Marrying abroad

While chatting to a Russian friend the other day, we remarked on the number of international marriages we have seen failing lately.  (I had written a blog post about the challenges of international divorces and it struck quite a chord with many of my acquaintances.)  We were wondering why that might be the case.

The easy explanation would be that – in our East European countries, at least, and possibly even more so in certain Asian countries – marriage with a foreigner was perceived as something aspirational, glamorous, a great opportunity to get out of the country and make a life and career for yourself.  For both men and women. Although the  image that most readily springs to mind is that of good-looking young women hanging off the arms of weedy expats with no obvious qualities other than their thick wallets.

Fast forward a few years and now that the more basic needs of Maslow’s pyramid have been satisfied (security, warmth, food, the chance to be treated with respect or at least civility), perhaps the appetite has increased for those higher-level needs.  We no longer want a secure provider, but a soulmate.  We no longer crave the narrow two-bed flat in London but a detached house overlooking the sea.  Which, by the way, some of our former classmates back home have by now obtained!

Life abroad, marriage abroad, has disappointed us.  But we cannot go back – we have been away for too long, we no longer fit in, people back there treat us with suspicion or greed.  We now want the lifestyle, the wealth and the ideal partner. 

But there could be another explanation:  Could it be that our partner has tired of us and our foreign ways?  Or that we have over-adapted to our host country and they can no longer see the quirkiness and uniqueness in us that they originally fell in love with?  Did both partners enter the marriage thinking more in terms of national stereotypes rather than the actual indvidual?

I know I came to the UK expecting to find the perfect English gentleman.  Or a tall, dark  Norwegian (my favourite ‘type’ combined with my favourite country but, sadly, almost an oxymoron).  Luckily, I found my husband, who confounded all those false ideals and expectations.  Nor did he find me to be the typical Romanian lass (whatever that might be).  So we had to make it up as we went along.

I’m sure we both occasionally revert to national stereotyping when we get cross with each other (especially with each other’s families) but most of the time we rejoice that we are neither fish nor fowl and enjoy living between worlds.  Which is probably the secret of success – we live in a neutral ‘third’ country.

What is your experience of marrying abroad?  Would you agree that it’s a taboo to admit the ‘selfish’ reasons for doing so? Do you think there are always some false expectations and stereotypes going on there? 



Filed under Globalization

2 responses to “Marrying abroad

  1. As the child of differing nationality parents and knowing oil and water find it difficult to remain mixed and that there are challenges: I married in my 20’s a man who was incredible yet challenging from Israel. It worked in Israel as I was on his home ground but when he came to the UK he was without his huge support network where everyone knew him and his strengths. He hated being emasculated by the British culture and that he could not get a job of similar level to start. We struggled valiantly to keep our marriage going for 7 years. A major incident happened outside of the relationship but changed the struggle we had felt worth continuing and so we split.

    My second man is funnily enough similar age, background, education, nationality and even the home’s we grew up in were similar. We’ve needed that similarity of upbringing to maintain us whilst we’ve lived expatriate lives for the past 8 years. He too had a first marriage to a foreigner and I think for both us we recognise that the similarities and joint values in us make it easier to navigate the difficulties as well as joys of family and international life.

  2. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to reply before now to your very interesting, insightful comment, Nicola. And thanks for sharing your personal experience by the way. Funnily enough, with me it worked in the opposite direction – my first marriage (with someone from my own culture) failed, while the one with the ‘foreigner’ is still going strong. But of course there are degrees of ‘otherness’ and none of us is a simple product of our national culture…

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