Learning Lessons about Life
Okay, okay so it wasn’t quite like this, but we will find out soon enough the state and condition of our step-daughter. But first let me back up a bit, last summer we decided it was time she began to live on her own. While we were in the countryside it was arranged for her to stay and learn some lessons about life. Little did we know that this short lived adventure for her would end up in marriage. Some friends of ours there introduced her to a young man and lo and behold they took a liking to each other. It was announced to us a while ago that they wanted to get married, I was thrilled since this meant more than likely we would soon be empty nesters. Then I remembered a story that I heard.
It goes like this.
This American guy after much searching finds his bride to be in Russia. He visits the Motherland meets her then has to fly back to the states to begin all the necessary paperwork (it’s a lot). He returns again to Russia to be with his fiancée and to meet her parents. All goes well, the parents give consent and again he has to return to the states (it’s a long process). Then for the third time he boards a plane and heads for Russia with plans to marry. It proceeds accordingly until the bride’s father decides to call a family meeting, during this gathering he tells his future son-in-law that in order to marry his daughter he must pay a significant dowry. This guy had already traveled 3 times back and forth, this alone cost him big bucks, so he hesitated. The father not skipping a beat then offered his second daughter for a much lesser sum. To the chagrin of bride #1 this guy said yes to the second offer, took up his newly negotiated bride to be and they were married.
My assumptions from this – All Russians fathers demand big dowries for their beautiful daughters! I had stars in my eyes. We’re gonna be rich!
Letting the Air out of my Big Red Balloon
Then wisdom got a hold of me, I should check with my wife. She immediately let all the air out of my “big red balloon”. Crap. Next time I’ll just keep my dreams to myself. Anyway I came to find out it’s just the opposite. Now I’m confused, how could I have been so wrong. Panic set in, I grabbed my check book. How much was in my account? I wondered, would he except an I.O.U. Then the “researcher” in me got a hold , off to the internet I went. It has all the answers, right?
Here’s what I found.
A thirteenth century birchbark document from Novgorod contains the following missive: “From Mikita to Uliianitsa. Marry me. I want you and you want me. And as witness to this Ignat….” However, this record was quite unusual. The more popular way of getting married, as in most of Medieval Europe, required the negotiation of parents with parents, and the young people played little or no part. They rarely even saw each other prior to the wedding itself. As a popular seventeenth century saying went: “A maiden seen is copper, but the unseen girl is gold.” The rather romantic notion that two lovers would elope was strongly ruled out by these customs. Sixteenth century traveller Sigmund von Herberstein recorded:
A man who sues for the hand of someone’s daughter is despised. It is the father who chooses the suitor, saying to him: ‘I approve of you and your activities and therefore offer you my daughter in marriage.’ The young man replies: ‘I will speak to my friends about it.’ If both sides think well of it, negotiations are concluded and the wedding-day named.
Because we haven’t met his parents all I can hope for is that they will elope. Oh and if it comes to negotiating, I did a lot of this while being in business in the States. Wow, maybe things won’t be so bad after all. Let’s see how this progresses.
It goes on to say:
While in practice the young people had very little input in the decision to marry or not, it is interesting that they were granted the right to do so in theory. According to eleventh century law, if a woman did not consent to the marriage and was married against her will, the parents could be fined. However, consent could be coerced and little attempt was made to protect the young couple’s right to decide. The ceremony itself provided little opportunity for the couple to voice consent or dissent. By custom, simply being present at the ceremony was an act of consent.
It is difficult for us today to appreciate this situation. Our bias is to believe that the system was oppressive. However, we ignore the fact that marriage was not viewed by the people as a matter of choice. No man or woman expected that from marriage. In the medieval Russian mind, marriage was just another part of a life which was pre-ordained by fate.
After reading this last part I thought to myself, “I think this generation got things right.” Maybe marriage shouldn’t be about choice. It sure would take some of the pressure off. Are they pre-ordained by fate or some other force? One thing that happens for sure in Russia, is don’t count on anything happening as you’ve planned them. You could be wrong.
To be continued…..when we return from the Holidays