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Getting married on the first date

As a group of strangers prepare to get hitched in C4's experimental new series, we takes a closer look at the science of marriage

By Susan Griffin

The vast majority of us are brought up to assume that love is something that just happens, but according to the 2011 census, there are now 15.7 million single adults in the UK.

So why are we not finding true love? Do modern dating practices mean that marriage and monogamy have had their day? Are we overwhelmed by choice? Or have we simply forgotten how to fall in love?

Perhaps Channel 4's groundbreaking new series, Married At First Sight, could shed some light. Here's how it's going to work ...

The premise

Until the 18th century, arranged marriages were common. Now, in the series, a panel of experts in the fields of psychology, social and evolutionary anthropology and theology will attempt to create the perfect match.

Examining whether the theories of evolution, social development, attachment and personality can really do a better job of identifying our ideal partner than we could do ourselves, three couples will ultimately find out - when they meet for the very first time at their wedding.

The selection process

More than 1,500 people applied to take part in the series, but certain criteria was in place to aid the search. All of the candidates had to be previously unmarried, with no children, and all needed to live within the M25 area to ensure that matches would also live nearby.

Over several months, they underwent a series of workshops, interviews and background checks, using the latest psychological, anthropological and DNA techniques. A shortlist of applicants then went on to further testing; the data was analysed, and any matches lower than 70% were discarded, leaving 15 strong candidates to go through to the final phase of the experiment.

Meet the matches

Among those looking for love on the show, are:

Bob (32), who's taking part because his boss insisted on it. Although previously indifferent to marriage, he's interested in the science and selection process. His ideal match would be clever, witty, independent and with "no hippy-s**t".

Emma (31) imagined she'd have been married with kids by now and thinks she's single because she's invested all of her time into her career and travelling. She would like to be matched with a man who is fun, fearless and up for adventure.

James (33) has been a bachelor for a number of years, with his longest relationship lasting around 18 months. He's now looking for 'the one' as his friends are beginning to settle down. He'd like a partner who's as easy going as he is.

Jason (33) says he finds it hard to meet the right person and is taking part as he liked the idea of being matched with someone scientifically. He likes women who are outgoing, confident, and not too vain or shallow.

Jerome (30) applied to meet a confidant, partner, lover and friend, and says he will do anything to meet the one, "even if that means embarrassing myself on television".

Richard (40) is taking part because finding 'the one' isn't easy, but thought it looked like, scientifically, it could be possible to find a good match. He is interested in marriage in order "to have a soulmate and make a family".

Petra (35) was "a serial relationship fiend" until she hit 30, but has been single ever since. She's looking for a funny, hands-on, confident handsome devil, and is taking part because it "Can't be worse than Tinder, eh?!"

The experts

Jo Coker, a psycho-sexual therapist and psychologist, explored the candidate's past relationship histories, attitudes to sex, and whether or not they were suitable and serious in their desire to take part. Once the matches were made, her role was to work with the individual applicants.

Andrew Irving, a social visual anthropologist, compared the participants through video elicitation - or Descriptive Experience Sampling. Over the course of a day, potential candidates were sent prompts at random intervals asking them to film 30 seconds of the activity they were engaged in. This was then analysed for commonalities and discrepancies; for example, someone who is out socialising at 11pm every night, in contrast to someone who can typically be found in bed with a book.

Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist, matched the individuals through genotyping (specifically the OXTR and the OPRM1 genes, which have a major effect on how people behave in relationships).

Dr Mark Coulson, associate professor of psychology at Middlesex University, collated psychological data through a series of tests and questionnaires, to determine which participants would be best suited.

Rev Nick Devenish, Church of England priest and a vicar in the Lake District, collated narrative data through looking at the participants' understanding of what a marriage is, and what they wanted from it.

Happy ever after?

Once the couples have said "I do", the cameras will follow them during the first tentative weeks of their relationship, as they share a honeymoon and then their daily lives with, effectively, a complete stranger.

After five weeks, they will have to decide if they wish to stay together as husband and wife, or walk away from a marriage that theoretically could provide them with a soulmate and the happiness they desire.

Will science prove the key to loving and long-lasting wedded bliss? You'll have to tune in to find out.

Married At First Sight, Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm

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