Modern Arranged Marriages: Married at First Sight TV Show

I hardly watch TV and its been that way for a few years now. Recently though, I moved in with the grandmother of a friend of mine and she has Dish Network. She watches the Arabic equivalent of EWTN in the living room. There is a TV in one of the rooms that I use and I was told I am welcome to watch TV there. Originally I had no intention to, but yesterday after over a week of living here, I decided I’d turn it on. It happened to be on a channel in which there’s a program airing called Marriage at First Sight. I watched about 15 minutes or so before I had to leave the house to go somewhere.

From the little bit I watched, it consists of an experiment in which a group of “experts” (clinical psychologist, spiritual advisor, and sexologist – and maybe more that I missed) recruit people who are interested in an opportunity to enter into a relationship. Eventually the applicants are told that their commitment would involve marrying someone, legally, at first sight. The purpose of the experts is to match people according to compatibility. Many people dropped out upon realizing arranged marriage was the catch. Others stayed who were desirous of a serious relationship.

One part that stood out is when one of the expert staff was commenting on the very low divorce rate among arranged marriages ( I think he said 4%) and high divorce rate of other marriages, i.e. romantic bond/love based marriages.

What I want to know is whether in-itself, submitting oneself to being in an arranged marriage like this, would be immoral.

Now I know that all kinds of critical things could be said about the show, e.g. what a waste, it indicates our culture has hit rock bottom, etc. I’m saying, forget about the Reality TV aspect of it, or even the experimental aspect of it (which presupposes acceptance of divorce on the part of either the experts, the participants or both). I’m interested in the morality of the arrangement itself, in so far as we also consider that clearly the Church approved of arranged marriages in the past, one difference being that that they were family arranged and revolved around class, wealth, and property interests. The modern spin revolves around perceived compatibility by people who work in the social sciences.

However, is it not conceivable that someone could submit themselves to a modern arranged marriage WITHOUT intending divorce, indeed, intending permanent union ( one of the conditions of valid marriage)? And as to the couple not meeting each other until the wedding day – again, I don’t think this is unheard of either even traditionally speaking. Do not Hasidic Jews observe a similar custom? And anyways arranged marriage doesn’t mean consent isn’t required. A person can always decide to not consent and therefore not make the vows. Arranged just means your partner was picked out for you.

The only real problem I see from a Catholic perspective (assuming all necessary elements are present for a valid marriage – exclusive union between a man and woman, consisting of mutual consent to a permanent union that is open to children) is if “compatibility” displaces or fails to include the religious component of marrying in the Church, being equally yoked, and/or genuine effort to raise the children Catholic (if one of the partners is Catholic).

What do you think? (Again, don’t focus on the Reality TV aspect, admittedly that is garbage. Probably recipe for disaster too. Not the way to build intimacy.) Focus on the CONCEPT of modern arranged marriage using social science professionals.

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, the couple must freely give consent to the marriage. Any coercion has the potential to invalidate. The screnario you describe seems to involve coercion.

Arranged marriages may have certain pros and cons. As long as the couple who are arranged to marry freely choose to marry each other it may be acceptable. It is not too different from say when friends may “set up” mutual friends to meet and date. Many of us meet our spouses through mutual friends, family, work, etc, and there may be some level of arrangement involved in the first instance. The important point remains that the couple freely choose to marry, and not do so through coercion.

A fascinating topic!

Statistically, you are correct that arranged marriages have lower divorce rates than many other marriages.

However, it’s easy to lie with statistics. For example, arranged marriages appear to be more prevalent in cultures in which divorce is much less frequent to begin with; and/or has a social stigma far beyond that of western cultures, etc.

To comment, I would tend to disagree with the concept of arranged marriages by “professionals,” i.e., a sexologist? Someone who feeds my profile into a computer and matches it with someone else’s? Why? In part because “expert” is awfully subjective, and also in part because they cannot be relied upon to act with my best interest at heart, beyond getting me, if I’m the subject, married to someone, anyone. However, I think that, for example, it’s a very open question whether one or more sets of parents - particularly those who are themselves happily married - might not be in a better position to pick a spouse for their young adult child than the child themselves might be, and in that respect I believe arranged marriages are absolutely defensible (I only know 1 arranged married couple, and they are non-Catholic; they are both medical doctors, apparently happily married for like 40 years, and are proponents of arranged marriages).

Rather than just stating two choices: arranged or self-chosen marriages, what about encouraging young people to choose for themselves but run that choice by trusted elders, as we do in a good per-Cana counseling. What is important is that a person is not so blinded by attraction that they overlook the differences and faults of another.

In an arranged marriage, the expectation level is sometimes lowered or turned over to an " expert" and a person is open to the possibility that the chosen person might be less than perfect. In the case of a self-chosen spouse, there can be a certain ego attached to that choice so that it is difficult to face the problems and differences as they inevitably arise.

So if young people are taught to run their friends and romances by a trusted adult or two or three, and be open to facing and admitting a mistake, we might have less of a stubborn rush to marriage and perhaps more wise matches.

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