What feels like months ago (but was probably more like 5 weeks ago), my housemate said we should give Married At First Sight, Australia (‘MAFSA’) a try; ‘it’s really good crap TV’ she beamed. How right she was…
In a similar way to Love Island, The Circle and most other reality TV shows, to follow on with who likes whom and what so-and-so said to her, MAFSA demands you tune in 5 days a week and commit to the hour-long episodes. So what better way to spend a freezing cold, wet, January in lockdown?!
My housemates and I certainly aren’t the only singletons swooning at the RomComVom between Cam and Jules or the slow-burn that is Ning and Mark. But there have also been many times that we’ve felt utterly relieved to be single (Elizabeth being consistently shut down by her husband, Sam; Bronson’s ignorance of Ines’ obsession with Elizabeth’s hubby; and poor old Nic having to deal with Cyrell’s psychotic brother).
Admittedly, this is the first series of the show I’ve watched (and after we’ve binged this series, we’re going to take a look back at older series or the British version… ‘for an unbiased comparison’), but our in-house panel of experts is wondering:
Is Married At First Sight a terrible idea?
Each week, couples crumble under the pressure of this accelerated version of matrimony. Initial cracks turn into crevices when the bubble of isolated-living pops; couples visit each other’s home towns, meet their friends and family (the wedding was likely a blur) and see their place of work. If returning to the normality of bills, children and toxic siblings isn’t enough to make the couple fragment, perhaps The Experts will be able to chip away at their armour.
Nowhere is this more shockingly evident than in the case of Mike and Heidi. Mike, 44, looks like Ken crossed with Action Man. He confesses he’s never been in love and considers himself an authority on the female psyche – despite having the emotional range of a teaspoon. On the other hand, Heidi, 38, is very attuned to her feelings on account of her being a mature woman (unfortunately, I feel she’s been matched with a man she’ll have to raise). Heidi’s had a troubled upbringing and can find herself returning to patterns from her childhood – at least, so The Experts continually remind her, Mike and us.
The initial sexual attraction between this couple was palpable through the TV. These two gorgeous people could only have hot, gorgeous sex, but passion cannot make up for divergent values, as this show so clearly demonstrates.
So let’s discuss The Towel Incident.
In a recent episode, Heidi did as anyone who’s been in an adult relationship with an immature partner would in this situation – she brought her frustrations to The Experts. Like most of us, she presumably hoped they would empathise, help her communicate with her husband and thus encourage him to change his behaviour.
But no. The Experts vilified Heidi for getting het up over the ‘small stuff’.
Any sane person would recognise this it isn’t really about towels, is it? Heidi’s problem is that her husband is inconsiderate. Each day, Mike uses all the towels in the bathroom and leaves them on the floor. Not just ‘on occasion’, but every day. The most patient of us would see this as irritating. What does this behaviour convey? Mike’s lack of consideration and empathy for Heidi’s feelings.
Surely Trisha Stratford (a clinical neuropsychotherapist who specialises in the cognitive behaviour of relationships, and the only genuine Expert on the panel) can see the issue isn’t the bloody towels?!
If she does, either she doesn’t voice her opinion or the editors cut it.
For a moment, let’s disregard the underlying message and pretend it’s just the towels that have caused this much aggro. Life is made up of trivial things. And if someone doesn’t hang up the towels, help unload the dishwasher, fill the car up with petrol, this is the stuff that wears people down. It’s this ‘small stuff’ that breaks couples, so Heidi is completely in her right mind to begrudge Mike’s slovenly behaviour. And when you consider The Towel Issue isn’t an isolated problem; that Mike heads out to buy dinner, notices ‘Heidi’s store’ is closed and returns with his dinner (and his dinner alone), we know too damn right that Mike consistently doesn’t consider Heidi’s feelings.
Okay, so maybe Mike’s been trying for 2 months and has an inkling that Heidi isn’t right for him.
No, no, my friend; Mike has acted this way since the honeymoon – remember when Heidi opened up about her childhood for a whole 10 minutes and Mike effectively told her to stop banging on and informed her he wasn’t her therapist?
No, Mike hasn’t been trying for 2 months. Mike wants a wife who’ll join him in thinking the sun shines out of his arsehole.
But back to the sofa.
Like some sick twist to the narrative, the seemingly Feminist Expert turned on Heidi. Previously, Mel Schilling had the wives’ backs; saying what my housemates and I have been practically screaming to the TV, but according to Mel, Mike is likely just what Heidi asked for and proceeded to criticise Heidi for doing everything she can to sabotage the relationship.
Like Mike’s selfish behaviour, this isn’t an isolated situation with The Experts. Sure, this is a new tune from Mel, but John Aiken (former pro cricketer, not an expert on human relationships), has been finding fault with Heidi’s behaviour from the start. Maybe Mel has been worn down by her fellow sofa-sharers?
And in our house, we’re concerned this might be mirrored in the relationship itself.
For all his faults, Mike speaks well. Too well. His language is considered, yet manipulative. He speaks like a bad therapist; and has an uncanny ability to tell Heidi what she’s thinking, how she’s feeling, and how, ultimately, she’s being completely unreasonable.
I think there’s a term for this…?
Are the judges gaslighting Heidi? Are the judges aware he’s gaslighting his wife? Does Mike ever get pulled-up on his toxic behaviour? On his selfishness? On his gaslighting? Has the series been strategically cut? Have the editors and producers decided to represent traditional relationship roles and show it as the wife’s responsibility to appease the husband?
Or do The Experts never criticise Mike?
My housemates and I are worried about post-MAFSA-Heidi. The show hasn’t finished airing in the UK, so we’re not sure if she leaves Mike or if he dumps her. Will Heidi decide enough is enough? (We’re sitting on our hands not to Google it.)
I think deep down, Heidi knows Mike is toxic. Hopefully, when she watches the show, she’ll see the biased opinions of The Experts and notice what we’re all noticing. Hopefully, she’ll find a man who leaves her a towel in the morning, listens to her when she’s talking to him and picks up dinner for both of them.
But what about The Experts? Will they analyse their behaviour? Or will MAFSA continue to be a place where singles are matched with partners they have to raise? Will the wives be worn down or reach their boiling points and be vilified for being over-sensitive? Will they eventually give up, leave the experiment dejected and exhausted, feeling they’ve blown their last chance to find true love?
All image credits to Channel 4/4OD