Russian Women and Intercultural Marriages
Most women want to be married; that belief is an axiom. From early childhood, girls play the role of mothers with dolls while boys play with trucks and guns. Their games allow children to act out adult roles. Young women look to their parents to learn how to go about dating and finding someone to marry. Women usually marry someone they have met through work or school or a friend. My family's example, however, was one of the reasons why I was a single woman and a single mother for a long time. Watching my mother and father, I asked myself, "Can I do better?" My answer was "Yes."
My mother was a strong woman. She showed me an example of the prototypical Russian woman. She grew up with old fashioned values. Her marriage vows, "I will be with you for better or worse, 'till death do us part," were her life. My mother could not imagine that she could alter her husband's terrible behavior towards her. I could. I could not see myself in a subservient role because I am a woman in my husband's eyes. A family for me is a partnership between two equal people. Each brings his or her strengths to their union by supporting each other and creating a greater whole.
My mother was the strong stoic ideal of the Russian motherland, but alas, so was my father. In my country I met only men who saw women through the same eyes as my father. I believed there were different men; however, I did not meet anyone who was available. Thus, I started my search abroad. I had a clear vision of the type of person with whom I wanted to share my entire life. My quest took years, but the clearness of my desire helped me when I had to choose a man from a photo glimpsed at a marriage agency.
Over the last ten years, I have seen more and more Eastern woman move to the West. Old-fashioned dating involved only a few people. Modern people are too busy to date the classical way since the role of parents, churches, and neighborhood matchmakers have greatly diminished. The Internet era ignores distance, borders, and customs. Today, the Internet makes cross-cultural marriages easier. People from different countries meet each other, women and men fall in love, and then magically, they are married. The magic of Internet romance works best when each has a clear vision of that certain someone that will make life complete. All that is lacking is a poet who will compose an ode in honor of love via the Internet. Since many Russian women start their search for a foreign husband, they must be prepared for the problems that intercultural families face.
I think it is a myth, falsehood, that Eastern European women seek traditional marriage more than their Western counterparts. Yes, Western women build careers, are financially independent, and the speed and rhythm of their modern lives create a conflict between Western women's natural wishes and reality. The conflict makes Western women more self-centered, cautious, and independent when dating and considering marriage. They have a choice, so they do not hurry into marriage.
In fact, Russia and many countries of the world face a deficit of marriageable men, ages thirty five and over. Wars, conflicts, bad habits, alcoholism, and the stress of life in these poor countries with unstable economics cause health problems and early deaths. The deficit of men may cause their bad attitude towards women, but women can simply go on the Internet and look for men abroad. In Alaska men outnumber women, but the men must find women willing to live in Alaska. Thus Alaska has the higher percent of cross-country marriages.
Marrying someone is wonderful and a struggle at the same time; a contract for life is a big challenge! Nobody is insured from mistakes; however, there are many ways of avoiding faults. One of the ways is knowledge of each person's differences, preparing for them, and adaptation to difficulties. Russian women must face these challenges when marrying Alaskan men. However, the problems between "spouses-foreigners" and "spouses-citizens" may not be so unlike. As a fiancee of a foreign man, a woman should be aware of some human basics.
Marriage is neither a rush nor a compromise; a reasoned decision, based on love, lends to an eternal commitment. If spouses want to make their marriages successful, no matter where the people they marry are from or what their backgrounds are, marriage also requires partners to be willing to compromise in all kinds of situations. For me, the word "compromise" has taken on a whole new meaning in my life with my American husband. Simple everyday actions have become situations to observe and make decisions about that I had never thought would matter on a day-to-day basis. The constant compromise makes me less selfish, less stubborn, and more open minded like my husband.
Intercultural marriage is more complicated because each partner comes equipped with a complete set of rules such as daily habits, interesting viewpoints, and different values. Each person has different ways of relating to others and different strategies for negotiating differences. Deciding on whose rules to use can be complicated and cause misunderstandings or conflicts, especially for two people who love each other. My husband claims, "When I do not understand my wife's desires, I have an excuse; I do not speak her language."
Marrying a foreigner is difficult in many ways. First, the language barrier must be overcome. Learning each other's language adds to the relationship. Yes, I have heard about men who discourage their wives from learning English so as to increase her dependence on them. Also, some women expect life in America to be a dream without any work. Not knowing the language is like having a beautiful book, which one loves and cherishes but cannot read. Learning and knowing the language helps spouses to know each another more completely.
In my experience, most women who leave Russia for marriage abroad are energetic and educated. They are not just floating down the river of life; the women are navigating their way. In Russia, they were doctors, teachers, engineers, managers, office administrators, or parallel small business owners. Some American husbands wanted their wives to be stay-at-home spouses, but professional women may not feel independent if they used to work for a living in their country. They may feel that their new life is in someone else's hands, not their own, and they are not equal partners to their husbands.
Many women observe a culture shock or psychological disorientation similar to that experienced by people living in a foreign country. Their adjustment is more severe and comprehensive because, for these women, there is no "going home." A wife-emigrant has to be prepared for the experience of living in another country and interacting with its people. A new lifestyle, even if it is positive, can be stressful. Nostalgia or home-sickness is a usual guest in a woman's heart. I receive many letters of Russian women who have immigrated to different countries. They still call Russia "home" and miss their homeland very much, even though they are happily married. This condition does not apply to me, thanks to the Internet, since being far away does not mean I am out of touch with my old friends or relatives.
Ups and downs are normal in people's lives, but in interethnic marriages tension sometimes indicates a tear in the fabric of the family. Misunderstanding or divorce in a usual family makes everybody unhappy, but for foreign women, they cannot simply go back and their separation might crush their lives. Understanding the possible consequences, Eastern women work hard to keep their union much harder than Western women and, so, perhaps, intercultural marriages are more stable.
As men and women learn about the distinctions and problems of interethnic families, they find that many of their initial perceptions of their future wives or husbands were wrong. Men have to get rid of the idea that Eastern women are more submissive, subordinate, and serene than American women. Expecting foreign wives to behave like exotic Asian dolls is a mistake; they are more like the Russian doll, "Matryoshka," layered in complexities. Both partners have significant adjustments to make in an interracial marriage.
Prospective brides should evaluate just how tough and adaptable they can be before making their commitment. Moving to the USA is not as luxurious and happy as they see in movies. Many Russian women make this discovery only after immigration. Marrying just to escape from one's own country is a drastic mistake. Some people marry out of their own race or culture because they want to make a statement about social equality or some shared cause. Others marry the first person available in the hope that they can escape from preexisting problems, unhappy homes, feelings of insecurity and loneliness, revenge, repudiation, and so on. People in this category should be convinced to take their time before marrying, and they generally should be referred to a professional counselor who can help them reassess the meaning of marriage as well as explore possible neurotic attitudes. A neurotic marriage can only bring grief to all parties involved. Well adjusted commitment will bring happiness to any marriage.
I realize that married life in America is not about great wealth or fancy belongings; it is life just like life anywhere else. Marriage is about the work we put into building our relationship into a permanent love affair, which takes work. I had to learn to leave behind the typical Russian attitude that finds fault in everything and everyone. I remember all too well the exchanges of greetings and idle chatter -- and how it was filled with the negative. "Oh, my husband is so demanding." "Ah, but mine has lost all his hair and is no longer beautiful." Yes, seeing the faults in everyone around us is so easy, but it is not American. Idle chatter does not breed success; perhaps that outlook is the long term effect of a social structure that wanted to control every piece of a person's life. Life is so much more interesting when one has the security to see what is good about what one has and to be able to plan for the future with hope a certainty.
One more factor makes an intercultural marriage more interesting. Since cultural differences invade every aspect of life. Amazingly, two cultures can have much in common and yet be so very different at the same time. Moreover, an intercultural marriage is like a window opened into a different world. Discovering the new world is easier because the spouses act as a guide though everyday life. This mix of different cultures, traditions, and modes of life makes a family's existence more interesting. My husband has the opportunity to learn more about Russia, not only as a tourist, but as a member of my family, in the circle of my relatives.
My mother kept the family together, not because of her relationship with my father, but because she saw that he treated me and my sister as his children. Yes, my mother was always in front of me when he wanted to punish me. But it was a family. My mother knew that it was better than no family at all, or how could she do for us while working all day and raising us alone. Consequently, I owe much to my father, far more to my mother, but his role drove me to seek my future abroad.
Marrying someone from another culture can be exciting but also very trying. I only knew men like my father. Learning to relate to a man who asks for my opinion will take some time.
In my assignment I used ideas and information from books including: Wedded Strangers : The Challenges of Russian-American written by Lynn Visson, Intercultural Marriage Promises and Pitfalls by Dugan Romano, From Nyet to Da. Understanding the Russians by Yale Richmond, The Rules for Online Dating by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider; from websites about and of intercultural families, and, of course, my own experience.
Please, check my website at Russia-Alaska.com
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