Iris Caldwell and Keith Manley were among eight strangers from Charlotte paired to wed on Lifetime’s “Married at First Sight,” defined by the show’s resident sociologist Pepper Schwartz as a “modern spin on arranged marriage.”
The show’s ninth season was filmed in Charlotte and premiered June 12.
Couples were formed through questionnaires, in-depth interviews and home visits. After eight weeks in a legally binding marriage, the four couples will have to decide whether to stay married or file for divorce.
Iris and her mother, Renee, have watched “Married at First Sight” together since its first season. Iris told her mother that she would apply to be on the show if it ever filmed in Charlotte and she was still single. The stars recently aligned.
“When I told her there’s a strong possibility I’m going to be matched and could possibly have a husband in weeks, she almost broke down in tears,” Iris said. “She was just as excited as I was because she knows how much this means to me and how much I really wanted to be a part of this process.”
After earning a bachelor’s from St. John’s University, Iris enrolled at Queens University of Charlotte in 2015 to pursue her master’s degree and be closer to her mother. She now works as a program coordinator for a large nonprofit at Charlotte, where the 27-year-old connects youth with interests they can pursue after graduation.
“I feel like everything for me is just together, so why not?” Iris said of finding love on the show. “Of course, being a part of something like this, I am just super excited to say, ‘Hey, I trust the experts. I trust the process. Let’s have fun.’”
A major part of Iris’s storyline is that she has yet to lose her virginity. She explained how waiting until she’s married is an important part of her faith; however, she’s ready to fall in love.
“I’m a hopeless romantic,” Iris said during the premiere. “I see love in squirrels.”
The show’s experts would pair her up with Keith, a 27-year-old mentor and middle and high school basketball coach who is focused on work but ready to start a family. Keith hopes to follow the path of his parents who have been married for 29 years.
“Iris and Keith could very well go the distance because they both love to help others, they both have healthy communication skills and positive family systems that support them,” marriage and family therapist Viviana Coles said on the show. “Because Iris has shared with us that she hasn’t had sexual intercourse, it was important for us as experts to match her with someone who is kind, patient and understanding.”
Couples learned they were getting married two weeks before the ceremony, giving them just enough time to tell their families, shop for gowns and tuxedos, and celebrate their last night of being single.
While Renee was excited about the news, Iris’s father wasn’t sold as easily when told over the phone. But he went along with it because the process made Iris happy.
Keith’s parents, Keith Sr. and Mary, were not pleased. They all worried how Keith’s grandparents would react to the news. His grandmother is a minister, while his grandfather is a deacon.
The show revealed the couple’s thoughts just minutes before they would meet for the first time at the altar. Keith said, “This is crazy. This is crazy. What am I doing?” As for Iris, “I’m about to cry. Oh my God, I’m freaking out.”
“I was so nervous about who I was going to be matched with and who was going to be this forever husband that I’ve always dreamed of,” Iris recalled of those stressful moments before the ceremony. “I’m nervous about who he is and if we’re going to match. It’s just a whirlwind of emotions of just anxiety, nervousness and excitement.”
The June 12 premiere ended on a cliffhanger as Iris’ father was unsure if he could give away his daughter’s hand to a stranger.
Iris said the couple clicked automatically and taking those photos with Keith felt like the most natural thing she’s ever done.
“This is something I have always wanted to be a part of,” she said. “I have always wanted to be married, and being on ‘Married at First Sight’ is something I am truly blessed to be a part of.”
Iris said she’s able to take a leap of faith, because she believes that at the end of the day, God has got this.
She looks at the show as a learning experience that will help her grow as a person. She truly believes in the mantra, “everything happens for a reason.”
“Me having to talk about my sexuality and my virginity on TV with my husband was difficult but it is definitely something I’m glad I did because I learned so much,” Iris said. “Both me and my husband have learned so much.”
Want to watch?
Watch Keith and Iris Manley’s marriage unfold on Lifetime’s “Married at First Sight” Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.