Relationships in Thailand part 2
Why are there so many relationships between Western men and Thai women? Why not Thai men and western women? What do Thai women see in those men and why do so many men fly half way across the world to find a bride in Thailand?
We discussed some aspects of those relationships in my first article. Here we are going to get very personal. Why do so many Thai women want a relationship with a foreigner? Of course not all of them do, but in my many years in Thailand I have heard the same statement from countless women: “I am looking for an American (or western) boyfriend”. Many times I have even been asked if I can help make a connection. If you have a hard time believing this, just look at one of the many Thai dating sites and read the ads by Thai women.
No Cinderellas in Thailand, or the invisible caste system
What is the reason that so many Thai women prefer westerners over Thai men? Let’s look at Thai society. There is a class system in place which is not visible to the outside observer unlike the caste system in India. In the West we have our beloved Cinderella story. The rich and powerful prince finds a dirt poor but beautiful girl and carries her away on his mighty steed and they marry and live happily everafter.
There is no Cinderella syndrom in Thailand. Traditionally people marry within their “caste”, meaning a similar level of economic means and family status. Parents have the last word in the decision and few children will marry without their parent’s approval. Relationships between very unequal partners are not condoned and do not happen often. Thais are extremely status conscious, where someone comes from, how much money one has, what connections one has, what status the family has, what level of education one has. This is even expressed in the way people refer to each other and greet each other. The hidden class system is embedded in the Thai language.
The westerner can be the chance of a lifetime
So what does this mean for a Thai woman from a lower socio-economic background? If she is poor she will have almost no chance of marrying a rich man. She will remain in the same economic situation for her entire life. No rich prince will ride into town and rescue her from her lowly life – unless he is a Westerner. He does not care how poor she is, what status her family has, what color her skin is, what her education is etc. If she is a nice person with a good heart, ideally even good looking, that is enough.
For the poor Thai women this might be her only chance to break out from her social and economic condition, improve her life, travel or even live abroad. It is also an opportunity to help support her family through the financial aid of her western man. The relationship gives her more freedom, higher status, new opportunities, and a better life. A high percentage of women in cross-cultural relationships come from Isaan, a region in Thailand near Laos which is economically less developed with fewer opportunities, less jobs, and a mostly agricultural base.
Age is not an issue in Thai/western relationships
Let’s look at the relationship from the perspective of the man. In western countries most relationships happen between people who are in a similar age group. In other words it is not common in the west to find couples who are 20 or 30 years apart in age. However this is not an issue in Thailand. An older western man has very little chance of finding a beautiful girlfriend or wife in his own country who is half his age unless he is very rich and famous. In Thailand this is no problem at all. Most women who are looking for a relationship with a westerner do not place so much importance on the age of the man.
I did a little research on this matter by studying the ads on the dating sites of several Asian countries like China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillippines. I found that the vast majority of the women specified an age range not too much older than they are. The only country where the women often left this field blank or specified a very wide age range was Thailand. I have personally talked to many Thai women about the subject of age, and in general it was just not an issue for them.
A possible win-win situation for both
The Thai woman gets a chance to start a new life which was not accessible for her before, and the western man gets a chance of being with a beautiful and often much younger woman which would not have been very likely in his own country.
There are many more aspects to those relationships: What do the Thai men think about it? Why do so many Thai women not want to be in a relationship with Thai men? Where is the line between prostitution and legitimate relationships? What are the problems in cross-cultural relationships? What are the excesses and shortcomings of such relationships? This will be discussed in the next article of this series.
And yes, I can hear it already. It is often different in Bangkok. If you are looking for exceptions to my observations, you only have to go to Bangkok. Thailand’s capital is not the perfect representation of traditional Thai culture which you find in most other areas of Thailand. Bangkok is more influenced by the west, traditions are being abandoned gradually, crowded urban environments result in stress and a breakdown of social fabrics and family traditions.
Stay tuned for the next article and feel free to leave comments!