As I watched Jessika Power and Daniel Webb making out for the third time in as many weeks – behind their respective husband and wife’s backs, mind you – I started to think back to what 13 years of Catholic school education tried to drum into me.
That the fundamental tenets of marriage are fidelity, honesty, trust, monogamy and ultimately love. Then I realised that the contestants on Married at First Sight Australia routinely and unabashedly break every single one of these.
From the downright awful way Sam treated Elizabeth, to Cyrell ‘sticking up’ for her husband by getting into a physical fight with another wife and all of the toxic masculinity in between, season six of the hit-show has got everyone talking about what makes a healthy marriage.
So with the series quickly becoming a lockdown guilty pleasure for many in the UK, I wonder whether watching this reality TV show can finally help break us free from the constraints and expectations of marriage by playing up just how ridiculous and restrictive the historically religious institution can be.
From a very early age, I was taught by teachers and priests in weekly Sunday morning sermons that I should find a girl, fall in love and get married. There was never any talk about what marriage would actually be like though, just an expectation that it was a lifelong commitment and divorce was a sin.
There was just one problem – as a closeted gay kid, I tried to force myself to date girls throughout my teenage years but it just didn’t stick. (Sorry Father John!)
As a result, I grew up resigning myself to the idea that marriage just wasn’t for me because the version I was sold never really included people like me.
And even though same-sex couples can now legally get married in both my home country of Australia and here in the UK too, I think not really feeling the personal pressure of marriage has given me a unique perspective on it – that it’s messy, complicated and not always till death do us part.
Of course you don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to realise that the construct of marriage is fallible, but often among straight friends and family, it can be seen as the be all and end all. Society teaches people (girls especially) to dream about their ‘special day’, as if all other days throughout their lives pale in comparison.
Except it’s not all faithfulness and marital bliss. It can be heartbreak, dishonesty and constantly yelling at your partner for no apparent reason, like Ines Basic did.
And as Lauren Huntriss (or both Dean Wells and Tracey Jewel in season five – the best season of the show, IMHO) pointed out, it can also involve non-monogamy, sexual domination and experimentation.
Which brings me back to Married at First Sight Australia season six.
For any #MAFSA newbies, the format of the show sees pairs of strangers meet for the very first time at the altar just mere moments before they say ‘I do’. They then go on a honeymoon, as well as group dinners with all of the other couples and weekly commitment ceremonies – including bonus counselling from relationship ‘experts’ – where they decide whether they want to stay or leave their marriages.
If the show’s format doesn’t shake up the idea of marriage, the resulting in-fighting and drama between the couples sure does. And it’s a recipe for (incredibly overproduced yet entertaining!) disaster.
From Dino majestically riding into his wedding ceremony on a horse to Ines and Sam’s fleeting fling (including the stinkiest chat I’ve ever witnessed) it was all so deliciously dramatic.
The show feeds into this idea of happily ever after and then – consciously or not – challenges it. Everyone has grandiose fairytale-like weddings and for a brief moment you think maybe each couple will live happily ever after. But then some start to fall apart.
Jessika’s wedding with Mick Gould looks dreamy in the very beginning as she says the pair have very similar senses of humour and she seems charmed by his ‘heaven to Betsy’ Australianisms.
Things take a turn for the worse when the relationship falls apart a few weeks later due to a breakdown of communication though. Then newly-married couple Daniel Webb and Tamara Joy belatedly enter the experiment and suddenly Jess and Dan soon start an affair together.
We feel uncomfortable watching them go behind their partners’ backs and it all comes to a head in a dramatic commitment ceremony that sees the scandalous pair ditch their original partners and re-enter the experiment as a couple in their own right.
Of course the deception is at times excruciating to watch because no one likes to see people caught in the crossfire. But this is what the reality of marriage (albeit a lot less dramatic) sometimes is.
And to those people who say that the marriages in the show aren’t like real ones, it’s true that the unions aren’t legally-binding and of course everyday marriages don’t have the same production value or feature endless slow-motion exits from vehicles with dramatic voice overs.
But each participant treats it exactly like a marriage and it’s clear that a lot of them come into it with the very same everyday notions of ‘wanting to find the one’ and someone they can spend the rest of their lives with, judging by how often everyone says it.
Marriage is messy and this is never more true than when the couples don’t have the happily ever after we so desperately want them to.
That’s why shows like Married at First Sight Australia can help us see exactly how ridiculous marriage can be and then help us redefine the idealised version some of us have of it.
Unfortunately, the stark reality is that divorces in the UK surged by almost a fifth according to the latest ONS figures, although there’s an overall downward trend of divorces because less people are entering into the unions. In fact, the marriage rate for opposite-sex couples fell in 2017 to the lowest on record since 1862.
‘Maybe Jules and Cam will stay together,’ I hear you plead. Their fairytale-like final recommitment ceremony was certainly one of the most heartwarming moments of the season.
Maybe they will stay together (and if you’ve looked up where they are now you can find out for yourself) but that’s just not the case for a lot of people, including any other couple in the show’s entire history before this season, except for one.
It wasn’t the case for season five’s fan favourite couples Melissa Walsh and John Robertson or Sarah Roza and Telv Williams — the latter actually taking out restraining orders against each other — no matter how many romantic moments they had during the show’s production.
Maybe after watching this season, we can finally get rid of this idealised notion that married life is the start of happily ever after.
People can cheat or have non-traditional marriages and they can sadly end in divorce – MAFSA just shows it warts and all.
I just never want to hear religious people say gays ruin the sanctity of marriage when Married at First Sight Australia exists.
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