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Moscow News
April 24, 2008
Mail-Order Husband?
By Anna Arutunyan

Not only are international marriages not raising eyebrows anymore, demand for Russian mail order brides shows no sign of abating. With more and more American men seeking feminine, traditional-minded Russian girls to start a family, what of the occasional Russian husband who finds himself on the other side of the Atlantic, and, contrary to all expectations, married an American wife?

For anyone who has ever wondered why so many online dating services dedicate their business to bringing Russian brides together with American husbands, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation from both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks to Russia's peculiar demographic situation, the men to women ratio here is dangerously low. Statistically, Russian girls are hard pressed to find a good husband at home, while the life of an American housewife still looks glamorous.

As for American men and American women, the problems are more obvious still.

"Russia mercifully has been free of some of the more negative and extremist aspects of American feminism," Dr. Lynn Visson, author of "Wedded Strangers - The Challenges of Russian-American Marriages," told The Moscow News. "When I was interviewing American men, asking them why they were looking for Russian wives, the answer was always because American women are so horribly unfeminine. And then they would be hit with these gorgeous Russian girls."

So where, exactly, does that place international couples who are on the other side of the gender divide? The Russian men who fall for independent-minded Western women?

Pasha, a 25-year-old radio journalist in Moscow, doesn't think so. He has dated his English girlfriend, Alice, for three years, and hasn't exactly managed to surprise a lot of people.

"My generation doesn't really stick to stereotypes, and they found it normal," he told The Moscow News. "People who are older than 30, when they introduce us to others, have a tendency to say, This is Alice, she is English.' Not that she is my girlfriend, but that she is English. But when we are in England it's a lot easier."

Apparently that is because the territory in these international relationships plays a surprisingly important role. Dima, 36, was in a relationship with an older American woman; they were married for over two years and spent the entire seven years that they were together in the United States. "I was constantly faced with this feeling of uniqueness," he said. "People had rarely met an American woman who had a Russian husband. They just didn't know what to say. The first question - to her - was where did you find him? And also, they thought that I must be really smart."

When looking at the difference between American-Russian and Russian-American marriages, it turns out that gender equality is not as easily attainable as some would hope. According to a survey by Anastasia International, a Russian-American online dating service, 89 percent of women and 55 percent of the men experienced a change in their lifestyle after they got married - obviously, the women who followed their husbands to America had a lot more to adjust to than married life. Somehow, though, adjusting is just taken for granted as more natural for women.

Pasha, for instance, is a Russian who lives in Russia. There's not much to say in the way of adjusting. "It's comfortable for me," he says. "I'd like to live in England for a while, but I'm not ready to move there and forget about Russia." But in terms of his relationship with Alice, who is three years younger and doesn't speak very good Russian, home is a more complicated concept. "When I ask my girlfriend if she wants to move back, of course she says that she likes everything here. But I think she's under a certain greenhouse effect because she lives in the center of Moscow. It's not exactly Russia. And I'm not sure to what extent she realizes that what she likes about her current home is not exactly Russia, but perhaps the fact that she lives in the center of a major city. Moreover, this is not her natural habitat."

My own Russian husband felt ill at ease when he found himself in a Brooklyn apartment with little to do after running the gauntlet of obtaining a fianc visa. U.S. immigration regulations tend to treat such cases as dependents - normally, an American citizen would want to bring over a bride from India or Russia, and the paperwork my husband had to fill out reflected his legal status as little more than a foreign bride.

But some Russian men find that they are the ones who benefit most from this kind of marriage.

"For me the first thing was stability," says Dima, who met his wife in graduate school in Texas. "The knowledge that if something goes wrong, then my wife, who is familiar with the system, will help." He admits, however, that the arrangement took its toll on his wife. "It was more difficult for her. She was older than me, and also the language barrier annoyed her."

Would it have been easier for her if she were the man, and he were the woman?

"Probably, yes, because it's the wife that usually adapts to the husband," Dima says. "The older I get, the more I agree with the Biblical passage. And it would have been easier for me, because on the one hand, she's this independent woman, but on the other, she needs something more than equality. I just needed the equality. I didn't realize that she wanted a stronger man as well."

According to Dr. Visson, who interviewed international couples in her research, American wives of Russian husbands are not only a tiny minority, they are also at a disadvantage.

"I think that for American women and Russian men - for some of them - you have the usual kind of criteria that apply to almost all cross-cultural marriages," she says, "which is that either a lot of them are looking for their roots - you find a lot of American women where the parents or the grandparents are Russian. Or you find the exact opposite, where people want to get away from their roots and start over."

Dr. Visson, who is a Russian migr and considers herself as representing both Russian and American cultures, agrees that the toll in these marriages frequently falls on the women.

"It can be a shock for some American women to see exactly how unliberated Russian men are, she says. "Even if the woman is working the husband will still have an expectation that the woman will keep house, and that there will not be this parceling of responsibilities that is going on in America. There is also an expectation on the part of Russian men that women will want to look feminine and be feminine."