Would you agree to marry a complete stranger on TV set up for you by a panel of experts? Lihle Buthelezi did. Here’s what happened.
‘If I was given the opportunity to do this all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing,’ says 26-year-old Lihle Buthelezi, defiantly. One of the stars on the new TV show Married At First Sight, in which two complete strangers meet for the first time on their wedding day (yes, you read that right!), Buthelezi opened up to Cosmo in this exclusive to talk about her experience – and the lessons she’s learnt.
In the final episode that aired on Friday, 10 March, we see that Buthelezi’s very modern arranged marriage to Ferdinand Fester doesn’t work out – the two agreed to part ways after six weeks of being husband and wife. But that hasn’t stopped Buthelezi from believing that arranged marriages can still end in happiness.
Haven’t watched Married At First Sight? The reality show tracks three couples – including Buthelezi and her matched partner, Fester – who are paired by a panel of pros: a relationship expert, psychologist, financial expert and a sexologist. Neither Buthelezi or Fester knew who they’re paired with until their wedding day – and they’ve never met before.
Unlike traditional arranged marriages, no family is involved in the match. The panel of experts are in full control, pairing couples based on interviews with the individuals. But can this modern take on an age-old tradition show that carefully considered arranged marriages can be successful? The matched couples – who meet for the first time when they walk down the aisle to marry one another – are tracked by TV cameras and the experts for six weeks after their wedding day. And when the six weeks are up? The couples can choose to stay in their marriages, or part ways. For Buthelezi, her experiment in love culminated in herself and Fester ending their marriage. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe in the process.
‘I would absolutely still recommend [this kind of arranged marriage]’, says Buthelezi, talking exclusively to Cosmo about the result of her TV marriage, revealed for the first time on screens this evening. ‘The outcome of my marriage isn’t enough reason not to have faith in the success of this method. What matters is the intention of helping me find my Mr Right.’
Where it all began…
‘The idea of an arranged marriage wasn’t a new concept to me. I’d considered asking someone to set me up in an arranged marriage for a while, partly because I felt that I could never find the right person. Believe me when I say that I was actively dating – some weeks, I’d have four to five dates! But I just never seemed to meet a guy who I could imagine settling down with, let alone go on a second or third date with,’ explains Buthelezi.
‘So I started considering an arranged marriage as my answer. I figured that, at the very least, both parties would have the same ultimate goal: to get married.’ Which, like so many others of us dating RN, isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want to ask on your first Tinder date. The relief of knowing you were at least both looking for the same thing was huge for Buthelezi: ‘It felt like a kinder way for my heart, body and soul to find love.’
How did her family feel about this unconventional approach to love – marrying someone you’ve never met before, who your parents have never met before, on TV? ‘My family were supportive,’ replies Buthelezi. ‘The only thing they were concerned about was our Zulu traditions. It was really important for them that my husband respected and celebrated my Zulu culture, and that we would partake – as part of our marriage celebration – in the practice of honouring of our different families through gifts.’
In search of Mr Right
Once Buthelezi was selected by the producers to appear on the show, the experts’ analysis’ on her began. ‘They asked tough, personal questions that made me feel uncomfortable,’ she recalls. ‘Some questions – which I’m not willing to really talk about again here, as they were very personal – had me at a loss and reassessing my decision to take part. But, while it was scary, I knew they were geared to help the expert find a good match for me.’
Here comes the bride
‘My wedding day definitely still ranks in the top 10 best days of my life – I was so happy!’ smiles Buthelezi. ‘I’d always imagined a glamorous affair with a red carpet, a church, a brilliant live band and amazing food. Everything I wanted was catered for on my wedding – right down to the smallest detail.’
But what about the cultural differences? ‘At first it didn’t bother me that Ferdinand and I came from different cultural and racial backgrounds,’ replies Buthelezi. ‘I’ve dated interracially before and didn’t think this would be a huge adjustment. The only thing I was aware of was having a conversation about my cultural practices – like paying lobola and our families exchanging gifts – that would need to happen for him to be recognised by my family and ancestors as my husband. It was important to me that Ferdinand would respect and honour my heritage – even under the unusual circumstances of how we were married.’
And initially, things seemed to be working out: ‘The first few days of our marriage were great, but also consisted of a lot of compromise. Ferdinand came to live with me, so this was quite a big change to get used to. I found that his presence brought such calmness to me (especially after our very surreal wedding day) and made me feel protected and valued.’
But the initial bliss didn’t ease some of their underlying differences: ‘The biggest hurdle for us was the discussion around my cultural traditions. It soon became clear that Ferdinand didn’t feel comfortable partaking in some of the rituals that are important to me and my family, and that changed things significantly for me. I’d hoped – and still believe now – that when someone loves you, a challenge like this can be overcome,’ Buthelezi reflects – although sadly, not in this case.
When family and friends get involved
‘Despite Ferdinand’s reluctance in accepting my cultural traditions, my family really liked him. Of course they had their concerns, and culturally they didn’t recognise him as my husband. It hurt me deeply to know this and it was something I battled with every day for the six weeks we were married. As a result, there were times I didn’t visit my family with Ferdinand because I was scared that there was going to be awkwardness or conflict.
‘With Ferdinand’s family, I struggled less with the cultural diversity – in fact, I found the diversity stimulating rather than intimidating. They were very sweet and really tried to make me feel relaxed. But my friends didn’t like Ferdinand at all. My BFF thought he wasn’t ready to be a husband. Others felt he was selfish and put his own needs before mine. They also told me I was compromising too much.
‘It broke my heart that my friends didn’t approve. I had doubts in my mind while being married, but I never allowed my friends’ opinions to influence my judgment. Of course I valued their perspectives, but I knew my opinion mattered most – I needed to give this marriage the chance it deserved.’
‘I gave my marriage my all and there isn’t anything I could’ve done that would’ve changed the outcome. Ultimately, it was a decision that we both had to make. I’m a firm believer that if you stay true to who you are, then you have nothing to regret.
‘Yes, I’m sad that [my marriage didn’t work out], but I’ve also learnt to trust my gut a lot more and not to be apologetic for being myself. Marriage isn’t easy and, even if you love someone, you can’t let it consume you. Sometimes we tend to think that a certain someone is perfect for us – but love is work. If you both open up fully and completely, the possibilities are unlimited, fears are eliminated and happiness is immeasurable.’
And while Buthelezi didn’t find this mutual willingness to work at love together in Fester, she doesn’t believe her experience reflects negatively on believing in true love (and fighting for it), or on the idea of an arranged marriage. ‘I still believe in the practice of arranged marriage – traditional or this modern version. And if I was given the opportunity to do this all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.’