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This is Part II of My Mother Was a Mail-Order Bride.
Financially it did not cost us anything. Emotionally we were a nervous wreck.
The agency printed my mom’s picture and her short bio in a paper catalog. There was no Internet back then in Lithuania. All correspondence was done the old-fashioned way, through the mail.
The cost of services was passed to the American men. There was no sign-up fee, but men did have to pay $5 for each woman’s address they were interested in communicating to.
Women, most of the time, stayed on their own turf, and never traveled to meet their potential husbands. It was practically impossible to get a so-called fiancé visa that would allow entrance into the United States. The U.S. government was protecting its borders quite diligently from the influx of women who were eager to find happiness in the promised land. Most importantly, women in the Eastern Bloc countries could not afford a plane ticket to travel overseas.
The easiest way to meet was for a man to choose three or four women, and travel to see them all at once.
Why American Men Did It
I cannot speak for all American men who at some point in their lives used mail-order bride services. However, after observing and interacting with some of the men we got to meet over a period of time, I determined 5 types of men who were looking for a foreign wife.
Type 1 men were disappointed in their relationships with American women, and started to branch out to foreign countries in search of something special.
Type 2 men thought that they could acquire cheap household labor who along with cooking, cleaning and laundry would also provide sex.
Type 3 men thought that it would be easier to dominate poor foreign women. They pitched a long and winded explanation of a “traditional marriage.”
Type 4 men were seeking a non-traditional marriage that included extra partners that any sane woman, American or not, would never agree to experience. I’ll leave it at that.
Type 5 men were shy and not comfortable in a wide variety of social settings. It was easier for them to get to know women through correspondence before meeting face to face.
Risks That Women Took
It was (and still is) a very risky business for women. However, a majority of women were (and are) willing to take that risk anyway.
Imagine you move to a foreign country, but you don’t speak the foreign language. You leave your friends and family behind. There is no one to talk to but your new husband whom you barely know. You don’t drive a car, you cannot work, but most importantly, you don’t really know the man who became your husband. Some of women met their husbands only once during the man’s short visit. Some met their future husbands maybe twice.
I am sure that the mail-order bride business is risky for men as well. However, I have never heard a story about a foreign bride abusing, torturing and, eventually, killing her American husband. There is no doubt that both sides encounter certain risks. However, the risks for women outweigh the risks for men.
A man can choose to pay for the divorce and send his wife back home. Women, however, can be stuck in an abusive relationship because they do not have the funds or means to get out. Those women are financially and emotionally dependent on their husbands. Poor language skills limit their ability to find jobs. Some women are unable to report abuse because they don’t know their rights and lack the ability to communicate properly.
Our story is not a fairy tale, but it is a pretty good one. My mother was lucky enough to meet an American man, fell in love with him and get married.
You would be surprised to know that the poor language skills are not a real barrier to write letters and get to know each other. Sometimes really bad and broken English is the best way to express your thoughts. Perhaps when we don’t understand each other, we make up things in our mind that help us to understand. Maybe we just imagine things we want to be real. Whatever it was, it worked out well for both of them.
It didn’t happen in one day. In fact, after the parade of men of all five types, my mother gave up on the whole mail-order bride idea. My grandfather, still trying to be very optimistic, asked her to give one more chance to a man who sounded down-to Earth in his letters. My mother agreed with a condition that it was going to be the last American she wanted to see. Ever.
As it turned out, it was her future husband.
Sometimes luck and great timing determine your life path. Sometimes people refuse to follow the path where ever it leads them, and they choose to force their own way through the weeds and dense woods.
Sometimes it all ends well. Sometimes it doesn’t.
UPDATE: Because I was bombarded with questions and requests for more, I am going to write my third and LAST installment about my mom and her American husband. It will be posted next Monday, March 26. Part III is now available here.