Dating and mating have had myriad variations in human history, dictated by necessity, religion or culture, but that doesn’t mean all those variations worked well, built stable families or offered a framework in which to raise children who become self-supporting, decent, productive adults.
Just because you have a lot of choices doesn’t mean all choices are equal.
When it comes to pairing up single men and women in contemporary America, we may have reached a point where we have absolutely no idea what to do, and consciously or unconsciously, we may be reaching back into history and theology in search a place to begin again.
Strangely, reality TV might be offering a window into our confused and confounded psyches, as seen in two shows that premiered this summer.
Airing Tuesdays on FYI, “Married at First Sight” is just what it says it is — three couples wed upon meeting, and the show follows them to see what happens next.
(As a sideline, the promo photo on the official Website — seen above — shows a blindfolded mixed-race couple, with an African-American man and a Caucasian woman, but none of the actual couples is mixed-race. Call me crazy, but isn’t that playing upon racial stereotypes and fears? Yeah.)
Four experts — described as “sexologist Dr. Logan Levkoff, spiritualist Greg Epstein, psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona and sociologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz” — were used to create “perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking.”
And, of course, if the couples don’t wind up getting along, a divorce is available after a few weeks, so Catholics can debate how valid these “marriages” actually are.
Meanwhile, over on VHI is “Dating Naked,” airing Thursdays, that is also pretty much what it sounds like.
For better or worse, it has produced one wedding, between 27-year-old artist Ashley Fonda and 36-year-old yoga instructor Alika Medeiros, who also refers to himself as a “sexual healer.” The ceremony, conducted by a Shaman (and at least partially naked) took place Aug. 6 at a Los Angeles botanical garden, and will air on Sept. 18.
Obviously, none of this bears any resemblance to the Catholic view of marriage, but it may represent a tacit admission that the culture at large has entirely lost the thread.
Amid this flailing about for a solution, “Married at First Sight” has landed upon the ancient practice of arranged marriages, in which third parties decide which couples should be wed, with little or no input from the couples themselves (and romantic love being entirely removed from the picture).
But as this story from the Christian Post points out, even matchmakers can’t predict what will happen when two lives intertwine, from one bride’s difficulty with her trailer-park past, to a groom’s unwillingness to share how his mother’s health problems are affecting him.
“Dating Naked” has shades of Adam and Eve in the Garden, with everything stripped away and couples interacting at a “primitive island resort,” doing outdoor actvities (Ashley and Alika went surfing).
On the other hand, when your date is naked, and you’re on TV, you can’t spend all your time ogling. At least on camera, contestants have to try to keep their eyes on the other person’s face, and again, as this is TV, they’re forced to actually talk to each other (which apparently Ashley and Alika did, at length).
So, we’re back to that revolutionary notion that physical attraction and interaction are only part of the equation, and that people should actually get to know each other beyond what’s on the surface.
Being honest, Catholics aren’t much better at all of this. There are way too many single Catholics who want to be married who are still searching for a mate, and too many Catholic marriages are in trouble or breaking apart. While divorce and annulment may sometimes be unavoidable, they’re nothing to be celebrated or just accepted as the ordinary cost of doing business.
If the secular culture can admit that it needs to rethink the way people date and mate, maybe the institutional Church and the people in the pews need to ask themselves what more they can do to bring willing singles into relationships leading to Holy Matrimony, and to support engaged and married couples to ensure that what should be a lifetime bond turns out to be just that.
We can’t just sneer at the silliness of pop culture until we acknowledge the flaws and failings in our own.