Courting Phase vs. Post Marriage

Discussion of Thai-Western relationships and the book, "Thailand Fever."
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thaidude
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Joined: Wed Nov 22, 2006 6:31 am

Courting Phase vs. Post Marriage

#1 Postby thaidude » Sun Jan 28, 2007 3:12 pm

Chris & Vitida write about a Thai person's self-esteem being based on (and I assume they don't mean exclusively) the degree to which they can show generosity.

"His wallet is open...everytime he buys things for her...it makes her feel like he loves her even more."pg.170

The book gives the impression that the buying of material items is a continual process to ensure that the Thai wife would always feel loved. My Thai friends have told me that this is not really that way it is. After speaking about this issue they explained that this is more prevalent during the courting phase of the relationship. After a Thai couple marries, they can become quite pragmatic and understanding with regards to the financial part of their relationship. They will typically share expenses as well as manage their finances together.

What have you experienced with your relationship?

I am also curious to know how much generalization has been made with regards to some of the issues that the book addresses. For instance, in this case, how would traditional Thai culture vary from modern day Thai culture? With the emergence of a larger middle class and greater exposure to Western values and culture has the modern day Thai couple changed in their approach? What about the differences found amongst rural and city folks and their relationships?

Chris or Vitida, any comments here?

.

Chris Pirazzi
Posts: 23
Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2004 7:10 pm

#2 Postby Chris Pirazzi » Fri Feb 02, 2007 4:52 pm

Hello thaidude,

Thanks for your continuing contributions to this board!

Here are a few thoughts from me. I hope Kun Vitida will also have time to respond with a firsthand Thai perspective!

"His wallet is open...everytime he buys things for her...it makes her feel like he loves her even more."pg.170

The book gives the impression that the buying of material items is a continual process to ensure that the Thai wife would always feel loved. My Thai friends have told me that this is not really that way it is. After speaking about this issue they explained that this is more prevalent during the courting phase of the relationship. After a Thai couple marries, they can become quite pragmatic and understanding with regards to the financial part of their relationship. They will typically share expenses as well as manage their finances together.


The question you've posed here is kind of a funny Thai-Western cultural contrast itself. The most important idea that we were trying to get across in that particular passage of the book is actually contained in the parts that you ...'ed out.

The original says:

"His wallet is open for them and he doesn't care---every time he buys things for her, it makes him feel better about himself and it makes her feel like he loves her even more."

So, we're saying that a typical Thai man will feel good about giving stuff to her, and showing everyone how well he can support her (during courtship and after: no difference). Unlike to us Westerners, it wouldn't even occur to the Thai man to ask "hmm, okay, now that we're married, can I stop giving stuff to her and stop supporting her?" If he were to stop supporting her, he would feel bad because he would feel unworthy as a husband and he would feel low self-esteem as a man of poor means.

From the Western perspective (clearly the one you were thinking of in your text above), we are always on guard for our independence and our first thought is "Okay, so I'd like to get serious with this girl. How much do I need to give to her, when, and for how long? Am I off the hook once I've wooed her? I want to make sure she stays happy; that's why I want to give stuff to her."

It might occur to us that if we were able to support her well, and everyone saw that, we would feel good about ourselves because we were generous and good husbands, but generally speaking that would NOT be the Westerner's first thought! We are saying that, in general, it is much more often the Thai man's first thought than it is the Westerner's, and therefore Thai men much less often find themselves asking the kind of question you asked above. Thai men are more likely to think that their lady has been "pragmatic and understanding with regards to the financial part of their relationship" from the start, even in the courting period, even if he gave her tons of presents.

It would be interesting if you could ask the question again to your Thai friends that way and see what they say (e.g. ask the Thai men how they feel about giving presents and other kinds of support to their wife and her family, both during courtship and after. Ask them if they ever thought about this in any kind of negative way, or if they ever asked themselves "how much support is fair?" and questions like that).

The reason we make this point in the book is that, even though the men reading the book and forum are not Thai, this is how their girlfriends/wives are, in many cases, expecting them to think! This of course leads to lots of problems which can only be solved when both the man and the women get exposed to each others' way of thinking and come up with some kind of workable compromise (or one of them just gives up and gives in :) ).

Now, having said that, we are all (stubborn) Westerners so the question still remains: How much do I need to give to her, when, and for how long?

I would agree that the amount of conspicuous gift-giving is generally less for a long-married husband versus a hopeful suitor. I think that's true all over the world (supply and demand?).

I would agree that most Thai couples share expenses. I believe we mentioned in a few places in the book that, due to either dire financial need or simple interest, the women in most Thai families also work (which could be anything from selling groceries or food on the porch to a full-on full-time job).

As far as who manages the finances, that seems to vary by family, but there are an awful lot of Thai extended families where the oldest woman is the one who pools everyone's salary and decides when the family will buy large items (cars, appliances, ...). I've seen this pattern both in the countryside and in large middle-class (perhaps Chinese descent?) merchant families. Some Westerners might be in for a shock if their wife, or even their grandmother, wants access to his accounts!

But the key difference I see is: does the man lose much sleep over issues like "What's mine and what's hers? Have I given enough?" or not? Western couples (both man and woman) often go out of their way to constantly re-affirm their independence to each other (e.g. by actually bringing up the topic in conversation about whether each feels like the other is contributing their "fair share" to the finances, and in some cases even doing the books or splitting bank accounts just to prove it!). I don't see that so much in Thai relationships, even ones with modern Thais. I'd love to hear any experiences from any readers out there one way or the other.

I am also curious to know how much generalization has been made with regards to some of the issues that the book addresses. For instance, in this case, how would traditional Thai culture vary from modern day Thai culture? With the emergence of a larger middle class and greater exposure to Western values and culture has the modern day Thai couple changed in their approach? What about the differences found amongst rural and city folks and their relationships?


Of course all families are different. We have attempted to provide some guidelines on patterns we see often in Thai-Western relationships, in the hope of helping out the most readers.

My English friend married into an unusual middle-class Bangkok family, which never--not even once--asked him how much money he had, or asked for any dowry. This wasn't because they were Westernized. It was because they thought of themselves most of all as proud business people (owning several small shops around Bangkok and involved in real estate deals, as part of a business tradition going back generations in the family), and for them the question of whether my friend "cuts it" or not depends entirely on whether he can prove that he has a good business sense or not. They watched his businesses with a keen eye before they accepted him into the family, but they never asked for any of his spoils. To them, a dowry is a waste of money and time. He has since decided to pool his business earnings with them anyway. He doesn't see it as a problem because he trusts them to manage the family's money well. So you could say that none of Chapter 5 applies to him! Everything depends on your situation.

There seems to be little correlation between the wealth of the Thai woman's family and "trouble" over money, dowry, and support. We hear horrific stories from men married to Isaan farm families, middle-class shop owners, and ultra-rich Bangkok Thais, and we hear good stories from all levels too. It depends on the personality of each family. For example, rich families seem equally likely to want to show their "Westernness" (?) by not demanding a dowry as they are to want to show their "Thainess" (?) by making a huge ostentatious show of how well the man can support their daughter.

Obviously other aspects of Thai culture do vary by country/city (such as dress, holding hands, etc.) and poor/rich (such as everyone's negotiating position over the dowry). And, every day, it seems like people all across the country are more and more willing to tolerate less modesty in movies, TV, and even relationships! Perhaps we will have to re-write the Sex chapter many times!

- Chris Pirazzi


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