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People often ask me how I came to the United States. Sometimes they give me an unpleasant smirk, wink at Beaker, my American husband, and say nothing but imply a lot. Sometimes they go as far as measure me up and down, and blatantly ask me if I was a mail-order bride. In response, I always force myself to smile and politely say that no, I was not a mail-order bride. Most of the time I suppress a really strong urge to say something mean and nasty.
But I am a polite person, generally, and I keep my mouth shut. When I tell people that I was not a mail-order bride, I am not lying. However, I never tell anyone that they almost guessed it, and that they missed by one generation: my mother was a mail-order bride, not me.
When I asked my mom if she was going to be uncomfortable with me writing about it on my blog, she thought about it for a split second, and said that she would be fine. With her permission, I proceed.
A mail-order bride is a label that applies to women who publish their intent to marry a man from another, financially more developed, country. They list themselves in a catalogue that looks like any other catalogue featuring clothes, shoes or appliances. The only difference is that a mail-order bride catalogue features women, their photos, their short biographies and hobbies.
In those catalogues women are being marketed as a commodity. It sounds awful, but it is true. Everyone involved – the agency offering the service, brides-to-be and men – fully realize that women are seeking marriages as an economic arrangement.
However, I should add that all these women do hope to meet their own Price Charming. It is our human nature to believe that true love exists, and one day a Prince Charming will sail into our lives and sweep us off our feet. For some it works out. For some it never does. But the hope is always there.
This is an actual (unedited) ad that I found on a Russian mail-order bride website:
“I am looking for a serious relationship. I appreciate in men: a good sense of humor, kind eyes, intelligence, ambition. There are three things that will never come back: time, word, ability. Therefore: do not waste your time. Choose word… and do not miss the opportunity. I am looking for a beautiful relationship based on trust, respect and understanding.”
The mail-order bride practices are not limited to the third-world where people live in villages, and where arranged marriage deals are struck while arguing over cattle. We lived in the capital of Lithuania, in the big city with a great cultural life filled with museums, libraries and theatres.
People take drastic measures in difficult financial situations. Let’s face it, some marriages are made out of financial and economic considerations, and are not driven by love. Life can become very complicated when you find yourself without money, without a future and without means of support. One might hold on tight to the idea of a marriage as an economic arrangement, especially if the one is drowning.
In 1992 my mother signed up with a mail-order bride agency. She was in desperate need of a change. She was a single mother raising a daughter, struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck. She did not do it secretly, hiding her intentions from her family. We all knew about it. In fact, it was my grandfather, my mother’s father, who found the mail-order bride agency and suggested to try it out.
Why We Did It
Some people view mail-order brides as a form of international prostitution because there is a trade involved: women offer their love, care and their bodies in exchange for a comfortable life overseas. Fairy tales do happen, but statistically it is a very rare outcome.
A majority of people who like to judge, lose grip on reality as they do not understand that there are a lot of risks involved. A woman can get herself into sex slavery. She can be abused and eventually killed. She can be downgraded to cheap labor with no means of support, and all her connections to the outside world can be severed.
Men in the position of power can manipulate what they cannot dominate, and belittle what they cannot understand.
In 1992 our financial situation was pretty grim. My mother was a teacher, and we lived on a very small teacher’s salary. The Soviet Union was gone, and the new capitalism exploring country was raising prices on everything. It seemed like we had to pay for the very air we were breathing, as well as the water we were drinking.
We were living from paycheck to paycheck, struggling to buy meat and sometimes even bread. The worst part was that we could not pay for our apartment. The prices for utilities such as water, gas and heating were extremely high. We were on a brink of losing our home.
I could not work because I was a full-time student. Back then students could not work and attend school at the same time. My family insisted I continued my education in spite of our constant shortage of money. My student stipend helped us a little, but it never made a big difference in our financial situation.
My grandfather, who was retired and lived entirely on his pension, helped us as much as he could. But no matter what we did, we never had enough money. We knew cold and hunger quite intimately.
One day, instead of waiting around to accept fate, my grandfather decided to take it into his own hands. He suggested to his daughter, my mother, to try a mail-order bride agency. My mother hesitated for a few days, but finally she agreed. She decided she had nothing to lose.
There was something powerful and brave about her decision. Of course, she was afraid, and not sure if she was doing the right thing. But when money is short, food is in scarce supply, and the threat of losing the roof over your head is growing stronger every day, people tend to take extraordinary and desperate measures.
To Be Continued. (Part II is here)