Strange Bedfellows

In the thaw that has followed the end of the Cold War, marriages between citizens of the U.S. and the former Soviet Union have increased dramatically--and the qualities these men and women admire in their foreign-born mates speak volumes about gender relations back home.

Psychologist Lynn Visson, Ph.D., interviewed 100 such couples for her book Wedded Strangers: The Challenges of Russian-American Marriages (Hippocrene Books, 1998). She reports that American men say they were fed up with "bossy," "unattractive," feminist American women interested only in themselves and their careers, preferring "feminine," "sexy" Russian women who want to be homemakers. (The men may later discover that these pussycats have steel claws: after 50 years of fending for themselves through revolution, war and the Gulag, these women have an underlying toughness American feminists might envy).

American women, meanwhile, say they found in their Russian mates a sense of romance and old-fashioned chivalry rare among American men. Their Russian counterparts, tired of drunken Russian men who do nothing around the house, regard their American husbands as stabile, reliable providers. Russian men are pleased that their American wives are real friends and partners, rather than more traditional helpmates who are always tired and full of complaints.

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Of course, the very traits that attract each group to the other may eventually create friction over gender roles and the raising of bicultural children. Given the great differences that still remain between the two cultures, says Visson--herself the product of a Russian-American marriage--it's surprising that so many of these pairings appear to be quite happy.

PHOTO (COLOR): Strange bedfellows

Adapted by PsyA

Robert Bosnak is a psychoanalyst in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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