In case you haven’t heard, the Biography Channel ain’t your Dad’s late night insomnia cure any longer. Over the past few months they have relaunched as “fyi,” (yes, the weird comma is in the logo). And they are turning out some really wild programming.
Married at First Sight (Tuesdays at 9ET/10PT) is a show billed as a “social experiment” where people volunteer to get married to complete strangers. They meet for the first time when they exchange their vows. Six people were narrowed down from hundreds of applicants to be paired together in attempted wedded bliss. Four experts, a sexologist, psychologist, sociologist, and a spiritualist (how do I get that job?), narrowed down these six daring individuals to three couples.
Now, I know this premise has the distinct possibility of cheapening marriage. But you should check it out. This is not some Bachelor/Bachelorette swept away to an exotic local and everyone is super good looking sort of show. These are real people. With real problems. Who really want to be married. Think the first few seasons of MTV’s Real World with the awkwardness of an American arranged marriage.
The first episode was painful at best. There is the initial meeting at the wedding in front of all your friends and family. The couples seemed to waver between complete elation and panic attacks during the reception. And then comes the honeymoon. So these people have just married a complete stranger and now they have to vacation together? And while most of us will never find ourselves in a “I choose the person behind door number three” marriage situation, Married at First Sight offers some surprisingly important lessons at these pivotal life moments.
The gorgeously hip Monet and Vaughn are like watching a really attractive train-wreck. They have sex on their wedding night, because, you know, it’s their wedding night. Except that it was also the first day they met, so it was sort of like a one night stand followed by a honeymoon or as I like to call it, hell. Their honeymoon appears to be days of forced intimate time together arguing about their expectations. Basically, they cannot figure out how to be emotionally intimate because they were physically intimate so quickly. It is heartrending.
Then there’s Cortney and Jason. And while they seem to ease into this with the same level of enthusiasm for one another, a painful commonality also becomes quickly apparent. Cortney’s family is not on board and Jason’s mother has terminal cancer. Neither of them had family members at the wedding. So when they head back to live together, it feels like something is missing. I think it is easy in those first few months of marriage to negate the value of family support. After all, you are so in love and burnt casseroles are cute. But I can’t help but think of my own marriage when I watch Cortney and Jason. After a feverish romance, we got engaged, got married, and moved to New York City. I remember looking at my husband that first week and thinking “Oh God, I’ve married a stranger and my parents are so far away.” Cortney and Jason seem to have that moment on repeat and in stereo sound.
But the shining star of this show, the reason you must watch every episode, is a very normal guy named Doug. He is awkwardly tall, from New Jersey, and, looks-wise, not exactly in the same league as his wife. And when his wife, Jaime, met him, she had the come-aparts in a hotel hallway because she wasn’t “sexually attracted to him.” But here’s the thing about Doug, he is tenaciously forgiving of Jaime. When she doesn’t want to call the post-marriage getaway a honeymoon, Doug starts calling it a vacation. When his wife cannot remember what his last name is, he laughs. When Jaime refuses to have sex with Doug (and to be honest, a month in I’m still not sure they have), he gives her all the space she needs. And when he is interviewed about Jaime’s initial apprehension of him he claims that he will grow on her “like a fungus.” And here’s the thing: he is right. No matter how guarded Jaime is, Doug expresses relentless joy for her. And Jaime is dumbfounded by his devotion.
This tactic of loving her until she loves back came to the most beautiful fruition in last week’s episode. It turns out that Jaime, with model worthy good looks and a great job, grew up dirt poor in an upstate New York trailer park. Her mom is addicted to drugs and she has no idea who her dad is. And she shares all of this with Doug after having held it so close to the chest for so long. And when she disclosed her truest self, he loved her all the more.
Doug loved his new bride into vulnerability (Brene Brown, much?). He saw her walls and didn’t charge them, but instead hung out at the bottom and told cheesy jokes. He is my new hero and marriage guru. “Don’t cry for me, Alabama,” says Doug, “I will grow on her, like a fungus.” One can only hope it’s the contagious kind.