American vs. Russian dating


Actual picture of my and Mr. B's wedding. From the 1920s. Also, Mr. B is a Bolshevik.

I’ve been married for over eight months.  This makes me a relationship expert.  While I was talking this weekend with Mr. B, we got on the topic of dating and marriage.  As we were talking, I thought “If this conversation were public, it would definitely offend the greatest number of people possible. Time to post it!”

We decided that Americans are way too picky when they date, for all the wrong reasons, which is why some Americans tend to marry late.   The average age for American marriage is now 28 for men and about 27 for women. That’s insane.  When my dad was 28, I was six years old.  As a result, my dad is now the youngest out of all the parents I know and he is chillin’ and enjoying me being married and is able to help us in the full capacity.  For example, if we buy a house, he will help us move, paint, etc.  I’m not saying we want him to, but at this point of our lives we don’t have to worry about him being in a nursing home, etc. It’s a beautiful thing.    Whenever we get around to having kids (it’s on our to-do list, right under “buy milk” and “return library books”) we’re not going to be in our thirties (we hope).  It’s hard to have kids that late.  Other people have written about this, including Penelope Trunk (whom, as you may recall, I disapproved of earlier, but I completely agree with her on this one.) Also, even though I’m pretty big on feminism and choice, etc, it’s not good for female biology, no matter how you slice it.

Americans (and maybe other people, but, yeah, mostly Americans) tend to date just to date for the heck of it in the beginning.  Russians (and maybe other immigrant/ethnic groups that I am too lazy to look up) date immediately looking for a serious relationship and for marriage.  Otherwise, why waste your time?

On the dating habits of young Russians, she said: ”Your attitude is that you are doing it for a higher purpose. A lot of people in the American community seem to date so that they have something to talk about with a friend at dinner.”

”If you are going out with someone for two years and you haven’t figured out some integral part of the relationship and you’re not sure and you don’t know, then you shouldn’t be together.”

I’ve noticed this occasionally with American friends, that they’ll date someone for no apparent reason, and break up with them for small slights, like, “She didn’t brush her teeth correctly,” or, “She called her mom too often.”  Not exactly, but silly reasons that should not be deal breakers at all.

Mr. B and I agreed that the key parts of a relationship that you should break up over include whether you can trust the person, whether you think they will provide for your family, and whether you think they are generally a good person.  Bad reasons not to continue a relationship include the fact that they crack their knuckles too much, the fact that they leave the cap on the shampoo open, the fact that sometimes they don’t put the milk back in the fridge, and the fact that they order cranberry juice at every restaurant they go to. For the record, no one in our relationship is guilty of any of these things.

Too often, I think, people tend to go into relationships not thinking about the key question, “Would I start a life/family with this person?”  Is it because of some cultural conditioning that Russians do?  Or just because we like to think about the long term (meaning death) a lot?  We are a very pessimistic people.

The little quirks you can live with and sometimes even ask the other person to fix.  If you get married younger, this becomes much easier, because the older people are, the more they settle into their habits.  I remember listening to one This American Life where the parents of the narrator divorced and got remarried because A)they had changed for the better and B) they decided that they didn’t want to start explaining themselves to someone else later in life when they had shared their youth.  Remarriage to your same partner: not highly recommended for everyone, but I can see the point.

I realize that I am not big enough for a statistically significant sample size (but yo’ moma is so fat, she probably is), but all the Americans the same age as me I know are unmarried, with maybe three exceptions, and they tend to skew religious, which may influence their decision.  All the Russians my age are married.  Did we make the right choice?  Only time will tell.  For now, I will focus on the shampoo cap.




41 thoughts on “American vs. Russian dating

  1. I love this post and have a lot to contribute, most of it interesting only to me.

    In my shallow opinion, Russians get married early to get the hell out of the communal apartment. When my parents were 29, I was 10, so when I had my first child at 30, they were wondering why I wasn’t making headlines in all the newspapers, like a precursor to Octomom and other freaks.

    And I’m laughing at the concept that the earlier you marry someone, the easier it is to break them of a bad habit. Good luck with that. I mean, I’ve been trying to break my now 8 year old son of some annoying habits since he was a toddler, but maybe I’m being too much of a mother and he needs to get married as soon as possible for maximum effect?

    1. What, Marinka? Your eight-year old isn’t married already?! Or at least in a serious committed relationship? Unbelievable.

      I’ve already been able to break Mr. B’s annoying habit of being single, so we’ll see how the rest goes. It’s an uphill battle. And the hill is Kilimanjaro.

    1. Hm. That’s really interesting. If it’s true, I accept it. But I still think the prevailing culture among Russians and Russian immigrants is to get married early. I was talking to a girl visiting from Russia a couple months ago and she said, “My sister needs to get married.” “Why,” I asked her. “Well, she’s already 21 and all the guys are gonna be taken.” One point I didn’t make is that another reason to get married early in Russia is that there is always a shortage of men, usually due to war and alcoholism. My mom’s generation, the Afghanistan generation, was particularly anxious about this. There is even a song, “Because for 10 girls, there are, statistically, 9 guys.”

    2. Apparently, the only countries in which women are older than men at marriage are Argentina and Chile. South America-who’d have thought? Also interesting: the country with the largest gap between men and women is Bangladesh.

        1. @Vicki: Thanks for this interesting post. There are really advantages and disadvantages of getting married at young age or at old age.

          @Matt: Is it really true? That’s interesting to know. I’ll check it out.

  2. I think this is a very geographically specific thing in the US – of all of my friends from high school in California, I’m the only one who is married (including all the Eastern European/Russian immigrants, for the record) – while I have a LOT of married friends from my college days in good ol’ Indiana (which means we’re always roadtripping back to Indiana for weddings, which sucks, because, well, it’s Indiana and I want to be done with that state).

    That being said, I completely agree with the overall thesis of your post.

    I’m not sure why I’m an outlier amongst Americans, having been married at the scandalously young age of 21. Well, part of the “when” of our marriage was to keep Aditya from being deported (or having to enter the H1B lottery, which was a crapshoot that year). So I suppose I could just blame INS.

    I’m also with you on the have kids relatively young thing. I’m already too tired to chase after my dogs. There’s no way I’m going to have enough energy to chase after toddlers much beyond 30.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the geographical differences as well. Being from central Pennsylvania, I do tend to notice more women marrying earlier away from the metropolitan sensibilities of the coast and the like.

      Did you get married while you were still in school? Because that even more serious. Also, please give me your dogs…I’ll chase after them. :)

      1. He was graduated; I was almost finished. And, as I’ve said previously, you’re welcome to come over and run around with the dogs any time you want to. They never tire.

  3. In German we say, “Früh gefreit, früh gereut.” (Something like, “Courted young, regretted early.”)

    My experience with relatives / students (not only Russian immigrants) that married young was that either the relationship continued to be disastrous or was over quickly. Stats here say that the higher the degree of education, the higher the age of marriage and childbearing (though I agree it’s better for children to have young mothers unless in frum circles, where the issue is quite a different one) and the lower the risk of divorce; people in their 30s are already set in their ways and don’t change much anymore, so you’re not buying a koshka in a bag.

    But that’s all just terribly generalizing. It all depends on the quality and communication patterns of the particular relationship, especially how partners deal with conflicts.

    BTW, Vicky, any chance of you travelling to NYC next time I’m in town?

    1. Froylein, I will 110% come to NYC to meet you. When are you around?! :) Also, interesting point about lower risk of divorce with higher education. I think I’ve seen stats both ways…very polarizing topic.

      1. Data also show that the more educated women have fewer offspring since they have less time. Ironically they can afford more but the design of the formal workplace is such that the more the kids she has, the less money she will make.

        1. Same thing happened to Sparta – the men were so focused on war that they had to get the women to focus on running the city & conquered lands. The women, who were more highly educated & worked more than in the other Greek city-states, slowly had a decreasing birth rate, which, ironically led to the eventual downfall of Sparta as they couldn’t maintain a large enough army.

      2. I’m not quite sure yet when I’ll be in NYC next as, if all goes well, my bf is coming here this summer. If not, I might be there in about five to six weeks from now and in October and around New Year’s.

  4. What a great post! One thing I saw is a lot of girls back in Russia and Ukraine getting married at 20, 21-, have kids right away, divorce 3 years later and become single mothers with toddlers. I see this everywhere in Russia. I hope they stop doing that.

    In Russia, getting married is also a way to escape poverty and regain some sort of control over your life. The better the girls are doing money-wise, the less is the chance that they want to get married when young. It is a question of opportunity.

    Finally, my best friend in Ukraine was married at the age of 19. Nine months later, he divorce was finalized.

    1. Interesting point that marriage is also a way out for women, to a certain degree. It would be interesting to investigate how true this is for Russia, given that pickings for men are much slimmer, hence the song.

  5. This is a fascinating topic, and all mentioned by other commenters is true: women have more money, more work, less urgency to have kids, etc. But I think there is another giant difference between Russian and American women: Russian women see children and family as tremendously important to have – almost as the central point of a woman’s life. In fact, Russians will go as far as to say “a woman without children is a waste.” It’s harsh.

    In America, the feminist movement did a lot to convince women that not only they are equal to men (which I’m all for), but that they are exactly the SAME as men (which, um, is not really true at all in any way). Women were told to forget family and its narrow-minded ways and focus on career! Achievement! Money! That’s what was going to bring them happiness! Unfortunately, it only made women busier and yes, richer, but not at all happier.

    In some way, I feel Americans deny themselves their identity: women have to be more like men (work-oriented, “strong”, promiscuous, independent) and men have to be more like women (sensitive, caring, crying at the movies…) It’s not really natural for a lot of people, and I think it confuses the heck out of everyone – especially in college. It’s hard to hurry up and get married when you are not even sure who you are supposed to be. Just my 2 cents… back to washing diapers while writing Java code like the modern woman I am. :)

    1. Olya, thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I agree with you that feminism overshot itself and didn’t initially take into account that men and women are different to a degree.

      I love this quote: “In some way, I feel Americans deny themselves their identity: women have to be more like men (work-oriented, “strong”, promiscuous, independent) and men have to be more like women (sensitive, caring, crying at the movies…)”

      Also this one: Russian women see children and family as tremendously important to have – almost as the central point of a woman’s life. Maybe that’s what makes for the added warmth I perceive from Russian families? And my mom’s constant questions about when I will have a baby? She likes up-to-the-minute updates.

  6. This really is interesting.

    I’m 24 and I was married when I was 20. I have two kids already – 3 and 9 months. Not particularly religious… wasn’t focused on marriage, though, it just happened to work out for me. I can see what you’re saying with regards to American teens/young adults right now, though.

    Just check out Texts From Last Night if you want a prime example. Yikes!

    1. So in yours, it just happened to click for you? Did you feel like you were on a slightly different path than your girlfriends (i.e., left out?)

  7. I came to the state in 1980 at the age of 5. Most of my “good” friends are Russian and pretty darn americanized. Nevertheless, we were all married and had at least 1 child before we hit 30. I think it’s just ingrained in us that we date to find a mate, as opposed to finding ourselves. I also agree with it being easier to get married younger because we’re not as set in our ways, HAVING to do certain tasks OUR WAY.

    Great blog, by the way. I found you through Marinka and am really enjoying your posts.

  8. But, but, but…Don’t you think that when people marry too early, without having enough experience, they often get divorced later on? Because, say at 18, you are not even mature enough to make that choice for the rest of your life. Mistakes are easily made. some couples who marry that early grow together, some grow apart, because one can change a lot from when he/she was that young.

    1. At 18, sure. 18 is too early. But 30 is too late. But that’s just my opinion. Everyone’s life ebbs and flows differently.

  9. Really late to the party, am I?
    Russians of the late Soviet era got married early due to the sorry state of Soviet birth control. Plus, as Marinka pointed out above, they wanted to get the hell out. It’s worth noting that many of those marriages ended in shambles. The age of first marriage in Russia is climbing up.
    Russian American community is petty insulated, with second, third generation marrying other Russian Americans. Children are close to parents and grandparents, often live in the same household. Young women are at peace with the facts of human physiology (that’s reinforced by grandmothers). It’s unusual to meet a Russian woman who thinks that the optimal time to have children is in the late 30s-early 40s.
    Your friends who tell you about their break ups over the unscrewed bottle caps obviously have no respect the people they date. As you said, it’s a waste of time. Why do they waste time? Because they also don’t respect themselves? Took “Sex in the City” to heart? I don’t think it’s about career, though. If you think about it, once you decide to have children, you’ll have some amount of years divided between home and work. Once kids move out, you are back to career world. If anything, it’s easier to be divided like that when you are younger and have more energy… and have younger grandparents.
    Nice picture to illustrate this, btw. And I’m enjoying your blog. :)

  10. That’s so true Slavic women are soo gorgeous! I found lots of charming Russian Belarussian and Ukrainian ladies on Globo Girls. And even met one already.

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