Mail-Order Husbands: Brilliant or Disturbing?

We’re all familiar with the mail-order bride. Now, the emergence of an imported mail-order husband business of sorts has emerged by way of Thailand.

Thai women who grow up “always dreaming of marrying a foreigner” are bought as brides by Caucasian men who, by Western standards, are not particularly wealthy. The surprising part is that rather than take them back to their native countries, the men choose to settle in Udon Thani, one of the poorest regions of the country, where they can provide a comfortable life for both their wives and their families.

According to this recent New York Times article, these foreign husbands have expanded to a population of 11,000 in the region. They are usually retirees in their 50s, 60s or even 70s, living off their pensions. Needless to say, these men are often much older than their Thai brides and are attracted to the “low cost of living, slow pace of life, and exotic reputation of Thai women.”

“Age is not a factor here,” said Joseph Davis, a 54-year-old American retired Naval officer who married a 30-year-old Thai woman, Nui, after two marriages which ended in divorce. “In America if I marry a girl who is 24 years younger than me, all you’re going to get is eyes and bad talk, bad gossip,” said Davis. “Here it’s not an issue. It happens every day.”

Most disturbingly, Davis seems to enjoy the fact that women here are less “strong-headed and opinionated” than American women and easier to control.

“Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago… the [American] women now know they are equal, so the situation is not as relaxed and peaceful as it is between an American and a Thai lady.”

I can’t help but feel sorry for his wife, but she seems blissfully unaware of what he says most of the time.

This “relaxing and peaceful” lifestyle includes the fact that language is an obvious barrier. Most foreign husbands speak little to no Thai, forcefully eliminating any communication about conflicts or disagreements which may arise.

Some Thai women openly acknowledge that the marriage is less about emotional love and more about social mobility. “I didn’t like him that much, but he really liked me,” said one of the wives about her foreign husband when she met him. Now she says she is happy because she doesn’t have to work and can stay at home and care for her baby.

Both parties seem to be remarkably transparent about the benefits and trade-offs accompanying the arrangement, which is perhaps why these marriages are likened to business transactions. Thai women are in it for the money and socieconomic status, coupled with financial security for their extended families. The men who marry them pay thousands of dollars in dowry to support their families. What do these foreign husbands gain? A better lifestyle compared to the average Thai standard of living, and an emotional connection with (and superior power over) an “accomodating and affectionate” subservient wife – allegedly more so than if he married a woman if his own age and nationality in his native Western country.

“For some ladies it is just money, money, money,” said Prayoon Thavon, manager of international services at Panyavejinter Hospital in Udon Thani. “Getting married has become a business more than love. People want to improve their social status. Sometimes these ladies spend the husband’s money, use it all, then he’s cut out. There are many cases like that.”

Although these intentions are by no means kept secret, half of these marriages still fail. But it’s not like women marrying men for money is a new idea. That actually mirrors the 50% divorce rate in the U.S., so how radical is this idea anyway? Or is this transactional approach to marriage a win-win situation for both parties?

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About Vanessa

Vanessa lives in New York City and works in marketing in the beauty industry. In her free time, she moonlights as a writer and unauthorized restaurant critic with a voracious appetite for travel, fashion, cringe-worthy reality television, and all things Asian-American.
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