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Do American women like to mary Russian men ?

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While marriage agencies, Internet dating services and catalogs stuffed with photos of gorgeous Russian girls eagerly seeking American husbands have attracted a good deal of media coverage, the other side of Russian-American marriages - Russian men married to American women - has received relatively little attention.

In the years since perestroika, however, more and more American female academics, journalists, tourists, lawyers, businesswomen, and housewives have followed the example of Isadora Duncan (who wed the poet Sergei Yesenin) and Susan Eisenhower (married to the space scientist Ronald Sagdeyev).

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of mixed unions (aside from Russian émigrés who married Americans) involved American men and Russian women. Though the Soviet authorities, after years of refusals, delays, and harassment, might reluctantly grant exit visas to the Russian wives of foreigners, getting permission for a man to leave was far more difficult.

Since the Revolution, Civil War, collectivization, famines, the gulag and above all World War II had led to a drastic demographic skew in which women considerably outnumbered men, a Russian man's marriage to it foreigner and subsequent departure meant that one less man was available for Russian women. Compulsory military service and the fact that men were more likely than women to have access to classified information also made it more difficult to obtain an exit visa for a foreign husband.

What do American women see in Russian men, and - assuming the Russians want more than just a trip to the US? What do these men see in the American girls? Research and contacts with mixed couples while writing my book, have suggested a few possible answers. Now that travel restrictions have been lifted, the question "does he want me or my passport'?" is not as critical for lovestruck American women as it was 10 or 20 years ago. The Russian men say they see their American spouses as partners in marriage and, most importantly, as women who treat them as men ad not as incompetent, infantile children, as so many Russian women are prone to do.

"My Russian ex-wife was always making fun of me, to my face and behind my back," complained one Muscovite. "Jane doesn't treat me as though I were a fool and good for nothing except bringing home a wad of bills." Another man, Oleg, found "I could never really discuss anything with my Russian girlfriend. She was very sexy and a great cook, but I had to go see my male friends to talk about anything interesting. Laura is really up on Politics, literature and art."

The Russian men praised their American spouses' independence. "She knows how to amuse herself in her spare time," added Helen's husband Pavel. "She isn't always yelling at me to help change every light bulb, or to entertain her every single minute." American honesty is a very highly valued quality that always amazes me," said Anatoly, "that Beverly doesn't know how to lie. I mean, she' can tell a fib in a social situation, but her instinctive reaction is to tell the truth!"

In a totalitarian society in which lying had become an ingrained reflex, such honesty would have been both dangerous and naive. "Muriel is much more direct and honest than most Russian girls," Sergei said of his wife. "She doesn't play games all the time, and she says what she thinks. Even though we have a lot of arguments, I feel that she's a real friend as well as my lover."

The American conviction that being honest is always the right thing to do - even if it hurts the spouse - can provide fertile ground for serious conflict. One American wife who told her Russian husband about a one-night stand she had had after too many drinks during a business trip was shocked when he demanded a divorce. As far as she was concerned, she had been "honest" and therefore deserved forgiveness; as her husband saw it, she had mortally insulted him by telling him something that should have remained unsaid. If honesty means that one will obidet (offend, insult, hurt) the spouse, the Russians favor keeping silent.

The price for American female partnership, independence and honesty was sometimes, as the Russians saw it, a lack of zhenstvennost (femininity)."Joyce is a wonderful woman," Pyotr commented of his wife, "but I wish she'd do her nails more often and check that the buttons aren't falling off her coat." Many Russian men commented on their American wives' lackadaisical attitude to their personal appearance and grooming and on their relative lack of interest in keeping house or in cooking.

What do the American women see in the Russian men? "I'd start out with one simple word passion," said Julie. "They're handsome, romantic, strong and self-confident," said another. "He treats me like a woman," Anna said of her husband. "I don't want to be his equal and get a slap on the back; flowers and a kiss are just perfect!" Unscathed by American feminism, the Russians still open doors, hold coats, pay a woman compliments, pick up the check in a restaurant, and feel it is their role to take care of the "weaker sex." For American women accustomed to males cowed by feminist rhetoric, this Russian protectiveness can have great appeal. "He knows he's a man," Leslie, 30, an American teacher of Russian said of her husband.

The men are also free from psychobabble. "Dmitry doesn't analyze our relationship all the time," Jane said. "My American boyfriend had been to so many shrinks he treated me as if I were one, too,"

The down side? "He never did a dish before he married me, and he still has trouble helping around the house," one woman said. "To call him a chauvinist pig is putting it mildly. his mother did everything for him." "He's not one to talk about his feelings or think it's important to express yourself," volunteered another woman who admitted to a preference for letting it all hang out.

Vodka parties with friends who stay until 3 a.m. and the close involvement in the marriage of the husband's parents are not universally appreciated. "My husband calls his mother every day," Jane said, "and she doesn't hesitate to call him at any hour of the day or night." Some women, however, see their spouses' attitudes toward their mothers as a plus. "llya holds his mother in such high esteem," Anna said. "And the way a man treats his mother is the way he'll treat you."

Sometimes said Melissa, who recently started living in Moscow with her Russian spouse, "I think, what does it take for an nice, normal American girl to do this? You have to be a just a little bit crazy. But this is so exciting and intense that now I couldn't imagine being married to an American."

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