Guest Post

Marrying for Love as a Road to Working Poverty

“I personally prefer to look at borders as an individual. And when borders are lifted and I’m allowed to leave, I get my dignity back”

— reader’s reaction to our post on mail order brides and men and women who marry abroad to escape poverty at home.

(Conversation translated from Hungarian and edited for brevity.) 

“It is not as bad as the Ukrainian women you wrote about but for an eastern European woman with the best available education there are essentially four paths to achieve a middle class life – by which I mean not living paycheck to paycheck, being well-fed and able to pay for a sudden expense or a holiday. There only four ways:

1) Win the lottery
– highly unlikely, don’t build your life strategy on it.

2) Make your own, cute little business a success and upscale it to global market dominance
– Same as above
– Essentially, no one will buy from us anything. And not just because of sexism. If you are the nephew of the central bank governor, you get contracts to write policy analysis for the price of a major downtown property each month. Or, in a pseudo-meritocratic country, the contract would probably go to a more impressive candidate. No offence, but women are just not that impressive. Many just don’t have the self-confidence to pull it off and justify their price.

Also, someone once told me that in Orbán’s Fidesz a woman can only become a secretary – and if lucky, promoted to someone’s wife. Women in his party are appalling. They look as if they were selected to be warning signs against women in power. Spineless, unprincipled followers of Orbán, who look infatuated and carry out his darkest, most destructive polices, such as the destruction of the education system or the theft of private pensions. Those were all presided over by a woman. Now people can point at them: “This is what happens if you let a woman near power.”

So we are left with the less unlikely options:

3) Choose your father material wisely.
– You may not be allowed to make too much money yourself – neither are men who are not Fidesz cronies. But a well-fathered child can earn you more than the best salaries. The marriage contract is such a touchy taboo that no one reads it before signing, but it essentially grants you access to more money than you could ever have made yourself. And that kind of detail does not escape your love-blurred attention, trust me on that. So if you wanted children anyway, this option is a no-brainer. No downside, only upsides. Forget love. That’s not what marriage is about. Try to live like that.

4) Work full time for 500 euros a month
– it would never even buy you a studio in a lifetime where you can keep your cat.

Marrying for love is the dumbest combination of the above four:

Most women admittedly resort to the dumbest combination of the above. They fall in love with someone of their own economic standing, and live happily for a while. They are utterly impressed with themselves because they make more than their own parents and have some savings left at the end of the month they don’t know what to do with.

When love ends, they “save” the relationship with marriage and/or a baby. In the meantime they often find themselves in inescapable poverty because 1) those savings may have been enough to upgrade their own lives, but not to raise a child. Especially since the woman became largely unemployable – or so viciously underemployed, she will never expect to make real money in her life again. They were also 3) too shy to screen the fathers for financial strength, or too defiant to admit that it matters. And they sink into working poverty because 4) children are the number one poverty risk and ‘middle class’ really just means ‘poor’ over here. So they buy a lottery ticket on their last dime.

But not everyone tries to defiantly dedicate their childbearing and marriage activity to some silly purpose like love. They decide early on to put it to good use: to make money. For those who act rationally, number (3) is the way ahead. A well-fathered child can earn them more than the best salary ever could.

Now this sends idealist women (4) into a tailspin because they, too, will be denied opportunities on the assumption that they will one day also just leave their silly jobs to make children for a living. And this assumption is based on the hard-to-deny fact that they would indeed make more money that way. And for those who decided that a well-configured birth and marriage is the way ahead, there are better opportunities abroad.”

But what happens to those who cannot sell out like this?

How can men of a disadvantaged country get out?

After all, the mail order groom niche is very tight – not just because women are not groomed to lust after a dependent spouse, but because they have less money to buy one.

Many have pointed out that it may be bleak having to marry for a better life – but it is even more bleak not even to have that option.

Opinions about this topic are welcome.

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