappointment for any couple will it be because there were unrecognized immaturities or personal demons that prevented one or the other from being a viable marital partner? Will it be because there were differences too great to be successfully negotiated? Or will it be because of the inability to effectively communicate the vast differences that seem always to be between two human beings, even those who on paper seem so right for each other?