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We got married at first sight … but found a love that lasted


Michelle Walder was a bundle of nerves as she walked down the aisle, just like other brides through the centuries. "Absolutely petrified," as she now puts it.

That is, until she looked at future husband Owen Jenkins. "The moment I did it, everything felt fine," she says. "He had a very calming presence around him and in that moment he was exactly what I needed."

It must have been particularly reassuring, because up until that moment the 26-year-old hadn't even clapped her groom's eyes – and vice versa.

In fact, the couple knew so little of each other that Michelle and Owen only found out how old they were, what their jobs were, and where they were from when they sat down to sign the marriage register after exchanging vows. a primary school teacher from Hastings and a 32 year old IT account manager from Sheffield).

But that's exactly what they signed up for after deciding to take part in Channel 4's latest series Married At First Sight, where total strangers are sent down the aisle after being hooked up by relationship experts, and then six You've had weeks to decide whether to try or not.

Michelle Walder and Owen Jenkins sign the marriage register shortly after the meeting

In its fifth year, the program was accused of cheapening the institution of marriage, despite producers trying to view it as a "groundbreaking social experiment" to see if science could help couples find lasting love.

Unfortunately, the answer so far seems to be a robust no. While there have been some permanent unions in shows shot abroad, Britain has not produced a single long-term success story of its 12 "matched" couples.

While some initially decided to stay together after the six-week training period, none lasted longer than six months. With this in mind, Michelle and Owen are practically veterans – nine months after their wedding in mid-March, they are happily cuddled together in the house they share in Sheffield.

Michelle moved there permanently this summer, and the couple are on the verge of buying their first property together after filing a joint mortgage application in the fall.

Regardless of their marriage vows and in the absence of children, this is as big a commitment as you can make. Could this – whisper – mean that they are actually the show's first real success story?

They both think, though Owen is slightly opposed to questioning the likely longevity of their union.

"To me we are like any other married couple," he says. “You wouldn't interview a couple who have been married for nine months because you would assume they'd been together for so long – but you don't always know what their story is. I know we got married on TV, so people inevitably get curious – but that was the least important thing to me.

"For me we're just an ordinary couple all these months."

Not quite, of course – aside from the fact that the duo got married on television, it also did so with the ghosts of past series and their rather dismal statistics hovering over the top of what went on.

With this in mind, it's a miracle that anyone with half a brain cell would apply – and the personable and intelligent Michelle and Owen are not absent from this department. They also don't seem remotely motivated by the 15 minutes of fame the show offers. Why did you attend?

Michelle and Owen are practically veterans - nine months after their wedding in mid-March, they happily snuggled together in the house they share in Sheffield

Michelle and Owen are practically veterans – nine months after their wedding in mid-March, they are happily snuggled together in the house they share in Sheffield

For Michelle, the eldest of two sisters born to beauty therapist Anne, 61, and postman father Gary, 58, in Horsham, West Sussex, the answer seemed to be a real curiosity about the process.

She was single for two and a half years after building some long-term relationships at university. She hated superficial dating and was intrigued to see what rigorous matchmaking would mean.

"For me, marriage was kind of a means to an end," she says. & # 39; It was more about the matching process. I wanted to meet someone and I thought if this ended in an amazing marriage it would be great; If it ends in a great friendship, then I haven't lost anything. It felt like a win-win situation. & # 39;

One of the show's first contestants, Emma Rathbone, would make a difference after telling the Mail earlier this year that she had underestimated the impact a television divorce had on her life.

It's something Michelle admits she didn't give much thought to.

"I think when you apply for something like this, you don't really think it's going to happen for you," she says. “But on the day of the wedding, I realized that it was a divorce situation if it didn't work out. But I trust this process. & # 39;

Owen admits he signed up on a whim when an ad for the show popped up on Instagram.

"I was on dating apps until Christmas and met some really beautiful women, but it was just the format that I didn't like," he says.

“What attracted me to the fact that the person you were introduced with is as committed to making it work as you are.

“And then I really enjoyed the process. You learn a lot about yourself. In fact, I found the statistics to be decent. One of the matchmaker's success rates in terms of long-term relationships was 10 percent. It doesn't sound like a lot, but I think it's a tenth of that on Tinder. That gave me a lot more confidence. & # 39;

As in previous series, prospective brides and grooms submit a video to the producers and are subjected to a credit and criminal record check prior to personality and psychological tests.

While criticism of previous series may have been taken into account, the format has been tightened, meaning the rather tricky claims of balancing DNA and facial symmetry have been replaced with more stringent questionnaires and assessments, including talking to friends and exes .

In the final round, potential participants will meet a team of matchmakers face to face. Then they learn if they have a match.

For Owen, that came two weeks later. It was then that he decided to deliver the message to his mother, Rhiannon, 59, a former social worker, along with older sisters Sinead and Gwynie.

& # 39; Mom's main comment was that she was happy to be at my wedding. She always thought I'd go somewhere and come back with a woman, ”he says. Reluctant at first, his father has come by and welcomed Michelle to the herd with all his heart.

Her parents also appear to have been remarkably confident, although Anne struggled with the speed of the process.

"I think that felt very rushed to her," admits Michelle. “When I first told them I applied, they didn't think it was serious business at all. When I said I would agree, there was an element of, 'What's all in happened to the world? & # 39;

"But my dad is a very laid-back, bubbly type of person, so he just played around and when the wedding day came, mom was in her element."

The wedding took place on March 14th at Eastwell Manor in Kent. Michelle looked stunning in a lacy long sleeve Cath Adam dress.

The fact is, however, that for anyone asking matchmakers about the type, there is no formula for chemistry. Fortunately, Eros seems to have played its part in this case. "I was immediately drawn to her," says Owen. "In fact, I gave myself a little poke just to celebrate that she was beautiful." The feeling was mutual, though Michelle admits she had lower expectations.

"I actually figured I wouldn't be physically attracted to Owen at first, but I found him attractive immediately and always found him more attractive when I first met him," she says.

Even so, there were a few excruciating hours when Owen wasn't sure what was what.

"The only thing I struggled with was that all day I didn't know if she found me attractive or not because from the moment I saw her for the first time until we went back to that Honeymoon suite came up, basically smiled. " he says.

"After the cameras disappeared, I think I actually said," In the mood for me because I can't say it? "Luckily she said yes."

Both understandably want to put a discreet veil on their wedding night and honeymoon other than to say the chemistry was "good".

It's certainly clear that they understood each other on all fronts, which seems obvious today – their body language reflects each other and they nod as the other speaks.

"The moment we sat down to sign the register, we were just getting started – we didn't even think about it," says Owen.

They chatted non-stop on the five-hour train ride for their six-day honeymoon in Edinburgh and by the end had bonded enough that they had decided to board the upcoming national lockdown together.

“It was never a question of whether or not we would do it together. The question was where we would do it, ”says Owen. It meant a hasty change of plans from the Brighton apartment the production team had rented for the six-week probationary period to Owen's mother's house in Horsham, who had moved to the coast.

They stayed ten weeks, the first month of which they were alone and without the cameras that normally characterize this period.

"We had a month before we saw everyone else and we didn't have to worry about a camera in our face. I think we were really lucky," says Owen.

"It made the beginning of our relationship very intense, but also a lot easier in a fun way."

By the end of that first week, they said they loved each other.

"I think we're very different personalities in many ways, but we realized early on that our morals and values ​​are very similar," added Michelle.

In fact, even though they had their differences of opinion – Michelle's "terrible" mess and Owen's dislike of spicy food are minor issues – they never argued. So far.

"It's very logical and I'm very emotional, but we tend to come to the same conclusions," says Michelle.

This also includes the question of starting a family. Michelle says, “We're definitely both on a similar radar as we want to be in a couple of years, but I'm also pretty young and we've only been in a nine month relationship so there are a lot of things we want to do together first . & # 39;

Among them go dancing until the wee hours of the morning and a foreign holiday that they couldn't manage given the restrictions the country was under.

However, you have met each other's friends and families who all seem to get along well. "Our sisters literally live around the corner from each other and get on very well. Weirdly, we found that Owen's mother was attending the same college as my father in the 1970s," says Michelle.

Both admit that they could hardly have predicted their luck. After all, they didn't even know about each other at this time last year.

But here they are – three months before their first wedding anniversary – in love and want to move into their newly bought house. Is it an endorsement from the show? Or pure luck?

The newly married couple switch to the former. Either way, their gambling seems to have paid off – and it would be a grumpy soul who didn't really wish them well.

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