Things I've learned from Married at First Sight

Save Melissa, please. Picture: Supplied
Save Melissa, please. Picture: Supplied

A few seasons ago, at the end of Married at First Sight, I wrote a story about what I had learned from essentially wasting precious hours of my life by becoming way too invested in a reality dating show.

Remember Dean and Tracey, Jo and Sean, Troy and Carly? Me neither. But re-reading my story reignited some vague memories and what I wrote back then still stands today. The first thing I learned was how important it is to be yourself. Nasser was never going to change. Gabrielle knew that and so she left.

And speaking of Gabs, when she dared to suggest she had "intimacy" needs she needed satisfying, she was harshly judged. I learned it was OK for women to be sexual beings with desires.

I also learned that men can't win sometimes. The men that year, I think it was season five, had a pretty tough time. Patrick was even told to man up at some point. I also learned that everyone has their own truth. And that's important. Stick with it. And most importantly, being alone doesn't mean you're lonely. You have to believe in that every moment of your single life.

But three seasons on I have learned so much more. Which is why I stopped watching around episode 20.

This bunch was toxic from the start. Normally there is that one couple you want to see stick it out - think Jules and Cam, hell even Martha and Michael - but season eight gave us no one. Well maybe Patrick and Belinda, but they were cringingly awkward to watch, from the moment she did the interpretive dance at their wedding. Did they even stay together?

Early on I tried to jump on the bandwagon. It was the first season there was an official contestant from Canberra. Samantha. Not Bryce. Don't get me started on that. I liked her and felt as though she deserved much more than what she got from her "experience".

I'd settle in with a glass of wine after dinner, tune into Twitter, and keep myself entertained reading, occasionally tweeting, the hilarious reactions from the smart people of the Twitter-verse. It was usually much better than the actual show.

But we all started noticing something early on. It was just the wrong time for MAFS to air. We didn't need to be reading headlines about sexual harassment, sexual assault, narcissism and gaslighting, only to be tuning in to watching the same traits being played out on our televisions and having no one called into account either. There was a lot of discussion this year about whether the show owed the contestants a duty of care. Should the experts, the producers even, have stepped in and stopped some of the abuse?

Ironically when I was watching season six, a book landed on my desk, Dr Stephanie Sarkis' Gaslighting: How to recognise manipulative and emotionally abusive people (Hachette, $32.99).

The term gaslighting, according to Sarkis, was probably first coined by Patrick Hamilton in his 1938 play Gas Light, and made popular by the 1944 movie Gaslight, directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Gregory, Paula's husband, tries to convince her that she is going crazy - losing objects precious to her, hearing and seeing things that aren't there, thinking the lights are flickering when he claims they are not. It turns out it has all been a set-up to "gaslight" her.

Gaslighters use your own words against you, lie to your face, try to convince you of alternative facts all with the goal of consolidating their power, according to Sarkis. The goal of a gaslighter is to keep you off kilter and questioning your reality. The manipulation is usually insidious and slow and you may not realise the extent of the damage until you have an "aha!" moment.

I tried to stick it out until Melissa's "aha!" moment but it never came. And by all reports, she still hasn't had it, the pair are apparently happily ensconced in Melbourne, looking for rings, content in their "all-consuming love", as Melissa put it.

I want to hit her over the head with Sarkis' book. Hard.

If there's one thing I've learned in the past few years is that it's OK to switch off the gaslight (and the channel). I'll no longer give anyone the time if I can identify the mere flicker of that gaslight.

The first chapter of the book is entitled "Is it me, or is it you making me think it's me?" and I know for sure now when it is not me. I'm not perfect, not even close, but I know my faults and my truth and, as Georgia put it the other night, I know who I am and what I stand for.

I've learned, this year, that it's fine to walk away from toxic situations, toxic conversations, toxic people. And if they have a problem with that, there's your proof they were that gaslighter and it wasn't you.

This story Things I've learned from Married at First Sight first appeared on The Canberra Times.