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The Myth of the Mail-Order Bride

By David Haldane

May 5, 2022

 

I’ve always hated the term “mail-order bride.”

The reason is that it’s largely a myth. While history certainly records instances of men ordering brides from catalogues, I’m not aware of any such bride catalogues operating today, at least not sanctioned by law.

A recent editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer reminded me of this. Under the headline “Green card marriages,” the piece decries what it calls the growing phenomenon wherein “dreamy-eyed lasses gamble away their life and future as tasty offerings in an online catalogue.” As evidence, the article cites last month’s indictment in the United States of six Filipinos for allegedly brokering 400 fake marriages between Filipino women and American men for which the Americans received stipends and the Filipinos got green cards. The newspaper’s remedy: the Philippine government should “take steps to make sure that jobs, opportunities, and access to education are spread out to the countryside” to eliminate such temptations.

I certainly don’t oppose better conditions for people of both sexes living in the provinces. Nor do I deny occasional criminals breach both morality and law by arranging matches primarily for their own financial benefit. I do, however, strongly object to the Inquirer’s offensive characterization of web-based dating sites as “online catalogues.”

To be sure, such catalogues have existed in the past. As early as 1620, the Virginia Company recruited 140 so-called mail-order brides as mates for early settlers in America’s Jamestown colony. The idea was to keep the men from deserting or marrying local Native Americans. France later did the same thing to populate its New France colony in what is now northeastern Canada. And throughout the 1800s, Asian workers recruited brides from back home to join them in America, as did American men heading out West to settle the country’s frontier.

The Internet, however, changed everything. Nowadays, what the Inquirer calls “online catalogues” are actually dating sites populated by mutually consenting adults. And, though men pay a modest fee to join while women may or may not, American immigration authorities require at least one documented face-to-face meeting before granting a fiancé or spouse visa.

I know all this from personal experience, as well as that of many friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Back in 2008, after many years as a lonely, divorced man, I met my wife, Ivy, on a website called Filipinaheart.com. We fell in love, got married, begat two children, and recently celebrated our 14th anniversary. And among the dozens of others I now know with similar stories, the vast majority are in marriages that have worked out just fine.

Ten years ago, I wrote a 3,000-word magazine essay entitled “My Imported Bride.” For a time it went viral, getting lots of media and website attention. The first reactions were mostly negative, hate letters from critics accusing me of utilizing my “white privilege” to “buy” a compliant, needy, and submissive wife.

Anyone who knows Ivy—in fact, most Filipinas—would laugh at the description of her as submissive. In reality, she’s an accomplished, independent professional whose income is now better than mine ever was.

And, sure enough, after that initial wave of naysayers came a different response. Hundreds of mixed couples just like us posted their pictures on a website called kami.com, along with heartwarming stories of success. Which reminds me of an email Ivy sent during the two years we spent courting.

“David, we have to realize that love is not enough to make a relationship work,” she wrote, exhibiting a maturity well beyond her years. “We need trust, respect, time, effort, and total commitment…we should not let passion but wisdom decide.”

Here’s how I ended that infamous magazine piece back in 2012: “At last, after some dark decades, I am once again part of a happy family.”

And so it remains.

 

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David Haldane’s colorful memoir, “Nazis & Nudists,” recounts growing up in countercultural America to find a wife in the Philippines. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author and radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Don loomis says:

    David, I couldn’t agree more. My wife, Ellen,is a mail order bride and I mean that literally. Back in 1981, a friend of a friend have me the address of ‘Japan International:, a group that specialized in hooking up American men with overseas women. It started from American service men getting together to help each other get their Japanese war brides to the US during the Korean war.
    Years later, it expanded. For $25, you’d get a catalog—literally– subdivided by country. Women and men only had a paragraph to describe themselves but no photos…..the group felt if people made a love connection it shouldn’t be based on looks alone. Every one that joined was on the understanding that it was for marriage minded people….this was not for pen pals.

    I wrote to a dozen girls, finally settling with a Filipina from a Mountain village named Sudlon. I popped the question, waited a month for her answer and when she said yes I flew her here 3 months later.
    We been married for 39 years.

    • David Haldane says:

      Wow, what a great story, Don, you should write it if you haven’t already. Congratulations! And thanks for the info about those catalogues — I never realized they really existed.

  2. Charles Cleaver says:

    Wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote.Married my Filippina lady and had 32 wonderful years together until she passed away.Now married to a Filippina second time for 5 years.Such wonderful ,loving ,very family orientated people

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