Reality-show romances rarely have the trappings of real love. But Jamie Otis and Doug Hehner are celebrating five years of marriage after meeting as strangers at the altar on the debut season of Lifetime’s “Married at First Sight” back in 2014.
The show, now in its eighth season (the finale airs Tuesday at 9 p.m.), runs compatibility tests on contestants — and has matches try out an 8-week trial period of real marriage. Only four couples are still together, and the Hehners, who live in Monmouth County, New Jersey, are tied for longest-lasting.
“This is a milestone that I don’t take lightly,” Doug, a 36-year-old software salesman, tells The Post. “This is the longest relationship that I’ve been in in my life.” He says it’s a testament to good communication, and the show itself: It “can create a fairy tale.”
But Jamie and Doug’s wedding on March 23, 2014, was far from a fairy tale — though it was reality TV gold.
“I had a panic attack,” says Jamie, 32. A “sweating, twitching” Doug stood at the top of the altar waiting to meet his bride. When she stepped out, he was thrilled: “I couldn’t have been happier, seeing someone that was just absolutely gorgeous,” he said on the show.
‘This is a milestone that I don’t take lightly.’
But Jamie, a registered nurse who had also appeared on “The Bachelor” in 2012, didn’t share his enthusiasm.
“I just happen to be not attracted to the guy,” she said in a voice-over during the wedding. “This is the worst decision of my life.”
Looking back, “I wanted a fairy tale instantaneously,” she says. “[I] really thought that when I saw whoever the guy was . . . there’d be, like, chemistry or butterflies. There was nothing. No fireworks.”
After the ceremony, Jamie collapsed in tears on the floor. “I was certain this was not going to work out, which was closed-minded, unfair and shallow,” she says. It took pep talks from producers and her bridesmaids, but she finally managed to pull it together at the reception. “I could tell he was a great guy,” she says.
Later that night, off-camera, they started building a connection.
“I remember just laying in bed and talking ’til the morning,” Doug says.
As they got to know each other better, “[I] learned that he was patient and wasn’t pushy,” says Jamie. “Plus, he never made me feel like a bad person for not being immediately attracted [to him]. He never judged me.
“Then he massaged my feet on the flight to our honeymoon,” she says with a laugh. And when he stripped down to his bathing suit on the beach, “I was like, ‘Whoa, he’s so hot.’ ”
As Doug quipped later on the show, “I grow on you . . . like a fungus.”
Despite their blooming attraction, they didn’t have sex until two months after the wedding — a decision Jamie says bolstered their mutual respect.
Another key to their success was having relationship experts on speed-dial throughout the process and afterwards, plus couple’s therapy until their daughter Henley Grace was born in August 2017. They’d suffered a miscarriage in 2015, and while Jamie was pregnant, Doug was temporarily unemployed. “Therapy got us through that time,” he says.
Issues from their wedding bubbled up when Henley was born, and Jamie found herself wanting “fireworks” again. “Every mom is like, ‘I’m so in love,’ and it’s terrible to say out loud, but I remember being like, ‘I don’t think she looks like us,’ ” she says. “[My anxiety] was because I always had these grand expectations . . . Doug, again, had no expectations, and he was able to be so calm.”
Doug says becoming parents has seriously strengthened their bond.
“Sharing the responsibility of a child is a whole other level,” he says.
The couple has recently launched a podcast called Hot Marriage, Cool Parents, and though they’re quick to say they’re not relationship experts, there’s much to learn from the unique challenges they’ve faced.
Above all else, be honest with your partner, Doug stresses.
“Get everything out as early as you can,” he says. “Be open about who you are and what you want — the person who’s going to be in it forever will be fine with that. That’s when the love starts to grow.”
By Catherine Kast