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Marriage to a Foreigner


By John Gfoeller, Esq., immigration lawyer in the U.S.
from his website, http://www.johnschart.com/notesonthechart.htm

I am the son of an immigrant, and I am an immigration lawyer.  From that experience, I can make some remarks about marriages between an American and a foreigner.

1.  The Adventure of a Lifetime with a Twist

First, marriage between a foreigner and an American is marriage.   It is the joining of two lives (often, two families) to create a new life and a new family together.  It can be an enormous source of bliss and blessings and love.  However, it is always an enormous challenge of mutual self-sacrifice for the good of the other spouse and for the good of the family.  Marriage really is the adventure of a lifetime.

Second, it is an adventure with a twist.  The spouses are foreigners to each other.  The foreign spouse is foreign to the American spouse, and the American spouse is a foreigner to the foreign spouse.  The two people come from different languages and different cultures; therefore, they have different ways of seeing and understanding and feeling about the world.  This is in addition to the basic differences between men and women and between individuals overall. 

Thus, marriage to a foreigner requires extra work at mutual respect and mutual understanding.  Learning each other's cultures and languages (even just a few words) can help immensely in building and maintaining mutual respect and understanding.  (Language is very important:  it is not just another way to talk; it is another way to think and to feel.)  Also, the spouses  should never mock (make fun of) each other for difficulties in language or understanding culture. Also, extra effort (and expense) is required to include both sides of the family into the couple's life:  language, culture, long distance telephone calls, visits etc. 

The American spouse must be extra sensitive to the huge amount of work facing the foreign spouse:  leaving a previous language, culture, friends, family, home, etc. in order to adopt a new language, a new culture, a new set of friends and to make a new family and a new home.  The American spouse must learn to sense when to give the foreign spouse some "space" (time alone) in order to "breathe" (to have a break form the pressure of a new culture).  However, the American spouse must also be sensitive to when the foreign spouse needs to be brought into the culture (so that the foreign spouse does not hide from the new culture). 

In short, the American spouse cannot just be a good husband or wife, father or mother. The American spouse must also be a diplomat with the foreign spouse and with the foreign spouse's family back home.  The American spouse must also be a teacher and a coach about how to live in America.  And the American spouse must know when to be kind, gentle, patient and strong in these roles.  

Meanwhile, the foreign spouse must be courageous while also being patient.  The foreign spouse must live life in America fully, but the foreign spouse must also take the necessary time to adjust and grow into that new life.  The foreign spouse must also remember that the American spouse probably has no training to be a teacher of American culture.

Both spouses must be willing to make many mistakes, forgive many hurts and misunderstandings, and to go forward: holding hands and laughing with the mistakes. 

In short, marriage to a foreigner is marriage with a twist.  It is all the burdens and sacrifices and joys and love of marriage.  It is also much extra work and sacrifice.  However, it also provides extra joys and extra love :  because of that extra work and sacrifice. 

 

2.  International Matchmaking ("Mail Order Brides"): Myth and Reality

Most marriages between Americans and foreigners are made in one of two ways.  The most common way is that the man and woman meet, they learn each other (they "get to know each other"), they fall in love, and they get married.  The other way is with members of certain cultures: the marriages are arranged by the parents.

Sometimes, however, people are looking for a mate.  Often, they use a website that lists photos and information about other people who are looking for a mate.  These websites and the companies which offer them are called by various names:  personal ads, dating agencies, introduction agencies, marriage agencies and so on.  In reality, they are the modern version of matchmakers.

However, when the websites involve mostly foreign women who are looking for a mate, they are often called "mail order bride" websites.  That term is pejorative: it implies that these people (usually women) are items which can be ordered and delivered like a sack of potatoes.  However, the name is commonly used, so I refer to it here.  Nevertheless, the better term is "international matchmakers" because that is what these companies are: matchmakers whom help people from different nations to find a mate.

There are myths about international matchmakers and their clients.

The first myth is: "most of the foreign women who are looking for American husbands are only looking for a green card, and most of the marriage companies are only looking for money."  That is not true, for reasons I discuss later.  However, it is true that some women are only interested in the green card, and it is true that some matchmaker companies are only looking for money.   The disreputable women are usually easy to detect.   They usually "fall in love" immediately (after one or two or three emails) with the American.  They usually have English that is too good. (The fakers don't make funny-sounding mistakes; the genuine women usually make many mistakes in their English.)  Also, the fake women usually ask for money (for a sick relative, for food, etc.).  The disreputable companies are also usually easy to detect.  They usually offer pornography or many nude photos of women. (Most women, especially women who are genuinely looking for a husband, do not take off their clothes in public.)  They charge high prices for every little service.  Also, they try hard to entice Americans to purchase "tours" or other services (sending flowers, etc.), but they do not try hard to help people make a good match for marriage.  In short, the fakers are usually easy to spot because they (the fake women and the fake companies)  are about money and fantasies instead of the realities of marriage.

That leads to another myth:  "foreign women are fantasies come true."  That is not true.  Foreign women are women who happen to be from another nation.   Thus, they are not sex slaves; American men who want a sexual fantasy should look elsewhere for that.  Thus, they are not house slaves; American men who want a maid should hire a maid.  And, they are not waiting for *just you* to walk into their lives; American men who want that should buy a pet dog.  Etc.

The third myth is similar:  "foreign women have traditional values."   "Traditional values" usually means a desire for traditional family roles: the man is the provider and the protector for the family, and the woman takes care of the family (especially the children).  Some foreign women (like some American women) have "traditional values," and some do not.  Also, some foreign women have traditional values, but then they change their values.  That sometimes happens when they come to America (or another Western nation) and  realize that they can have something different in life than a traditional role. 

The fourth myth is "foreign women are exotic beauties; they all look like models in a magazine."  That is generally true when the foreign women are in their foreign countries.  That is for three reasons.  First, most nations expect all people (especially women) to dress well.  In America, however, the emphasis is on comfort and "being casual" and not so much on dressing well. Second, people in most nations exercise every day because they must walk everywhere:  they walk to work, to shop and so on.  Their nations are either too poor for everyone to own their own car; or their nations have very good public transportation (like in New York City), usually because their cities were built hundreds of years before cars were invented.  In America, however, most of the cities were built (or built up) after the invention of the cars; our cities are designed only for driving.  As a result, most Americans must drive everywhere.  Hence, most Americans do not need to walk everywhere, and their bodies usually show that fact.  Finally, people in most nations do not eat as much junk food as Americans.  That is because their nations are either too poor (they do not have much food at all, or they cannot afford to spend money on junk food) or because they culturally restrict eating to mealtimes.  Thus, women in foreign countries often look better than American women because (1)  they are required by their cultures to dress well, (2) they exercise every day because they must walk everywhere, and (3) they don't eat much junk food.  So, yes, foreign women often do look better than American women.  And then they come here.  Within three months: they usually are dressing like American women, and they usually are driving like American women, and they usually are eating like American women.  And, therefore, they usually end up looking like American women.

Fifth, "foreign women are more clear than American women in their goal to get married."  This seems to be true, but it really is not true.  There are plenty of American women who want to get married: they don't want a "relationship" and vague and vapid dating; they want a marriage!  However, it can seem that they do not exist because there are so many American women who are not clear, or who are insecure, or who are too quiet about their goal.  In contrast, the websites of international matchmaking agencies have only women who clearly want marriage.  The foreign women who are unclear about marriage (and there are plenty of them) have already been excluded ("weeded out").  Thus, it can seem from websites that foreigner women are more clear about marriage; in reality, they are only more clearly presented than American women.  That, however, can be an advantage for men who are only interested in marriage-minded women. 

There are also realities about international matchmaking and being married to a foreigner.

The first reality is the primary goal of the women.  Most of the foreign women on international matchmaking websites are looking for marriage and a family.  In other words, they are not looking for the money or the green card.  Instead, they are looking for a mate: a man to be a husband and a father.  Thus, they are looking for men who are financially responsible:  men who are not necessarily rich but who are able to pay the bills.  They are looking for men who are good:  not drunks, not druggies, not wife-beaters, not adulterers, etc.  They are looking for men with whom they would be compatible: similar values, background, goals, religion, etc.  They are looking for men who want to be married and who would want to be married to them.  That is their first priority in being on those websites.

The second reality is that they are looking for a better life.  Consider: most people do not want to leave their homeland unless things are bad there.  The foreign women on the international matchmaking websites generally come from places where things are pretty bad.  The culture might be good, and the history might be rich and noble, but the present conditions for daily life are generally not good.  Usually, the government is ineffective, crime is violent, and the economy is weak.  Usually, that means:  nothing works very well (roads, police, and other basic services that we in America take for granted ); the mafia is strong and crime is violent;  and there isn't enough food or there isn't enough money to buy the food that is available.  It also means that there is a sense of frustration and little hope for the future.  Not surprisingly, the men in those places sometimes take out their frustrations by abusing alcohol, beating their wives, or abandoning their families.  Note:  All men in those countries are NOT bad.  Most men in those countries are GOOD.  However, where there is large frustration and hopelessness, there are usually large problems with drinking, beatings and abandonment.  All of this can make it difficult for women in those places to find good husbands.  So, the women in these places will try to go someplace else:  where life is decent and where they can better make a family and raise their children.  That usually means looking for a foreign husband from America or from another Western nation.  It is not about money or the green card; it is about living life and raising a family in a place where there is real security, real prosperity, and real hope for the future.

The third reality is that life with a foreign spouse is rarely dull.  It won't always be happy: marriage is about real life, and real life is not always happy.  However, it will not be dull.  That is because a foreign spouse is foreign:  the spouse thinks differently and feels differently because the spouse comes from a different culture and background.  (That is in addition to all the normal differences between individuals and between women and men.)  Of course, foreign spouses are human beings, and all human beings are basically the same.  Yet, it is the differences which make life interesting. 

Fourth, an American spouse will see life differently after being married to a foreign spouse.   That is because the foreign spouse brings a whole new way of seeing the world because of the difference in background.  That is also because we Americans generally only see things from our perspective, and that is because most of us rarely have any substantial contact with foreigners. Thus, the foreign spouse will usually broaden the American spouse's perspective and thinking.   The broader perspective is not just about politics; it is about Life: why to live and how to live, in culture and in daily life. The American spouse will learn America anew as the foreign spouse learns America from a foreign perspective:  in working, in shopping, in cooking, in having friends, and in all aspects of life. Also, the foreign spouse usually appreciates America much more clearly and deeply than the American spouse, and that deeper appreciation will rub off on the American spouse. Overall, the American spouse will get a double new life: marriage and seeing America and all of life in a broader, richer and deeper way. 

The fifth reality is that foreign spouses often have very strong values. That is for a simple reason: most of them are very strong people. That, in turn, is because a person must be strong in order to freely and successfully immigrate. They must be strong to give up a previous life (with its security) for a whole new life (with its risks). They must be strong to give up family, friends, home, language and culture for life among strangers in a strange land. This move is not for a vacation nor for a work assignment; immigration is for life. Hence, immigration is not for the weak; it is for the strong and the courageous. Thus, successful foreign spouses generally are strong, and they generally have strong values as part of their overall strength. Their values usually include the following: strong belief in freedom and opportunity, strong work ethic, strong willingness to sacrifice in order to succeed, strong belief in education, strong belief in trustworthiness and basic morals, strong belief in family and community. In other words, immigrants usually have the strength of pioneers in them (even if they do not consciously know it). These people are usually very good additions to a family, a community and a nation; and they usually pass on their values to their children. 

Finally, here are some recommendations for international matchmaking companies.  I do not receive any financial compensation by recommending them. Instead, I genuinely think that they are good companies. 

Kiss.com (http://www.kiss.com/) offers an enormous number of listings from all over the world, including the U.S. The search functions are very good. However, there is no personal attention to clients; people pay a reasonable fee for access to a database of potential mates, and that is all. 

Women of Russia (http://www.womenrussia.com) focuses upon women from Russia and the former Soviet Union. The services range from access to its database to substantial individual attention for the client in search of a wife. Also, it contains a superb collection of essays which should be required reading by anyone who is considering a Slavic woman (a woman from Eastern Europe) as a wife. 

Club America/Bulgaria (http://singles.freecom-int.com/) offers a good balance of services:  searching its database of exclusively listed women and offering close personal attention to marriage-minded clients. It is a smaller website that serves a smaller nation (Bulgaria). Both small nations and small websites can be easily overlooked next to the big websites that serve big nations. However, the smaller ones (websites and nations) often contain some real gems.

 

3.  Conclusions

The bottom line is simple. Foreign spouses are real human beings who are from foreign nations. Thus, they are not fantasies come true, and most of them are not thieves looking for money or green cards. Instead, they are real people who are looking for real marriage and real family in a place where there is real freedom, opportunity, and quality of life. To do that, they are willing and able to give up an entire previous life in order to take on a whole new life. Thus, they usually have the strength of pioneers, and they usually have the values of pioneers (even if they do not know that about themselves, and even if they look more like a fashion model or "the girl next door"). With their different backgrounds, life with them will not be dull. And, life with them will require extra work. However, life with them also gives extra benefits: in strength of character, values, and richness of seeing and experiencing life.

The key to all of this, of course, is the key for any marriage: time. I am not an expert on marriage, but I can say this. Successful marriages seem to have three qualities: capability, compatibility and commitment. The couple must be capable: they must be mature enough and otherwise able to meet the responsibilities of marriage. The couple must be compatible: two people can love each other, but they might not be able to live with each other; a married couple must be able to live with each other in all ways. The couple must be committed: they must be determined to meet their vows, through love, no matter what occurs in life. However, these three qualities require time to detect and to cultivate. Thus, time spent with each other is critical for a potential couple. The couple must know each other as a couple, and build each other up as a couple, before they can decide if they should marry.

Spending time with each other can be the most serious challenge facing couples who meet through the Internet but who are on other sides of the planet. After all the emails, the couple must meet; and they must spend time with each other. Otherwise, they may discover only after they are married that they are incompatible. Usually, the American goes to visit the foreigner: at least one, perhaps twice or three times. However, most Americans work at jobs which provide only 2 weeks of vacation per year, and two weeks is usually not enough time to decide to spend the rest of one's life with a person. The fiance visa (the K1 visa) can be a solution: it allows the foreign fiance to come to American and to spend up to 90 days (3 months) with the American and experiencing the American way of life. However, it can be a cruel option too. If the couple decides not to marry within those 90 days, the foreign fiance must go back. That can be difficult or cruel to someone who came from a country where the conditions of life are hard, where work is hard to find, where a job was given up in order to come to America for 1-3 months, etc. Couples who meet over the Internet must be determined and creative to spend enough time with each other.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. It can cost between $5,000 - $10,000 for an American to find and marry and bring to America a foreign spouse. That includes the costs for communication: membership at a matchmaking website, telephone bills (which can become the size of mortgage payments if the couple is not thrifty), letters and packages and so on. That also includes transportation (trips to visit and to move, usually by air). That also includes immigration (government filing fees, other costs, a lawyer if one is hired, etc.). It is not cheap to marry a foreigner. 

On the other hand, it can be efficient. If the couple truly loves each other, they will find a way to meet the costs. If an American is looking for a spouse, the American can avoid endless rounds of nonsense dating by looking for people who are clearly committed to finding a mate. (There are many Americans who are looking for that, but so too are many foreigners.) Either way, the extra cost is balanced by the extra efficiency: not wasting time.

Marriage with a foreigner is the adventure of a lifetime with a twist. It is challenging and expensive, in time and emotion and thoughtfulness and commitment. However, it can be very rewarding too: in joy and in love and in a broader, deeper and richer appreciation for life.

 

John Gfoeller
http://www.johnschart.com/notesonthechart.htm

 


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