In our discussion about mail-order brides, Phi linked to his inaugural post, which involved the subject:

1. The first point is that a man’s sexual market value is perceived relative to those around him. IMBs capitalize on this by taking middle-aged, middle class men with low status in a rich country and marketing them in a poor country where they enjoy relatively high status. This works . . . as long as he stays in the poor country. If he brings his foreign bride back to the U.S., it will matter very little that he rescued her from a life of poverty in Ukraine. She will eventually perceive him to be low status by American standards.

While I think this is true, I think it is a narrow look at a broader concept. One that applies not only to women and status but men and women and options in general. People are as loyal as (a) their commitment and (b) their options. Using mail-order brides is a good example of this for a number of reasons.

First, there is generally a lack of commitment. It’s a marriage of convenience. They sidestepped a good part of the “getting to know you” phase. She’s often looking for material goods and access to the United States and he’s looking for someone with a greater degree of (superficial) devotion (under threat of deportation) and often a more attractive woman than he would be able to get stateside. They’re the best that they can do, but far from perfect. They don’t have much in common. They barely know one another more often than not. Often, if he could find himself an American woman as attractive and attentive as she is, he would not have given her a second look. Likewise, if she had access to a Russian man with his traits and wealth, neither would she. They’re both in a position of need and willing to overlook a lot.

That’s not the foundation of a strong marriage. The same often occurs early on in relationships between unattractive and unpopular people. The main difference, though, is that over time these two are more likely to genuinely bond than are an American and a foreigner. They’re more likely to have more in common, to understand one another better, and so on. And so they’re more likely to reach the point where they would forego “better options” because they’re attached. Maybe I’m being overly skeptical that this is going to happen with people that start off with virtually nothing in common, but I don’t think so.

The second thing is that MOBs draw attention to the quick increase of options on the part of one of the two partners. As Phi points out, the guy who seemed fabulously wealthy to someone living in The Ukraine no longer seems so in the United States. Further, since wealth is by its nature comparative and absolute, she is confronted with more of what she is missing the same way that someone that upgrades neighborhoods suddenly notices what they don’t have that their new neighbors do. In any event, she can now bad herself a man of more comparable attractiveness or that doesn’t have whatever the man had that forced him to resort to MOBs. It’s not quite that simple because she will always be a foreigner (and on something other than her first marriage to any new guy she meets in the US) and that’s a liability, but it’ll be closer. While she might leave the guy for someone wealthier, my guess is that she would probably leave him for someone more attractive if there is a great disparity.

It’s harder to find a place with the sudden increase in options amongst Americans. The most obvious place to look is college. One of the reasons that so few high school relationships survive college is that each partner is suddenly confronted with so many more options. You do the best you can at the high school level, but when you get to college you’re more likely to find someone cute who also shares your weird interests or someone who shares your interest but, unlike your high school sweetheart, is also kinda cute. These relationships also often fall short on the commitment scale since we’re dealing with still-developing senses of attraction.

Another example is when one partner suddenly loses a whole lot of weight and starts getting the idea that they might could do better than their still-fat partner. This is the example where the first factor, commitment, helps a lot because it’s more likely to exist.

Not to get all One To Grow On or anything, but this is one of those areas where being with someone (and having someone together with you) for the right reasons matters so much. In the case of MOBs, both partners are in a way cheating. He’s using leverage he didn’t particularly earn (it was afforded to him by virtue of being born in the United States of America or into a family of citizens) to score a wife with attributes he would have a lot of difficulty getting otherwise. She’s cheating to get into the US and to get access to the comparable wealth by using her attractiveness. Again, this is not the foundation of a successful marriage and it’s not unlikely that either party is going to bolt at a better opportunity (though only one of these two is likely to rapidly see better opportunities). But the same applies to other sorts of relationships. Two unattractive people can fall in love, but if they’re disgruntledly settling for one another (which I’ve seen happen) it’ll usually fall apart even without the option. It’ll merely take the perception of an option with a “real girl” or “real guy.”

So in conclusion, I would just like to say that anyone that says “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last person on earth” is probably lying. They may not have the commitment, but expectations are quickly adjusted based on availability.

Category: Coffeehouse

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8 Responses to Mail-Order Expectations

  1. ? says:

    According to Wikipedia, citing the USCIS (although the link doesn’t work and I couldn’t find the reference), the divorce rate among MOBs is 20%, vice 52% for the gen pop. Obviously, this doesn’t control for SES; I expect that men who can afford MOB service come from a class with a lower divorce rate than the gen pop.

  2. Bob V says:

    Fascinating stat, Phi. Somehow, I can’t imagine that being from a different class of people in responsible for a 62% drop in the divorce rate, but I don’t actually know.

  3. Peter says:

    Someone more statistically adept may know more, but could the very low number of MOB marriages render the divorce figures unreliable?

  4. trumwill says:

    Somehow, I can’t imagine that being from a different class of people in responsible for a 62% drop in the divorce rate, but I don’t actually know.

    It could be. Ten years out, someone with a high school education is 46% likely to get divorced, but someone with a bachelor’s degree is only 22% likely. I’d imagine that past ten years that gap widens.

    However, even if the difference is entirely accounted for by SES, the fact that there is no difference is (or would be) a bit surprising.

  5. ? says:

    Trumwill: I agree with your psychological generalization that our happiness with a particular choice depends to a degree on our perception of our range of options in general. I have a couple of problems though.

    First, there is generally a lack of commitment. It’s a marriage of convenience.

    You appear to be conflating two separate dimensions here. A marriage can be undertaken for reasons of “convenience” and still have “commitment”, by which I mean loyalty to a particular choice. Likewise, a person can get married for the “right” reasons and still lack commitment, persisting only and until a better offer comes along.

    It appears that you have in mind platonic categories labeled “things that people should base their relationship decisions on” and “things they shouldn’t.” These categories sometimes seem to encompass “self-actualizing” reasons vs. “prosaic” reasons; at other times they contain “intrinsic” qualities (shared personal interest) vs. “extrinsic” (wealth).

    I’m not sure any of these divisions are as clear cut as you appear to think. If I had to propose an alternative, I would suggest that there are not so much “good” reasons vs. “bad” reasons as the need for “broad multi-dimensional reasons” or “lots of different reasons” in general to help make a commitment sustainable. I would say that “self-actualization” isn’t nearly as superior to “prosaic” as a relationship basis as most people seem to think, at least in terms of predicting its success or failure. Finally, the categories “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” are philosophically and pragmatically problematic. Can we really neatly divide the way our physical, mental and social qualities manifest themselves from the accidents of birth and fortune? Would they really be useful if we did?

    Don’t get me wrong. I have no end of objections to the qualities women actually choose in their relationships — and I am usually criticised for these objections. Perhaps, then, I am a hypocrite. But perhaps I’m complaining about the content of the choices rather than the categories of choices.

  6. trumwill says:

    It appears that you have in mind platonic categories labeled “things that people should base their relationship decisions on” and “things they shouldn’t.” These categories sometimes seem to encompass “self-actualizing” reasons vs. “prosaic” reasons; at other times they contain “intrinsic” qualities (shared personal interest) vs. “extrinsic” (wealth).

    That first part is accurate, but the second part isn’t. I think that self-actualization, overwhelming emotion, and passion are an absolutely horrible basis for a relationship or marriage. Nor are prosaic concerns bad. I didn’t marry my wife because she was a doctor, but it was crucial for our being able to map out a future together*.

    If I was putting things in the first category, it would include things from both categories. I do believe that an emotional link is generally necessary to get a couple through the hard times. I also think important common values and a shared perspective of things (and not just how much they dig one another). I think that a threshold has to be met on all of these things. A devil-may-care emotional intensity is not sufficient to overcome a shared perspective. Nor, as I discovered the hard way, is the absence of an emotional link compensated for by how much sense a relationship makes.

    * – I would have married her if she’d stuck to engineering, but I wouldn’t have married her if it meant moving around from place to place so that she could talk to honeybees or somesuch.

  7. Bob V says:

    1. good touchy-feeley reasons
    2. bad touchy-feeley reasons
    3. practical reasons

    This is how I view the platonic categories you guys are using here.

    Included in #3 are stereotypical mail-order-bride marriages or arranged marriages, which incidentally Will’s proposed regulations would squash. It also includes Wills’ concern that his wife not follow honeybees around. I would also include shotgun marriages here.

    Included under bad touchy-feeley reasons are intense, passionate love of the “he’s so dreamy” variety. Here, we could put (probabilistically, anyway) marriages in high school and marriages based on really short courtships. The marriage between Sidney Potier and that girl in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” qualifies as do almost all Disney cartoon marriages.

    Good touchy-feeley reasons seem to be the ones Will prefers. These reasons are based on $10 phrases like “shared values”, “compatible personalities”, etc.

  8. Kirk says:

    And now for something completely different: In stage 15 of the TdF, should Contador have waited for Schleck when the latter’s chain came off? Even the commentators couldn’t agree. And even now, almost a week later, people are divided over it. I myself am divided.

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