“So,” she said, getting right to the point, “you want to marry my daughter.”
Ivy and I had never discussed it. “Well,” I cautiously responded, not wanting to sound disagreeable and acutely aware of said daughter’s grip on my hand, “what would you think of that?”
And so began a day-long series of interrogations involving, not only my new girlfriend’s parents, but her siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, the local schoolteacher, dozens of neighbors and half the residents of her barangay. All of which eventually led to a Holy Matrimony that’s produced two children and been happily in force now for over twelve years.
I tell this story to make a point. It wasn’t by accident that I’d traveled all the way from Los Angeles, California, to a tiny village in the deep provinces of a distant island nation to meet someone I’d only known online. Nor is it accidental that thousands of other Westerners do the same thing. Like many, this wasn’t my first marriage. And, like most, I felt determined to finally get it right.
So I’d looked to the Philippines where women, though exceptionally strong, still hold traditional values in a culture that takes marriage and family seriously. A country still standing its ground as the only place on earth outside the Vatican where divorce is illegal. A nation, in other words, whose mothers intensely scrutinize someone to whom their daughters might make a permanent and binding commitment.
That may soon change as national lawmakers ponder a bill to legalize divorce, dragging the Philippines kicking and screaming into a modern age wherein judges can no longer enforce worn out vows.
Believe me, I get it. Since moving here two years ago, I’ve seen many trapped in unhappy pairings. This is especially hard on women who, though separated with children, often have no viable means of support nor the ability to move towards independence or remarriage. Sometimes, this can even lead to serious emotional and physical abuse from which there is no escape.
I am also aware of the spectrum’s opposite end, as evidenced by the United States where so-called “no-fault divorce” is now universal. Under its provisions, the legal dissolution of marriage requires no showing of wrongdoing by either party. A marital union is no stronger than the desire of one of its members to fill out a few legal forms. Which is why 40% of American marriages now end in divorce.
To be sure, it’s not just permissive divorce laws reshaping Western marriage. A more formidable enemy, in fact, lies in the post-feminist culture that’s become an American norm. I’ve never opposed feminism, at least not as activists originally framed it in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back then the struggle was about equal pay for equal work and the God-given right of robust women to choose their own destinies. The problems arose when too many of them chose destinies that didn’t include men.
And so I fled to the Philippines.
Two years ago, Ivy and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by renewing wedding vows on the beach at Caridad, the same tiny Siargao Island village in which her mom interrogated me a lifetime ago. It was the first time the beach had ever seen fireworks. We hadn’t exactly planned it that way; a wedding organizer asked if we wanted to light up the sky and, realizing that we were already way over budget anyway, we both shrugged and said what the heck? And so it came to pass that myriad-colored sparks erupted over the white sands of our commitment as a few hundred souls spontaneously jumped to their feet in a gut-wrenching cheer.
Later the barangay captain, feeling emotional under the influence of more-than-a-few beers, sought me out to say thanks. “This, it’s important for Caridad,” he said, gripping my arm, almost weeping with joy. “So many people. So good for the community…”
I guess that pretty much sums up my feelings about marriage. Like I said, I understand its corollary; the need for divorce. But let’s just hope that, should that dark animal ever arrive on this gently sanded shore, that it treads lightly like a cat rather than charging like a boar.
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David Haldane authored the award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work received a Golden Mike from the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. He lives in Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their two children. http:///felixr28.sg-host.com
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily