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Wednesday, January 11, 2006 

Families and Marriages

If you've ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I'm sure you all remember the scene where the groom-to-be's parents are invited to their future Greek in-laws home for a dinner. The emotionally cold parents show up with a Bundt cake on their doorstep and are literally overwhelmed by the multitude of extended family members as well as their affectionate nature. For those of you think that the scene was over the top, think again. Greeks really are like that and I love it. It took awhile to get used to all the kisses and hand-holding when people first met me because I had grown up where 'personal space' was to be respected and public displays of affection were for the weak and those of questionable character.

I was exactly like that couple in the movie...wondering what on earth these people were up to with all their touchy-feely behaviour. I would recoil in horror when so many people would greet me with a kiss. I would retract my hand when relatives would try to hold onto it while talking to me. I just didn't know what their intentions were, so I did everything I could to avoid physical contact with them. Looking back at it all now, I must have seemed like such an inhospitable and cold-blooded creature to them.

I was born into a large extended family as well where everyone knew what everyone else was doing and if they didn't, they made it a priority to find out. I grew up knowing that no matter what happened in my life, my family would be there for me and I am grateful for it. However, I remember being taught to be distrustful of strangers which is the antithesis of what I experience with Greek families. They don't even have to be related to you to consider you family so every party, BBQ, dinner I attend, I am greeted with the same affection that I, myself, had reserved only for blood-relations in the past. You should see me now. I'm a changed person. Their affectionate nature is infectious. I no longer balk at being the first person to answer the door so I wouldn't be deluged with kisses. My Cold War is over. I've exchanged handshakes for kisses and hand waves for hugs.

Although Greek families are very close, I've noticed something else. Many marriages seem to be dysfunctional. Spouses who are married on paper only. One or both partners are unfaithful. I've personally known several women who grew up with both their mothers and their father's mistress eating meals together. At first, I thought these sham marriages existed only amongst the older generation where shotgun weddings and arranged marriages were quite the norm in the previous generation. Now, I see that this is not exclusive to only older couples. It is prevalent amongst couples my own age and even younger.

When I hear of infidelities time and time again, I can't help but think the reasons they got married in the first place are the cause. Husbands and wives have told me that they got married because:
  • their families expected it
  • their girlfriends were pregnant
  • theyreached an age where they felt they wanted a family and that they could not be guaranteed of finding someone 'better' than the girlfriend they had
  • they didn't want to be alone
Love was not a deciding factor when it came to choosing a spouse in these marriages. Many of the weddings that I have attended over the years are already showing the signs of emotional detachment if not infidelity. Even though very few of them will ever get divorced as would be the case in North America, they have a 'τι να κάνω" (what to do?) attitude towards it all. I suppose, then, that it doesn't suprise me to hear that half of all married men visit prostitutes according to Thanos Askitis, a clinical psychologist who founded Greece's first sex therapy centre.

People have blamed this disturbing statistic on the increased availability of strip clubs and legalisation of prostitution. Do strip clubs and brothels facilitate infidelity or are they the result of unstable relationships? I believe it's a symbiotic association. One is dependent on the other.

I would also like to know the demographics of the men visiting the brothels. What are their ages, their socio-economic status, and the geographic regions of the men included in Mr. Askitis' research study. I doubt many of the men I know visit brothels. Instead they have preferred to find long-term mistresses. So who's visiting the brothels?

If more couples were as devoted to each other as they are to their children, then none of this would even matter. With STDs on the rise, I would think that even self-preservation would be reason enough to keep men monogamous and women dedicated to both marriage and family.

I totally agree with you on the points you raise about marriages here in Greece. There are a certain percentage that don't seem to be based on love but on a cold understanding of how it can be beneficial.

I have (or should say had) a female friend. She dated a guy who I considered an asshole. She used to go to Canada every Christmas to spend the holidays with her mom. Every January she'd come back to find this guy in a different mess. One year she came back and found a Russian stripper in his bed. Anyway, what did she do...? She married him.

Why? Well because he's rich. His family are rich and by marrying him, she doesn't have to work any more. She never liked working. Is she happy? I'd say definately not, from what I hear, she's far from it. Would she ever leave him? No, because she got pregnant after the wedding (probably so he'd never leave her) and now has a daughter. The daughter doesn't really know her father, he's just the guy who lives with them (when he comes home).

So a so called sane girl who was brought up in Canada has set herself up for a life of misery because she doesn't want to work for a living. She's totally dependant on this guy who treats her like crap yet she's no desire to change anything about it. It makes me so so so so sad.

Oh and here's one for you, just before they got married, her mom was over from Canada and her cousins from Canada and the States were all sat in the room talking about the wedding and the cousin said something about being in love and the mother (of the bride to be) said "of course she's not in love, they've been together a while now" and meant it.

Well I'm sorry but when I make some poor girl my bride, I expect to be in love at the time.

Saying that, I've got a backup, if I don't manage to con some girl into thinking I'm the bees knees, I know where I can get some donkeys from to send back to xoreio as a dowry!

/woah I've ranted! Hush!

You're right about money being another reason behind sham marriages Ellas. I know three separate couples whose marriage was based on money and not love. All 3 of them complain to me nowthat 'it's not working" out and the marriages range from only 2 years to 5 years together! None of them have any intention of leaving their partners. Instead, two of the couples is expecting a baby and a third is desperately trying to have one. They erroneously think a baby will save the marriage or that the marriage isn't worth much so they may as well focus their love on children.

I just don't understand how they can all subject themselves to a lifetime of unhappiness with each other.

Love, money, and mutual respect are all needed if a marriage is going to withstand problems and pressures over the years. I agree with you...I still think love is the most important factor when choosing a mate.

I found your blog yesterday and have read most of it. As a son of Greek immigrants who was born in New York City and moved to Greece five years (for the experience) I no longer feel alone in my views of Greece. I really enjoyed today's posting. I encourage you to continue writing (with such wit and excellent grammar). Thanks

Couples that tie the knot purely on the "imagined" love impulse ( they know not what love is in the first place) are little less than unfortunate victims of their own romanticized fantasies. An initial attraction, a physical one ,is what normally would propel two people to become intimate, the younger they are the easier to "fall in love". Then marriage might follow based on a totally wrong axiom: love. I am not saying one should not marry out of love, or marry someone against his/or her wishes, but the primary goal of marriage is the creation or the raising of a family. It is the biological impulse to pass on the genes. Hence if the goal of marriage is the formation and raising of the next generation, it should be undertaken with utmost responsibility and judiciousness. If the intention of marriage is not the procreation of the genealogical line, one might as well spend the rest of one's live releasing physiological responses in other ways instead of starting a project which is doomed from the begining.
In my practice as a lawyer I used to see and meet untold number of young, seemingly happy, couples who came in for their marriage counselling. In general my advice used to be " sign up an antenuptial contract". The response more often than not was a langourous " but we are in love, we live, breath and exist for each other" and other jocular expressions from their loved suffused mental torpor.
Within twelve months I had these same couples come to my office to institute "divorce proceedings" and a cruel wrangle is initatied where the parties are fighting over the spoils of a twelve month flirting relationship which accidentally ended up in a so called marriage. The reasons for the rupture in 75% of the cases was monetary and financial. In a period of twelve months they had progressed from blissful heavenly love to passionate dislike and hatred for each other.
The foundations for a successful marriage are to be discussed and its principles laid down thoroughly . After all one can not start a family, assume responsibilities if these are beyond one's capabilities.
The society in which we live in is not one that encourages family bonds, family relations and the express delivery with which a divorce can be obtained makes the institution a non event. In the past we had coutships lasting years , of getting to know each other well, before entering in the society of marriage. Today , courtship is an anachronism. The courtship in which the prospective mates indulge today is a frenzied sexual marathon. They become married after the feverish bedroom activities, and slowly begin to find out that they had no plans to embark on a sacred relationship, they had not thought of a fall back position, in other words they blindly followed their most basic and potent momentary impulses, emotional and otherwise.
Having lived in Japan and studied japanese traditions, it is safe to concur that a good portion of family marriages are arranged and it shows over 80% sucess factor. The failures are accounted to viscissitudes and tribulations of life, health reasons, but seldom financial. Before the marriage takes place the parents are deeply involved in ensuring the minutest details of the formation of the couples nest, and all its attendants necessities and conditions. The financial aspects are thrashed to the maximum in order to ensure a successful start to the marriage enterprise.
In contrast a large % of marriages end up in the rocks amongst the atomized denizens of large japanese cities. There is no space and time to report on the social issues, alienation, isolation and loneliness which incapacitate the successful functioning of the marriage institution amongst the rootless dwellers of high density urban concentrations, where family and traditional values are ignored ,trampled underfoot as "old fashion" or have simply vanished.
In Jewish families a marriage is a serious business undertaking,a rock solid foundation ensures its long term viability ,and traditions are observed and respected , although they might be 6000 years old, they are not dismissed as "old fashion ".

I am not saying anything against or for arranged marriages. I am only reporting findings.

The Key to my sucessful marriage of many years has been my adherence to these three Rules:

1. My Greek wife is always right.

2. I am always wrong.

3. If all else fails, see Rule #1.

And as you all probably know, the Scruffy American is not always an easy person to get along with, but my wife has learned to put my two feet into one shoe.

That's what I like about us: we are spontaneous. When I came to London it took me months to make an acquaintance of someone outside my flat.

I came to Greece for Christmas and I went out for beers with three bloggers. None of us had never met with the rest up close before, but each one of us has been commenting on each other's blogs for months. There's no way this would happen in the UK. If you e-mailed any of the bloggers you read and asked them to go out with you for drinks, chances are they would call you a stalker, sicko, paranoid and I don't know what else.

And yes, I think that scene in my big fat greek wedding was over the top by the Greek standards for two reasons:
1. it's a movie and they needed to be hyperbolic to show the touchy-feely behaviour of Greek families
2. Greek immigrants abroad have tighter relationships and older (usually first generation) people are more conservative in beliefs, as if to differentiate themselves from the xeni. A Greek blogger who works in Toronto posted once a photo of a Greek house which is more or less like the one in the last scene of my big fat greek wedding.

dear seawitch,

i am a netsurfer going by the name of zardoz came thru scruffy american and flubberwinkle..
This article was very interesting

John...Hi there and welcome to my blog! I'm glad you enjoyed reading my latest epistle. LOL Thanks for the compliments and taking the time to post them! I hope you come back for my next installment..."Cowards or Pioneers".

Jude...You've made some great points in your comment. You are so right when you say that many people (especially the young) confuse love for lust and wind up in divorce court or the same kind of marital discord I mentioned in my blog. Arranged marriages work in some societies but it's definitely not for me. One thing's for sure, successful marriages need a combination of love, money, respect, sexual compatibility and the commmitment by both partners to make it work. And you're right again to say that many couples do not take the institution of marriage seriously and therefore do not take the time to know their future spouses through a prolonged courtship phase that doesn't involve only sex.

Scruff...Why can't other men come to that realization? LOLOL

Phantasmak...I think it's great that you actually met some of the bloggers you interact with online. It's too bad that fear has replaced caution and denies us the chance to meet some great people.

Many Greeks think some scenes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding were over the top but when you're not used to the Greek way of life, those scenes seem pretty accurate. I still have a hard time with strangers telling me about their medical problems...thyroid to hemmhoroids...within the first 10 minutes of metting you. LOL Although I will say I've never met a Greek who has a fixation with Windex. hehehe

Zardoz..I'm happy to see that you wandered onto my blog and that you liked it. Come back any time!

Hello Seawitch! I'm Flubberwinkle aka Athena from Athens. Found your blog via Buruburu a few days ago and have tried to read up on as many entries as possible. You have eloquent writing style and many interesting topics. I will be visiting often.

The Greek marriage scene is something of a mystery. Lately, I've observed colleagues and friends who are finding new (usually younger) partners and splitting up. The common factor in this pattern is that "the children have grown up". Thus, I come to the conclusion that they stayed married because of the children! What kind of family life did this "obedient" style produce? If they wanted out, why didn't they leave earlier? Now, the Greek kids get the guilt load and they -in turn- will become dysfunctional spouse/lovers! A never ending vicious cycle...

Καλώς Ήλθατε στο μπλογκ μου Flubberwinkle!

I know of one man whose wife has known for 20 years that her husband has a mistress who is 20 years his junior. He's even gone into business with her and his grown children work for her! When I was first introduced to all 3 of them, I couldn't believe it. Another woman I know told me that she grew up in a home where her father's mistress used to have dinners with them at their home. The list seems endless with stories like these that I'd only ever seen on trash TV talk shows. Quite bizarre.

The research confirms lust doesn't last. A combination or an amalgam of affection, respect, friendship, admiration and loyalty sustains a happy marriage. Perhaps in Greece having a mistress is a heroic totem? I believe it is a filip for any sagging ego but remorse at the betrayal of someone you respect and cherish ages and depresses one (I know). Do men in Greece having a fragile ego? A father must convey the respect he has for his childrens mother or the disrespect of the mother / wife will pass to the next generation. In my country the edifice of a long and happy marriage is assailed by the forces of the commercial, political, economic and media of this transient, temporal zeitgeist.Perhaps It's all just Greek to me.

I believe this post is trying to generate a stereotype from the author's limited experiences.

I am Greek, and I have stayed for about 2-3 years in the USA. I believe I have more people with weird marriages (similar to what you describe) in the USA than in Greece.

I think it's a global phenomenon for marriage to become unstable, perhaps influenced by TV shows (such as desperate housewifes in the USA for example!) and people realizing that marriage is just a legal agreement and not a magical religious thing. I am not in favour of people divorcing but unfortunately the average person is either not very responsible or the complications of modern life make people confused so that they don't know what to do with their personal life.

Anon...Thanks for taking the time to post on my blog. Is there any way you could use a nick instead of "Anonymous"? I receive many anonymous postings and I don't know if they're all from the same person or different people. It's less confusing if you could make up a nick in the future. Thanks.

I believe this post is trying to generate a stereotype from the author's limited experiences.
That's a loaded statement. First of all, if it was a stereotype I wanted to generate, I would have my blogs full of blanket statements...All Greeks have dysfunctional marriages or All Greek men cheat on their wives. I have stated that I am observing what I see around me. And as far as my "limited" experience goes...I'd say it's more unlimited than the average Greek's experiences here. On a weekly basis, I speak with hundreds of Greeks in different districts. Because of the nature of my job, I am familiar with many of them. Meaning I know the names of everyone in their families, when their birthdays are, who is getting married/divorced/baptised and what they'll be eating for dinner. They also tell me all their problems. I've been here 8 years, I've seen and heard quite a bit during that time.

Now, all that being said, I by no means am holding up the North American marriage as an example of all that's good in this world since it couldn't be further from the truth. But I can't very well blog on the institution of marriage from every single country in the world. This is a blog, not a PhD thesis.

the average person is either not very responsible or the complications of modern life make people confused so that they don't know what to do with their personal life.

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