NOVEMBER 2002

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Divorce In Russian Community
From Russian Bazzar

The newspapers commonly repeat the phrase "harsh immigrant fate," a phrase which indeed has become so common that some (especially those who have been in this country for a long time) begin to suspect that it is pure nonsense and has no meaning at all. Joking aside, behind the phrase are both facts and numbers. For instance, the fact that a huge number of newly arrived families fall apart in the first few years of immigration. On the other hand, many victims of these divorces once again acquire new families several years down the road. This process is a very large part of our lives, and though the press is not so interested in it, to us it is far more important than the recent political scandals. For commentary, for an analysis of this processes one ought to consult a specialist.

Our correspondent talked to a psychologist — specialist on family issues and director of the Galatea dating service Larisa Gorodetskaya.

• And so, new citizens often divorce…

One can say with satisfaction that the stream of divorces has narrowed by this time. The same families who stuck through the tough years will remain strong. As for the families which have fallen apart, as sad as it is to admit it, in 80 percent of the cases the women served as initiators of the divorce.

The man tries to hang on to his family with all his might in hopes of using it as a jumping board from which he can rise up in his life. For a man his family is his haven where he can always rest. It’s a home base from which he can become educated, acquire a new vocation, with time come into his own and begin repaying his debt to the family.

Women are less patient (though they would like to think otherwise), and for this reason life during the first years of repatriation for them seems hopeless. They are pursued by a fear that, being married, they will never again build a normal life and they leave their husbands. They leave in hopes of meeting someone in the future, having gotten rid of the burden of their former husbands. Another five or six years passes. The woman is on familiar terms with her new country. The everyday reality of her new life no longer frightens her as it did before, and she yearns to live with a person of similar background, to talk till midnight, to eat potatoes and herring for breakfast and read Russian books.

• Could it really be true that all the women who left their "Russian" husbands find native boyfriends?

This happens extremely rarely. Most often the women choose to rely only on themselves. They turn into single mothers. Often the women leave their husbands specifically for the opportunity to collect financial and moral support from those social and federal organizations that target single mothers and remain closed to men. Of course, this does not make them happier or better off.

But one must admit that single mothers, the most socially-protected category of women, often perform miracles: they get jobs and take on a vocation, they buy houses and cars. The single mother will deny herself clothing and makeup, but her children will get no less from her than they would in a full-fledges family. And it is when the financial problems are more or less taken care of that the problem of loneliness arises.

And here the "issues" come up. The children are no longer used to having a man in the house, but this is not the main problem. The difficulties posed by the children are nothing compared to those posed by the elderly parents.

There is no unhappier creature than the single 40-year-old woman who shares an apartment with her children and her aging parents.

Here is a standard situation. The woman does not have the courage to buy an apartment alone, so she moves in with her parents. Let’s say, together the family buys a two-bedroom apartment. That means that one bedroom belongs to the child, the grandparents sleep in the other, and the woman is left in the living room. She is the breadwinner — she feeds the entire family, works for up to 12 hours a day, but in order to go to sleep she must wait for the whole family to be done watching TV. There can be no talk at all of bringing a man into such an atmosphere.

Coincidentally, a man will fairly easily stay in the house of a woman with children. But he’ll never stay in the house of a woman with parents. A man brings a bit of something for the child and feels all right. But he does not at all wish to run into the older mother on the way to the bathroom, who will look him up and down and ask, "What are you doing here?" And that’s why, when a 40-year-old woman, living with an 18-year-old son and her 70-year-old mother comes to see me I urge her to analyze her family situation. Does her family want her to marry? Will they be willing to play along?

• And what about the circumstances of single men?

The single man is almost always worse off than the single woman. Even if he can find a decent job he almost never has an apartment and quite often has no car. If a single man comes into the home of a single woman, that home will bloom — their monthly wages will come together, the home gains a "masculine hand," and so on. But the woman often cannot understand how it is that the man cannot acquire an apartment or a car on his own and rejects him as unfit for life. In this the woman forgets that she, unlike the man, usually receives help from the government or from her parents. Though one must admit that in general women do usually learn the ways of a new country better than men. The man often doesn’t even have enough money to court with style. Not to mention that women and men often assess the same situation completely differently. A man will often tell me that he does not spend money on a woman whom he has just met, since he does not yet consider her to be his. But the paradox is that unless he courts well (and let me assure you that no one has called off courting yet) the woman will never be his — it’s a vicious circle.

• Does the motive for divorce depend upon age?

People above 50 divorce because they simply no longer can stand each other. Among the really young — the 20-somethings — the reasons for parting are the same as in any other country on the face of the earth: say, they have realized that they have nothing in common.

The specific of immigration divorce comes up among middle-aged people. It’s in this bracket that women leave their men because they feel hopeless. A woman who is 33 or 35 feels that if she does not leave her husband immediately she will never return to normal life. The men forget that they must go on creating a myth, that they must always display new possibilities for the future: he must reassure the woman that he will get a job, that they’ll take vacations abroad, etc. Women, as is well-known, love with their ears.

• One could say that you and your agency are at the fore of the war against human loneliness.

I try to wage war on divorce as a family counselor, but my main work is to bring together people who are alone. You could say I am a matchmaker. It’s a long-forgotten word, but today this vocation is needed again.

But the world is a small place. It’s as if everyone already knows each other, or at least they can meet on the street. Does this interfere with the work of a matchmaker?

I try not to put together people from small towns, or else if it doesn’t work out between them they will later feel awkward about meeting each other. On the other hand, it is absolutely impossible to bring together two people who live far apart. However magnificent a young woman might be, not every man can withstand traveling an hour and a half to spend an hour there and another hour-and-a-half back. That’s why I think that a family service must keep as close to the community as possible. There must be a dating service in every neighborhood, and family counselors should simply be everywhere, on each street like barbers.

There’s a common belief that only the most desperate go to dating services, those who no longer harbor hopes to meet someone on their own.

People use dating services not just for lack of good looks or other shortcomings. Busy people of all ages, those who have no time to be looking for liaisons or those who simply don’t know where to look. Most people also don’t cut their own hair or fix their own watches. In the same way, such a difficult task as finding a partner for life should be entrusted to a professional.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing is not to go looking for a new partner but to sort out the troubles in your own family. If this is not done in time, old problems will carry over to a new relationship and play a destructive role. If not all is well in your family, think about it, and analyze it honestly, objectively seek a solution to disputed problems. I’ll give you more details on how to do this in our next session.

Translated from Russian by Katya Kumkova-Wolpert

 

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