Whoops, I didn't say that because I feel bad already. Still, rumor has it. I've been hearing lately about the declining quality of our men from a growing number of women. A number so significant that it seems to me at least a trend, if not an epidemic. The nasty talk ranges from the girls' lazy complaints about the local men to mere panic. And I don't mean perspective mail-order brides striving to be rescued from the harsh reality of Russia — to some women, the grass does seem greener on the other side of the ocean. I am talking about the females who feel quite okay and accomplished at home, just somehow not as okay with “homegrown” guys. So the dating and marriage spectrum of these bright and pretty twenty-thirty somethings is gradually shifting towards foreigners — especially those in their league, fairly successful and open-minded.
I have to confess I can relate to this trend. The three years I had spent in the States in my early twenties did something to me — perhaps the CIA had secretly implanted a microchip into my brain when I was sleeping in my tiny room in the shared Columbia University housing in New York. But when I came back to Moscow, I immediately felt I had lost the beat with most guys there. On dates with what I call "typical" (not so well-traveled, don't speak languages, sporting a macho veneer) Russian men, I often felt like an alien. Or rather, like an amateur actress, a Legally Blonde-type character, who had to pretend (for free!) she didn't boast much more than an attractive face and a cool body. Many of my dates tried to entertain me bragging about the drinking contests in which they engaged while spending money across the globe (I must admit, some of my suitors happened to be avid travelers, just hopelessly narrow-minded). I wasn't entertained even though I did my best. Our perspectives differed, conversations stuck, it seemed I had more cultural differences with my countrymen than with my Manhattan pals. This was the case until I met my type of Russian — a Vladivostok-born self-made Cambridge grad who worked for an English bank and had previously spent about seven years outside Russia.
So when I started noticing that more and more of my female peers are choosing expats or Russians with a "Western implant" - a solid experience abroad, I kind of felt relieved. At least I was not the only one. "Boring, simply boring," sighed Maria, a 27-year-old PR specialist as she sipped a cappuccino in a quaint cafe located in the downtown Moscow neighborhood where she shares an apartment with her 30-year-old husband, an entrepreneur from Vienna. She was implying Russian men, apparently a vague memory of her early youth. Since then, this good-looking flirtatious brunette, a graduate of Moscow's Tourism Academy, told me she had never fallen for the locals, and neither did most of her girlfriends. "When you learn languages and start traveling — especially to the West, your mindset shifts," she said. "You start looking for a partner in a man, an equal. And it's hardly possible to find one here in Russia."
"Our men are so insecure," Maria added, wistfully. "They often feel intimidated when they meet a strong successful woman. So for me, it has always been easier with a foreigner."
Easier? Is it really? The varied marital statistics show that divorce rates tend to be at least 30% higher among international couples. The challenges include money issues, religion, other cultural differences and lately — the grueling legal battles over children. Even so, it appears that many Moscow-based females are brave enough to take the risk. My former classmate Anya, who, as a 32-year-old history teacher in college, leads a completely different lifestyle from mine — introvert, no globe-trotting, met her fiancé, a marketing consultant from San Francisco, online. They are expecting their first child this fall. She insists she wasn't looking specifically for a foreign guy and still has no intentions to move abroad as she feels quite happy in Moscow. "But most Russians I've been with, including my ex-husband, have either been chauvinistic or spoiled or just irresponsible," Anya complained. The Soviet upbringing is one of the reasons to blame, she believes. "In a typical Soviet family, a woman, no matter how hard she worked, would do everything about the house, and that's what most males still expect from their other half," she said. "In Russia, many men grew up with single mothers who spoiled them badly. And then there are the teachers who are mostly female in this country — women are used to trying to accommodate men in every shape or form." Whereas, with her American, who had left home at the age of 18, Anya said she feels "safe and secure." "We share the chores and he even cooks," she added, her face beaming with pride.
Yet Maria, who is currently studying for her MBA, talking about her marriage to her Austrian man, had often used the English word "empowerment." "I feel empowered by my husband," she said. "He believes in me and supports me in every way," she said. I tried to find a valid equivalent of "empowerment" in Russian but couldn't find any. But then I thought that perhaps many of our women have always been empowered anyway — but for some reasons may have been hiding it, at least from our men. Just like the old and a really popular Soviet song goes: "A woman's utter happiness is simply a man by her side." It seems that some newer generation Russian women are asking for more.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenti i Facty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.