Thursday, July 20, 2006

Beware Foreign Women!

Last week, Harper's Online published an outstanding article, "A Foreign Affair", by a man who went undercover on a tour of the Ukraine sponsored by an international marriage broker (IMB). The article generated much worthwhile commentary (and not a few hissy fits) over at Feministe, Sixteen Volts, Vox Day, etc. But I did have two points not already expressed elsewhere, points that counsel caution to men seeking to improve their mating prospects by using IMBs.

1. The first point is that a man's sexual market value is perceived relative to those around him. IMBs capitalize on this by taking middle-aged, middle class men with low status in a rich country and marketing them in a poor country where they enjoy relatively high status. This works . . . as long as he stays in the poor country. If he brings his foreign bride back to the U.S., it will matter very little that he rescued her from a life of poverty in Ukraine. She will eventually perceive him to be low status by American standards.

Does this mean that the relationship is doomed? Not necessarily. But it really comes down to a question of transaction costs. And if the woman in question is a hot twenty-something with no children and low emotional investment in the relationship, and she acquires proficiency in English and, eventually, citizenship, then those transaction costs shrink to zero. Religious devotion can help in this case, but is not a panacea.

(Note to commenters: the rules of economic analyses apply to all spheres of our existence, including, in aggregate, the personal ones discussed above, notwithstanding the random noise in the system. So please don't tell me I'm a reprobate for "turning people into commodities" or some such rot. That isn't my point and you ought to know it.)

2. The second point is that women from other cultures may not understand how "rich Americans" actually live their lives. One of the distinguishing characteristics of our Anglo -Protestant culture is that Americans work very hard and, more importantly, continue to work hard even after we become wealthy. In contrast, people in most other cultures expect to use their wealth to buy leisure time.

Case in point: my wife and I have been engaged for most of the year in what I call "the landscape project from hell." Months of strenuous work, most of which falls to my wife (she is a stay-at-home Mom, enough work in itself), although I have devoted most of my weekends to the project. My wife, God bless her, has thrown herself into this with much enthusiasm, deriving considerable satisfaction from creating something of great beauty and utility. But it occurred to me, while pondering the Harper's article, that if I were to have married a foreign woman, and suggested such a project to her, she would ask, quite reasonably, "What is the point of having married an American if I have to work like a Mexican?"

My point at present is not that one culture is better than another, only that this particular difference can cause a misalignment of expectations.

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