What are the Effects of the Boom in Thai-Western Marriages?
A reporter recently contacted us while in the course of researching material for a new story. The article he was writing was about that endlessly intriguing subject, mixed Thai-western marriages. This subject seems to hold great fascination, not only to us involved ex-pat residents in Thailand but also to the reading public in the west. I think there is a certain amount of ‘scheidenfreud’ – that great German word for taking pleasure in other people’s misfortune. People love stories about western men coming to Thailand looking for love in paradise, only for it to all go horribly wrong. Many of the articles that appear in the western press focus on this side of the story. There is much inaccurate reporting and stereotyping in these articles but that is the side of the story that the western media prefer.
This reporter had read a few of the articles on this site about the subject and wanted to avail us for a few more opinions. He said he was not looking to portray these marriages in a negative light but he was interested in whether financial security was the motivating factor for the Thai women. I have no reason to doubt that he is looking to write a fair and balanced story. I do not particularly mind if he isn’t. There is a negative side to these relationships and there is no point in denying it. It is a shame that the western media do not also print stories about the positive side but we all know good news does not sell papers.
Here is the gist of my reply:
“It is certainly an interesting and complicated subject. Of course, we can only deal with generalizations. All of these relationships have their own stories but there do seem to be some common patterns.
I believe there is no doubt that the main motivating factor for most Thai women when they first decide to look for a western husband, is financial security. This is especially so for those from the poor rural areas of Isaan.
The interesting thing is that most of these women are making a conscious decision to look for a western husband. It is not often something that just happens to them by chance. They are signing up with matching agencies or going to work at girly bars in tourist towns. They are making a choice to look for a western husband.
The main reason for this choice is financial security but there are other factors. There is a perception among Thai women that western men are more reliable and loving. Many of these women have had bad experiences in their relationships with Thai men. Many of them married and had children at a young age, only to find their young Thai husbands were not ready to settle down. Thai men do have a reputation for playing around and generally not being the most reliable. The relationships break down and this leaves the women with families to support and not enough income. They make a practical choice to support their family.
Given time, I think many of them come to love their western husbands but love is not their initial motivation.
I believe western men often come into these relationships with more romantic notions. Many are disillusioned with the women from their home countries. They think they can find women who closer match their ideal in Thailand. They are perhaps looking for more old-fashioned values. They want women who are feminine, fun and good-natured.
There is also an element of playing the role of saviour. They like the idea that they can save a poor Thai woman from her life of poverty. It is nice to feel that you can be a bit of a hero to your wife.
Of course, there are other men who are just making a practical decision that they can find a much more attractive wife in Thailand than they could ever hope to find in their home country.
The affect on Phuket has certainly been spectacular. You will find western food outlets all across the island. There are four western style shopping malls and three multiplex cinemas showing moves in Thai and English. There are three international schools and another three bi-lingual schools. There is a huge amount of development taking place. Much of this is due to the tourism sector but there are also many residential projects aimed at foreigners, many of whom are western men with Thai wives. The island is fairly booming and it is generating a lot of wealth. Many of these western husbands invest in property and business in Phuket. Attempts by foreigners to set up business here have a high failure rate but the investment is still entering the economy and the money goes around.
On the negative side, there is a feeling amongst many ex-pats that now foreigners are such a common sight in Phuket, it has eroded away the respect that Thais used to give their foreign guests. Familiarity breeds contempt. The old-timers remember the days when they felt special. They talk about the days when Thais stepped aside to let them to the front of the queue. These days, it has become much more common for foreigners to be targeted for muggings or burglaries. The feeling is that many Thais view foreigners more as a source of money than welcome guests.
There are positives and negatives to Thai-western marriages and their effect on Thai society. Generally, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives but everyone involved will have their own experiences.”
I look forward to reading the reporter's story.
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