by Jay Johansen | May 26, 2014
I was searching for some information on the economy of Russia and Eastern Europe when, as happens to me fairly often, I stumbled across an unrelated web page that caught my attention. The web site was apparently about international dating -- American and Western European men looking for Russian and Eastern European women -- and someone had posted a question asking how much it cost to pursue such a relationship to the point of getting married. (I suppose the reason it turned up in my search was because it mentioned Russia and money, but whatever.) I'm not looking for a girlfriend at the moment, and if I was I think I'd exhaust my possibilities here in my own country before going to another continent. But what interested me about this article was the wide range of answers that this person got. They ranged from a low of $10,000 to a high of $1,000,000. It struck me that this was an excellent case study in defining your terms.
All the people giving answers appeared to have either found a wife from another country, or were actively pursuing such a goal. They all had first-hand knowledge of the actual expenses. So how did they give such wildly different numbers?
As I read through the answers it became clear that some of the difference between the answers was that different people attached different amounts to specific expenses. Like there were different values for the cost of plane tickets. Of course airfare can vary widely depending on whether it's "on season" or "off season", economy or first class, etc. But that was really a relatively small part of it. The big difference came in what costs each person included.
The person who gave the lowest estimate explained that he was basing his estimate on the assumption that a man would join an international dating service, he would meet some number of women on line, get to know a few, eventually get serious about one, fly to her country two or three or four times to meet her and see if they hit it off in person, and then the two of them would fly back to his country to get married. And so to estimate the cost he counted the cost of the dating service, plane tickets, and the cost of passports and visas and required medical exams. He added that up to about $10,000. I thought this was a little optimistic in that he assumed that the first woman you connected with would work out. I have no idea if that's how it typically works, or if people routinely meet someone on line who souds promising, but when they meet them in person it doesn't work out, and so they start over. But even if we assume it typically takes, say, three cycles, his estimate would then go up to $30,000, still well below most of the others.
Some people included the costs of restaurants, movie theaters, and other places one might go on a date. Some included things like flowers and gifts. Others included classes for the woman to learn the language of her new country and to learn the driving laws. One person included the cost of trips back to the lady's home country after the wedding to visit family and friends.
One of the higher numbers was several hundred thousand dollars. When the person who gave that value was asked how he came up with it, he explained that he was counting the cost of buying a house, because he would expect that if he got married he couldn't continue to live in his apartment, his wife would want a house. He also said that he was including the cost of raising children, including the cost of sending them to college. He went on at some length about the expenses that come with children.
The person who said $1,000,000 explained that he thought you would need that much money in the bank before you could start international dating so that you could be sure of having enough money to finish the process even if you lost your job or had some major financial setback.
It struck me that the differences here mostly came down to, What costs do you include? When someone asks, How much does it cost to date and marry a woman from another country?, what, exactly, does he mean? Does he mean, (a) How much does it cost compared to dating someone from your home town? Or, (b) How much does it cost compared to remaining single? And, are you counting the cost through the wedding day? Or all costs for the rest of your life?
If a man dates a woman in another ocuntry, he's likely going to make some trips to that country to meet her before they are both prepared to commit to marriage. Those trips will cost a lot more than driving across town to pick up a girl for a date. He may need a visa to visit her country. She will surely need an immigrant visa to come to his to stay. Those are all costs that you wouldn't have dating a girl from your home town. So they should certainly be included in any such estimate.
Counting restaurants and movies and flowers is more debateable. A man dating a local girl would have similar expenses. They're valid expenses to include if you're counting dating internationally versus staying single, but not if you're counting dating internationally versus locally.
Counting the cost of buying a house and sending your children to college seems highly questionable to me. Again, you'd have these same costs if you married a local woman. I suppose if a man is thinking of getting married, he should consider that he is taking on some very serious responsibilities, and make sure that he is prepared to live up to them. But still, counting the cost of sending your future children to college as a cost of dating seems a bit of a stretch to me.
Some of the costs mentioned are tricky. Like consider the cost of trips back to her home country. It's likely that such a trip would be your family vacation for the year. That is, if you married a woman from your home town, for your vacation you might go on a cruise or go to Las Vegas or Disneyworld or whatever. If you married a woman from another country and she wanted to visit family back in the old country, it is likely that such a trip would be instead of the cruise or whatever, not in addition to it. Or the cost of getting your new wife English classes. If you married a local girl, presumably she wouldn't need English classes, but in the hours that the foreign-born woman is taking language classes, maybe the native-born woman would be taking art classes, or engaging in some other activity that costs money.
The person who said you need $1,000,000 wasn't really answering the question. The question wasn't, How much do I need to keep in reserve? but, How much will I spend? He didn't say that he thought the process would cost a million dollars, but that that's the amount you would need to invest to produce an income sufficient to sustain the process, which is a totally different question. In fairness, this was a forum. Presumably any comment the person considers helpful is fair game, not just direct answers to the question. But on the third hand, if I was thinking about dating a girl locally, I can't imagine that I would say that I cannot ask a girl on a date unless I have enough money in the bank to support myself indefinitely and pay all the costs of dating and marriage even if I lose my job. Yes, if I lost my job while dating I might have to call the process off until I got back on my feet. But you could say that about a lot of things.
My point (to the extent that I have a point) is that before you can give a definitive answer to a question, you have to understand the question. You must define your terms. In this case, are we comparing the cost of marrying international to the cost of marrying local, or the cost of marrying international to the cost of staying single? Are we considering costs through the wedding, or for the rest of your life? Etc.
The same need to define terms applies to many other questions we might consider. Suppose you ask, for example, Should the government impose new pollution controls on coal-fired power plants? What pros and cons are you going to consider? The obvious advantage is that reducing pollution will improve the health of people and wildlife in the area. The obvious disadvantage is that the pollution control will surely cost money, which means that the cost of electricity will go up. Should we include the possibility that some power plants may not be able to afford the new equipment and will shut down, putting people out of work? Someone could argue that power plants will be forced to convert to other fuels, including petroleum, and so we will have to buy more oil from the Middle East, and those countries will use the money to buy weapons, and those weapons will be used against us and our friends. Or for that matter, to the politicians considering such a law, perhaps the most important factor is which politically-powerful groups are for it and which are against it.
Well, as I say, I'm not looking for a girlfriend at the moment. This just reminds me how expensive women can be. :-)
© 2014 by Jay Johansen