reality tv

There's a fatal flaw in this season of Married At First Sight but we've seen it time and time again.

Men will literally go on reality TV before going to therapy.

This isn't a joke. It's a sad reality.

Married At First Sight is just one of a plethora of reality dating shows that match unsuspecting singles, hoping for the chance at true love. Sure, some are in it for the fame — but some truly want their happily ever after.

But what MAFS does better than most reality shows is hold a mirror up to the pitfalls of contemporary dating — and we're currently seeing a dynamic play out on the show that, unfortunately, countless single women know all too well.

Put simply, some of the men on this season are not ready to be dating. (Let alone fake married.)

The issues these men are grappling with span mental health, body confidence, and even navigating grief following the loss of a family member. Yet it's the women they're matched with who bear the burden of helping them through their troubles.

Instead of signing up for marriage, the brides in question seem to have been brought in for a little project management.

Two couples, in particular, have been thrust into this dynamic thanks to the pairing choices of the show's relationship experts this year. 

Cassandra Allen and Tristan Black have struggled since they wed at the start of the experiment several weeks ago. 

Cass is a 29-year-old admin officer from Queensland who is bubbly and outgoing. Tristan is a 30-year-old events manager from New South Wales, who is also bubbly and outgoing, but who carries a host of self-esteem issues.


Cassandra on the experts' couch. Image: Nine. 

Tristan has spoken candidly about how his trouble finding a connection with a woman in his earlier years has bred insecurities in him, with the groom making several disparaging comments about himself, from his appearance to the sound of his voice.


During one Commitment Ceremony, Tristan even told the experts, "I hate myself."

These self-esteem obstacles are highly relatable for many of the show's viewers, and they have affected how Tristan relates to Cass. While they initially hit it off in the early stages of the experiment, Tristan's inability to offer Cass any kind of physical intimacy quickly became an issue — with Tristan even voting to 'leave' the experiment after five weeks.

After one of several fights, Cass reflected on the toll Tristan's inexperience and low self-esteem have taken on her.

"He might not realise but it's about our lack of physical connection. He's a bit insecure, he's not very confident and it's draining me," she shared. "I'm so over this."

In a more recent episode, Tristan said he was "falling in love" with Cass, but she noted they rarely even kiss, and suggested they may have different understandings of what makes a relationship. That night, she wrote 'leave'.

At this stage, it's looking doubtful the couple will make it to final vows.

Lucinda Light is another contestant who has been matched with a groom who is at a different stage of emotional development — though, it must be said: Timothy Smith has done a lot of work on himself during the experiment.


However, this is Lucinda's journey too — yet her entire experience has been underpinned by aiding Timothy's emotional progress.

Lucinda spent the bulk of the early days of her experiment tiptoeing around her groom's resistance to being emotionally vulnerable. She's also consoled Timothy through the grieving process, having recently lost his father — a trauma he has clearly been in the grips of processing on the show.

Listen to Mamamia's entertainment podcast The Spill discuss the worst MAFS moment. Post continues after podcast.

But like Cass, Lucinda has, for the most part, not been receiving the level of affection she requires — deserves — in a relationship.

"I don't feel too desired," she said during an earlier Commitment Ceremony, after the experts noted minimal progress in the couple establishing a romantic connection.

This week, we saw Lucinda and Timothy shared a sweet kiss — their first in front of the group — and it's a moment viewers have celebrated. As the experiment's most beloved couple, this reaction made sense, but it's worth noting that the experiment is in its final stages and this couple has only... just kissed??

For Lucinda, who has asked for intimacy from the early days, this is hardly what she signed up for. 

The experts, too, have previously noted the pair's previous lack of progress. 


"You guys have been stuck in first gear for five weeks," John Aiken said. "If you do nothing different, frankly I'd prefer you to leave... I know you, Timothy, have had tough times in the past, but you're chained to it."

And Timothy's behaviour had Lucinda questioning what she was actually getting from their relationship. "I've been seeing what I'd really be signing up for," she's said on the show. "Am I signing up for minimum affection? Am I signing up for someone who can't share their emotions?"

For his part, Timothy often praises Lucinda for being so caring and patient with him — and since the couples went on a group retreat to Byron Bay, things have clearly shifted for the pair, who are now showing each other more affection.

But regardless of Timothy and Lucinda's progress (and Cass and Tristan's lack thereof), it begs the question: why are women on reality TV continuously being paired with men who need 'fixing'? And why are they expected to support them for the 'reward' of a functioning relationship at the end?

Lucinda knows what she wants. Image: Nine. 


The responsibility here doesn't lie specifically with these men. Everyone comes with baggage. Everyone has trauma.

Tristan and Timothy are both self-aware about the work they both have to do on themselves. "I’ve got more baggage than Qantas," Timothy once joked. But what we're seeing play out is a decision made on the part of the show to pair men with a lot of 'work' to do with women who have their s**t together.

Nahum Kozak, a psychologist from Lighthouse Relationships, sees this pattern on MAFS as reflecting a bigger picture. "You're seeing women who are emotionally skilled being paired with less emotionally skilled men, who have some experiences they have not processed," he said.

Kozak noted that while both women and men have histories of being troubled by past experiences at a similar rate, it was beliefs around gender — known as 'the man box' theory — that may prevent some men from working through their issues.


Timothy Smith has spent the MAFS experiment struggling to open up. Image: Nine. 

It's more normalised for women to seek help from external forces, such as friends, family, or a professional, whereas men seem more intent on keeping their issues hidden.


According to a 2024 study of 3,500 Australian men, 37 per cent of men aged 18 to 30 said they felt pressure to conform to a set of beliefs, which include myths such as 'a real man always acts tough' and 'a real man keeps his fears and worries to himself'.

"Men who do conform to man box beliefs are less likely to seek help, less likely to process past pain and trauma," Kozak said.  

While partners offering psychological support for one another is part of intimacy in a relationship, added Kozak, clear boundaries also need to be put in place. "What's the boundary? If someone feels they are giving more than they are comfortable giving, it is going to cause resentment long term," he advised. 

"If people move from being lovers and partners to being one another's therapist, the risk is resentment will build and ultimately relationship distance will increase. Boundaries are important to name, and outside help is important to seek if needed."

This is a pattern we've seen on MAFS time and time again: mature, emotionally intelligent and empathetic women are matched with men with a whole host of issues they need to work through. 

On the 2022 season, ambitious fashion brand manager Samantha Moitzi was matched with Al Perkins, a carpenter whose mother still did all his cooking, cleaning and washing. Samantha spent most of her time in the experiment trying to teach Al how to pull his weight in a relationship.


Back in the 2019 season, energetic radio host Heidi Latcham sent herself spiralling trying to teach longtime bachelor Mike Gunner how to behave in a relationship.

The dynamic between Mike Gunner and Heidi Latchman was difficult to stomach. Image: Nine. 


This trend isn't just in MAFS either. On the latest season of Netflix's Love Is Blind, AD Smith spent her engagement with Clay Gravesande navigating his unpredictable mood swings and past trauma over his father's infidelity.

They made it down the aisle only for Clay to reveal he "wasn't ready" to be a husband... on a show that culminates in a wedding. A tearful AD later reflected on her frustrations around dating men who haven't done the work on themselves. "I keep doing so much for these men and carrying these relationships," she said in the show's finale.

Again and again, women are forced into the roles of being their partner's mother, therapist or life coach. But women want a partner who will enrich their lives — not add to their mental load.

As for MAFS, the writing seems to be on the wall for Tristan and Cassandra's relationship; and while Lucinda and Timothy appear to be on a better path, it's still worth remembering the women standing behind the men they've been enlisted to emotionally support.

Their journeys matter just as much as the men's. 

As Lucinda reflected in an interview with Refinery29 last month, "I'm there for a life partner, a co-visionary, a co-creator — somebody I can really do life with," the MAFS bride said. 

"I certainly don't want to be anybody's mother or healer."

Feature image: Nine. 

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