ABOVE PHOTO: Pastor Calvin Roberson
By Kharisma McIlwaine
Marriage has been a topic for the ages.
“Is it meaningful or just an antiquated notion?” is a question for some; while others focus on finding love and eventually finding “the one.” Although opinions about marriage vary greatly, it is evident that a lot of people are looking for love. But what does one do when they feel that they’ve exhausted all options? Sometimes the road to marriage requires enlisting help from professionals.
Insert the docu-series, “Married At First Sight.” The show profiles three couples each season, each who have never seen each other and know nothing about their future spouse until they meet for the very first time at the altar. Guided by the show’s three resident experts — Pastor Calvin Roberson, Dr. Pepper Schwartz, sociology professor and author, and Dr. Jessica Griffin, clinical and forensic psychologist, the couples leave their fate and all hopes for a successful marriage in the hands of complete strangers. Pastor Calvin Roberson sat down with the SUN to offer insight on the show and what makes two people truly compatible for marriage.
Pastor Roberson balances multiple titles including; marriage counselor, motivational speaker, as well as pastor. Known affectionately as “Pastor Cal,” he leads his own congregation in Atlanta, and offers relationship coaching alongside his wife Wendy. When it comes to marriage, Pastor Cal’s belief is unwavering.
“I still believe in marriage,” he said. “Marriage is valid, I think it’s a necessity for society. With over 50 percent of marriages failing, most people want to make sure they’re making the right decision, so I get it. Marriage takes a lot of maturity. Once you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve got your life together, you’re done with the dating scene… only those people I feel are qualified to even consider marriage. Just falling in love is not a great prerequisite for getting married.”
Sometimes the concept of marriage becomes idealized, with people dismissing the work required to make the partnership a strong and lasting one. Pastor Cal offered the following perspective. “There are so many people who want love, who want to experience the joys of marriage,” he said. “They want to experience the beauty and the romance in the storybook marriage… however the biggest difficulty that I find, is letting people know that before the storybook ending comes, there are going to be some tough times. People are not always willing to go through the tough times so they can get to the storybook ending.”
“We’ve been inundated with media, and these ideas that marriage is supposed to be this fanciful thing, where you’re riding off into the sunset,” Roberson continued. “Especially for our “Married At First Sight” people, I tell them, ‘this is a great thing but it’s only for people who really want this.’ You’ve got to go through those hard times and those adjustment periods, before you get to the sweet spot of marriage.”
People interested in participating in the show have to be willing to put in the aforementioned work required for a successful marriage. In addition to the basic factors that determine whether two people are well suited for one another ‘til death do them part’, “Married At First Sight” uses an intensive vetting process to ensure that potential participants in the show are there for the right reasons.
“The reason I do the show is because of the filters in place,” Roberson said. “My wife and I, we do marriage consulting. We’ve been doing it for 10 years, so it’s a really serious thing to me. We go through a battery of different tests. The people applying for the show have to go through psychological evaluations, they have to fill out a questionnaire with something like 370 questions, they have to meet with a psychologist. Then we have to do different checks — background checks —and we do criminal background checks. We ask them credit questions, we ask them health questions. We want to make sure that we know everything we can possibly know about these people. We even get pictures of their former girlfriends and boyfriends so we have an idea of the kind of people they’ve dated.”
“This is not an opportunity to get on TV,” Roberson continued. “This is not an opportunity to get your big break. We want people to take this very seriously. This is a legally binding marriage… these marriages are real. I do believe that sometimes the whole TV element can make people trivialize it; however once they get into it they realize it is a real marriage. We have to convey to people even more sternly, that this is a serious pursuit. Do not sign up for this if you’re just looking for somebody to date!”
Once the couples finally meet and attempt to expedite the process of learning each other, creating a dynamic unique to their union, and infusing their lives together– they are met with even more challenges.
“I have not met a couple yet (and this will be my fifth season) who does not say, ‘Wow, this is nothing like what I expected!’ Roberson said. “They’re always shocked and surprised. I tell them, it’s an incredible challenge to have someone filming you for over 40 hours a week. And then the idea that you’re marrying a complete stranger… someone that’s been vetted and prepared for you, but nevertheless still a stranger is difficult. What we want people to do is trust the process; that’s the hardest thing.”
“All you have to do is get in there, discover each other and as I tell people ‘grow in love,’” he added. “I don’t believe [in] falling in love; every time you fall in love you get hurt. Growing in love means that you’re an active participant and you own the process of your love development.”
Accepting the challenges of love development and building a life as a team are required to make any marriage work; the arranged marriages on “Married At First Sight” are no different. But what determines who will be a good match?
“There are a number of factors that determine whether people are a good match,” Roberson said. “Number one is whether or not they have comparable values. Do they have the same belief system, and I don’t necessarily mean religious or spiritual beliefs… but do you believe in family? Do you believe in honesty? Do you believe in trust? Are these the things that you live your life by? Are these the irreplaceable principles that you guide your life by?
So we try to find people who have compatible values. We try to find people that are socioeconomically compatible…people that are going in the same direction, who have the same ambition level. Another thing we look for is compatible differences. “Is your deficiency or challenge [made better by another person’s strength and vice versa?] So there’s a lot of different factors that we look at to determine compatibility.”
Each season “Married At First Sight” seeks potential couples in a different city. The show is currently casting in Philadelphia, hoping to find marriage-minded men and women in the City of Brotherly Love. Pastor Cal shared his delight for the Philadelphia season.
“We’re excited about Philadelphia,” he said. “I’ve been to Philadelphia a few times, but I’m looking forward to taking in the culture this time. One thing we’re looking forward to — and we believe Philly has it — is diversity. We always try to have a diverse couple. We try to represent society. We want our show to be a microcosm of what the world looks like.”
There are so many smoke screens present in traditional dating it can be overwhelming. The team of experts at “Married At First Sight” offer an opportunity for couples to be placed together bonded by the elements that can sustain a long lasting, loving marriage. Not only is it rewarding for the couples taking the journey together on the show, it is also a rewarding experience for the panel of experts. Pastor Cal shared these final thoughts.
“The most exciting part of this whole thing, is to reveal to people that we found someone who we truly believe [is] compatible… to tell them, ‘you’re off the market… you’re officially engaged and you’re getting married in two weeks.’ Do we always get it right? We’d like to think so, but we believe that every match we’ve made has the possibility to work. There’s always that X-factor that we cannot account for, people being people… but the marriages that are working, are working well! Those people have put in the time and effort and they really want it.”
Stay tuned for the announcement about the Philadelphia season of “Married At First Sight.” In the interim, be sure to tune in to Season 7 of “Married At First Sight” premiering on Lifetime on July 10th 9/8c. To keep up with all the incredible work Pastor Calvin Roberson is doing, visit his website http://www.calvinroberson.com/.