Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the great Ukrainian bride hunt part 8

By Kristoffer A. Garin

At the orientation in Kiev, the point was made in a similar way when one of the men asked if the women at our events would have any sort of access to information on his age, financial status, or anything else in his personal history. “Oh no,” said Dan the Man, shaking his head emphatically. “Absolutely not. We don't tell them anything. That's your job.”

Again and again, my companions declared that they weren't looking for a sex tour, and that neither were they simply looking for a servant to cook for them and clean their home—that it was a real companion they sought. Each consistently made a point of saying how intelligent their dates were, even if their outing had only lasted for half an hour and had taken place without a common language between them. One, a California contractor with a seething, hostile energy and the blue-eyed, mustachioed handsomeness of a 1970s porn star, summed it up thusly: “I don't want someone that I'm going to run; I need somebody's help. I need an opinion. I'm not out to pound a bunch of pussy. If that's what I want, I'll go down to the whorehouse.”

But what they really wanted, and what most imagined they would find in Ukraine, was a fusion of 1950s gender sensibilities with a twenty-first-century hypersexuality. Along with everything else, the men had heard that the women here were “wild,” “uninhibited,” that being with them was “a whole different ball game.” As always, Dan the Man had done his part to stoke this fantasy, peppering his talk of traditional values and wifely devotion with just the right amount of lasciviousness. “I've heard stories from all the guys who have been married to them, and they all say the same thing: they definitely are much, much, much more passionate, much more open-minded,” he told us at one point. “This guy, he's been married for six, seven years and his wife is just as crazy, they have threesomes all the time.” The vision was Madonna and puttana rolled together, an American male desire shaped in equal parts by the Promise Keepers and Internet porn.

The glow from the first social having receded, many of the men found themselves a bit demoralized. A night on the town was one matter, but finding an actual wife was going to be more difficult than they had thought. Many of the women they had met, while friendly enough and certainly accessible for conversation, turned out to have had little or no interest in leaving Ukraine. They had come out to practice their English, or for the free champagne, or simply because they were curious. Even among the ones who had agreed to “date,” many seemed to be in it for little more than a free meal at a nice restaurant they would never be able to afford otherwise. It was hard to imagine that the men would be shocked by such innocent opportunism, but they were. “I wouldn't say disappointed, but I got up with mixed feelings today,” the California contractor told me. Later in the week, another would confess that when the first date he had scheduled stood him up, he returned to his room and wept.

Beer after beer, the men analyzed their dates—whether the women had ordered pricey menu items, whether they had taken the official taxis from in front of the hotel or insisted on walking down to the street to catch a gypsy cab at a better price. A grizzly New Englander, who said he lived in a log cabin and tended to predict the imminent destruction of whatever American city came up in conversation, recounted a date that had raised several red flags. “Well, I took out a money girl,” he confessed. They had gone to T.G.I. Friday's, a popular date venue. Apparently her appetizer had arrived before his, and she had set in on it without waiting. We all clucked and shook our heads—selfish, we agreed; a bad sign. To compound matters, for her main course she had made what everyone in the group agreed was the distinctly unfeminine choice of ribs. “Wow,” said one of the veterans. “I've never seen a Ukrainian girl order ribs.”

The conversations ranged from future finances and former marriages to politics, the economy, and whether or not Latin is in fact the root of “almost every language.” When I bought a beer for one of the men I had grown to sympathize with most, he gave me a big smile and said, “Thanks, whitey!” I stammered that I supposed I would take that as a compliment. “You're goddamn right it's a compliment,” he replied with a wink, clinking his glass against mine.

Every one of the men I spoke with said they planned to restrict their future wife's involvement in their finances, and radically so. “You don't ever let them touch your money, bottom line,” said one, to vigorous agreement from the rest of the table. “Set them up with their checking account that they use to pay all of the household supplies. You cover the core of the mortgages and the car and everything else. Never give them joint access.” When I remarked that the arrangement sounded more like an employer/employee relationship than a marriage, the group went a little quiet, and I suddenly found myself being accused of cultural intolerance—this at a table where “bluegums” appeared to be a perfectly unobjectionable way of referring to African Americans.

“You're bringing all your value premises and laying them over relationships,” the New Englander objected. “You're thinking about how you view it as, not what she's looking for.” He became angry. “Have you been married and divorced before?” he continued, apoplectic now, forcefully jabbing his finger in my direction to punctuate each thought. “No? So you know nothing. When you've been fucked; when you let a woman take your life and everything you've worked for up to that point, and rip it out of your guts and then use the kids to keep fucking with you for ten years—then you'll have been cauterized to learn caution. And that's why I'm almost sixty and not married again.”

A God-fearing plumber, who would actually be engaged by the end of the week, agreed that I had no idea what I was talking about, but tried to soften the tone by warning me about the dangers I would face if I sought love back in the United States. “When she gets over it, you're not going to know for two years,” he told me. “And at the end of two years, she's going to have you so tied up, wrapped up, and packaged in such a neat little bow, that when she finally does tell you, ka-boom, you're done, she's already got the deck stacked in her favor before you even know what's going on. That's the truth. You can ask anybody that's been divorced.”