Nov 18, 2010

The Frenchman asks: Why do young Filipinas marry old French men?

Hi Filipino,
 
It seems that the only encounter one will have with Filipinos in France will be women that married much older Frenchmen. I remember hearing a lot of about it 15-20 years ago, there were agencies that would set up Frenchmen with Filipino women, and usually those men would do that because they couldn't really find a woman in France (either because they lived in remote rural areas, or worse, because they were jackasses and no women wanted to be with them) and they'd use those agencies. Those men had no interest in the Philippines as a country or a culture, they just knew they could easily find a wife there.

I've never personally met such a couple, and I'm definitely not saying that it is the case for every Frenchman/Filipino woman couple, but every time I run into such a couple they leave me that strange and unhealthy impression that they don't love each other. It feels that for the man, the woman is his own personal prostitute/maid/you-name-it and for the woman it seems like a way to fulfill her unrealistic dream to live in France (and once she realizes that France is not that fairy tale country she dreamed about, once past the disillusion, she stays anyway because it's either that or back to poverty).

On the one hand, I understand that some people in poor countries will go to certain extremes to escape that poverty (and I know all too well what African people have to go through to try to get a better life in Europe), but on the other hand, I can't really understand the logic of those women, and especially the fact that it became a more than anecdotic phenomenon a little while ago. I'm not sure about the current situation with this issue though, but I know that among the infamous "I met a French man online does he love me?" questions I get for my blog, a big share of those are from Filipino women.

Could you expand from the Philippines side of the story?

Thanks,
Frenchman

Dear Frenchman,

When I started this blog, I was hoping, naively, that I could shed more light on the positive aspects of the Philippines and its people.  I was not really expecting to answer questions relating to "affairs of the heart," as I felt, thought and believed I was not only ill-equipped to answer them but also because the general subject matter is often too complicated, too intense, and -- especially in the situation you described -- too fraught with perils: i.e., the perils of over-simplification, broad strokes, prejudiced observations, unfair generalizations, condescension, racism, classism, defensiveness, and even hate.  In fact, for a second or two after reading your question, I even had this overwhelming desire to curse the heavens, the corrupt Philippine officials who've long been causing misery to millions, and yes, those Frenchmen you described with less-than-sincere intentions, on behalf of these Filipino women.

But since you asked, I figured I'd tackle this thing head-on, hoping that in the process I can somehow contribute to your and others' understanding (hopefully better and more humane) of these relationships.  Who knows? Maybe somewhere along the way, writing this answer may end up being cathartic too for me, enough at least to lessen the urge to lash out.  I hope that if I end up causing offense to anyone who gets to read this, he/she will forgive me for my attempt, albeit lame, to articulate something positive about something so complicated and, for most, is better off not talked about.

First, let's look at the ideal situation. I think a "typical" middle-class Filipina is like any "typical" middle-class Western woman:  she wants to marry a man who she really loves, who's in the same age group, decent-looking, fun, educated, has good character, in good financial standing, makes her feel good, and shares her cultural background.  I think, for a Filipina, that last characteristic typically means she would rather marry a Filipino instead of a foreigner -- assuming, of course, that everything else is equal. No data on this is available, of course, but I think, even in the United States where Filipinos have much higher rates of inter-marriage, a very high percentage of beautiful, well-traveled, highly courted Filipinas still end up marrying Filipinos.  In other words, like other races, generally, the Filipino people stick to their kind.

But we're not exactly talking of ideal situations when we're talking of young Filipinas marrying old, French men from "remote rural areas" who are "jackasses" and who these Filipinas hardly know and whose intentions and feelings these women are quite unsure of (enough at least to write you), are we?

In fact, if I have to hazard a guess (again, the following description is, by necessity, a simplication of a data set; is in no way comprehensive; and is subject to countless exceptions), the main characteristics of the Filipinas you described in your question are: (1) they are generally from very poor families; (2) they are generally not really highly educated; and (3) rightly or wrongly, they are generally considered not attractive or desirable enough by wealthier, more educated Filipino men who, again, rightly or wrongly, want to be understandably perceived as having made a "great catch" in their chosen partners by society. 

Now, add to the above the fact that (1) there are more women than men in the Philippines (numbering more than 50 million out of a population of roughly 100 million); (2) many of these poor women are not exactly looking to get even poorer by marrying unemployed Filipino men in worse financial straits than they are; and (3) these women are so family-centered, so conscientious and overly eager to do almost anything to improve the lot of their immediate relatives -- and you have a perfect recipe for disaster and, um, exploitation, right? 

Or is it?  And secondarily, even if it's so, who's exploiting who?  The objective answer is: It depends. That's why this line of questioning is really like a Pandora's box, isn't it?

You are right about one thing though: the poverty issue is a leitmotif in these types of relationships between French men and Filipina women.  All over the world, that is the same issue which explains why Ukrainian "Natashas" are feeling compelled to leave their country only to land in less-than-ideal situations abroad; why the "Romas" are being thrown out of France; why Mexicans routinely risk their lives to cross the US borders; et cetera.  But when you think about it, even in the history of Europe, it's the same consideration which drove European kingdoms to marry off even their princes and princesses to undesirable partners.  It's also the same consideration why young and gorgeous European women fall in the arms of Berlusconi, or maybe even Sarkozy.  I guess you can say the story of Anna Nicole Smith, while extreme, is really not that unique.

I don't know the numbers behind these inter-marriages.  I don't even know if the numbers are big enough to warrant a broad-stroke explanation.  But assuming the premise of your question is indeed supportable by hard data, and following a cursory research I made online and the personal conclusions I derived therefrom, one can actually make the following arguments:

(A)  Excepting those who've been illegally forced into these types of relationships, these poor, uneducated Filipinas are actually very smart because they've shown they can make rational economic decisions.  They know they have their youth, desirability, and wifely services to offer, so they use them as perfectly understandable "bargaining chips."  They marry white, old French men because "white" means the guy is probably rich; "French" means the guy is probably bearably nice enough (men from other cultures are reputed to be much worse); and "old" means the guy is probably close to dying.  In other words, for the Filipina in these types of relationships, the marriage is an "investment" in the future for herself and her relatives in the Philippines -- or you can say, at the very least, a form of "delayed gratification," i.e., a way of paying short-term pain in return for long-term gain.  Whether the "reward" from the "investment" pans out or not, the "risk" of continuing to live in abject, grinding and subhuman poverty back in the Philippines is at least minimized.  While, as a matter of survival and psychological fortification, many of them probably still hold out the hope that they will still "live happily ever after," I don't believe most of these Filipinas are really thinking of French fairy tales when they marry their French beaus.  (The takaway here: Don't feel too bad for these Filipino women!)

(B)  Many of these French men, like you mentioned, are really quite undesirable to French women too, deservedly or undeservedly.  But if they have something to offer in a matrimonial bargaining table, why should they not be allowed to seek other women elsewhere?  I don't think these men are so clueless as to think the women are after their French looks.  But then again, maybe they're actually the ones influenced by romantic French fairy tales, not the women?  (The takeaway here: Don't be too harsh on these French men!)

(C)  Believe it or not, many of these relationships actually work, producing healthy and beautiful offspring who end up enriching our increasingly globalizing world.  Why?  Because French men (or generally Western men) are used to aggressive French (Western) women, while Filipinas are generally, because of their culture, more subservient, more deferential to their male counterparts.  Thus, I think many of these Western men are actually surprised and feel fortunate (they should!) that they married women who, being devout and religious Catholics, are devoted to making the relationship work, are quite caring, and, often, were still probably virgins when they first came in contact with their matrimonial beds (Philippine society, being under the heavy influence of the conservative Catholic Church, generally still frowns upon premarital sex, especially in the provinces).  So, quite understandably, these men are pleasantly surprised and extremely grateful to high heavens for landing what ended up as better marital lives than those of other people they know. For their part, the Filipinas, who had earlier probably braced themselves for ugly marriages, end up getting grateful partners, enjoying a higher quality of life, and being able to help their relatives back home, which redound to their sense of accomplishment and joy.  (The takeaway here: Maybe we should be happy for these couples!)

With (A), (B) and (C) to make as arguments, exploitation becomes a non-issue, right?  But then, ever the romantic, you ask (and cue the music), "what about love?" 

Well, to be realistic about the whole thing, most of these types of inter-racial relations you mentioned are actually, or at least akin to, "arranged marriages," not "love marriages."  But I think any successful Indian who is happily married via an "arranged marriage" will tell you that a "love marriage" is overrated.  For one, "love marriages" have much higher divorce rates than "arranged marriages" due to various reasons, the simplest being that couples who bind themselves via the latter setup come into the arrangement with eyes and minds wide open and with the natural commitment to make things as beneficial to the parties as possible.  In other words, an "arranged marriage" addresses "personal needs" of the couple while a "love marriage" often is too consumed with "personal desires."  Inevitably, where needs are met, love creeps into an "arranged marriage," leading to a stronger and happier relationship; on the other hand, where desires dissipate and needs remain unmet, love escapes from a "love marriage" and with it follows the ruination of a shaky relationship.

To end, I just want to wish you happiness, Mr. Frenchman, and blissful days spent with the woman you love and who loves you just as much, regardless if she's French, German or -- dare I say it -- even a Filipina.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

6 comments:

Frenchman said...

Thanks for your long answer... It totally makes sense. (except that you don't answer why so many Filipinas ask me about those guys they met online... Just kidding...)

The Filipino said...

Those Filipinas just want some attention from you. ;-) Maybe you should refer them to The Filipino instead? I mean, refer them to my blog, of course. :-)

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but I've recently discovered your blog. Love it!

I just wanted to mention that as much as this arrangement benefits both the Filipina and old French guy, the old French guy still has the upper hand. There are many cases where "mail-order" brides from different countries (not just the Philippines) end up in abusive domestic relationships with their husbands (not just French). These women are trapped in the relationship because they're in a new country, and their abusive spouse is their only lifeline. A lot of them are also probably uneducated and don't know their rights once they're married. They're probably manipulated (by their husbands) into thinking that they have no rights in their country, and if they try to seek help, bad things will happen.

I really wish the Philippine government issued a required video like "Know your rights when you go to another country to marry someone" to anyone leaving the country to get married. It's really in their best interest, since the government is not really doing anything to stop this potential trafficking of Filipina brides.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frenchman!

I came across this blog while I was googling about a Filipina being in love with a French guy. I am an expat working in the middle east as an engineer and met my guy here. We are both professionals not so old lol both at 31 so I guess it's not always true that Filipinas are seen with much older French guys. As to your question I think some Filipinas resort to marrying older guys regardless of nationality to take care of them both financially and for future since they dont have the means to take care of themselves like finishing school so they can find a good job and support themselves even myself I have to go abroad to earn thrice than what I am earning back home. I dont judge my fellow Filipinas for doing so as the other party is not forced to marry them but want something from them as well. I think its a fair trade off as mentioned in this blog some foreigners resort to this because they are old or they cannot find someone from their own countries.

As for me I am enjoying being in a relationship with my French guy who I deemed to be the most romantic guy I have met. No hidden agendas, just two people working hard abroad meeting each other and falling in love lol

Anonymous said...

Greetings - I stumbled on to your blog about the Filipina marrying older French men. I am an American man married to a Filipina (she is 13 years younger). We are planning to "retire" in France and cruise around on a boat.
My bottom line on the topic: IF - I repeat - IF the man is a good man, then my observation is that these matches are very positive. Like you said, if the man recognizes how fortunate HE is to be married to a more traditional women (if that's what he wants), then he will cherish her and vice versa. My equal aged American wife of 17 years got "tired" of me and "wanted something different". The vows of marriage are all too disposable to many American women. How fortunate I feel to have found a wonderful, "traditional" Filipina who I can go forward in life with. I love her dearly, respect her, support her, and she treats me like a King. Who could ask for more. I am happier than I have ever been in life after 6 years of marriage to my wonderful woman from The Philippines. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Hello!

Thank you for such an elaborate and enlightening post. There were definitely many points I had to nod my head to, since I did a college paper on the subject of Filipina mail order brides a year ago.

I just wanted to reply regarding the concept of arranged marriages in general. In most of these instances, the families are the ones that are overlooking the exchange. Sure, in some cases, relatives can have ulterior motives and simply allow a marriage of convenience based on selfishness, but more often than not, the family--both sides--take into account both the bride and the husband's needs and potential suitability for each other.

In marriages that are arranged online, it is often the company or the agency mediating the exchange. If the company is honest, and if both parties in this exchange are honest, then there is no reason that anything should go wrong. But the reality is that most of these agencies do not need a license or the formality of a background check themselves. Because of this, businesses have a tendency to grow corrupt. They attempt to entice customers from around the world, and this would be no problem if only nice, good men participated. Instead, these agencies skip on background checks for the men (for the reason of money and convenience). There is also a power imbalance in play already, since these online agencies portray foreign brides as mere commodities, with buttons that "filter" and buttons that "purchase."

I do not frown upon men who search for a foreign bride because heightened age or a yearning for traditionalism narrows their choices of a mate in their own country. But it is unacceptable when it's for reasons such as their violent behavior will possibly be tolerated by only the most subservient woman, or something more extreme as a cover for human trafficking.

I guess I've gone on a tangent on this one, and I apologize. The main question of the Frenchman only concerned marriage between young Filipinas and old Frenchmen. It said nothing about it being arranged. For all I know, two people from two different worlds and cultures fell in love.

But I just wanted to get this out there, because arranged marriages do have their risks (even though I'd argue marriage simply by itself is no less risky).

I think if the industry of arranged marriages in relation to the Internet or Catalogues are more strictly regulated, we would have far more successful and happier marriages.

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