I’ve managed to avoid this topic for a whole year, but every so often, I learn something new about Georgian traditions which just blows me away, and challenges my own traditions and cultural beliefs. Today was one of those days (again). The topic is, of course, sex, and marriage.
Many TLGers have blogged about this, and it is certainly not new. Check out this blog if you don’t believe me (http://peripateticpedagogue.wordpress.com/). I read a lot of material about Georgia before I came here, and the thing that worried me the most (ironically) was that I heard that Georgians loved nothing better than a wedding and marrying people off.
Naiively, I thought that this was because Georgians just loved having parties, and that the women had their day as a princess, perhaps something they had been dreaming about since childhood, or something which they were socially pressured into. I’ve become confused about marriage since I got to Georgia, and even now, a year on, I still don’t really get it, or why there is such an obsession with getting married.
When I had my orientation training upon arrival in Georgia this time last year, I became even more horrified, and perhaps a little scared. We learnt about bride nappings, and sterotypes, and the roles of men and women. We were reassured that the bride napping only occurs in a few remote villages these days, and isn’t so common place, but the fact that it still happens, was enough to worry me. Basically, it means that in theory, a guy can come to the woman’s family home, even in the middle of the night, and bride nap her. If she doesn’t make a fuss then it means she agrees to marry him, but sometimes they try and silence her. Even if she says no or refuses, then they think that she is just playing hard to get, and if she says maybe, then it is the same as a yes, so basically whatever she does, she is in agreement according to the guys, unless of course her family intervenes and stops her being taken. If it didn’t sound so forced, I could imagine how this could be considered romantic, especially if the man and woman are in love but her family does not approve of the wedding, a little like running off to Gretna Green together, as once you are married, it can’t be undone so easily. But if she really does mean no and is forced against her will, then this is really the equivalent of long term rape and a life of misery for both parties.
I thought that this was the worst thing to come to terms with, but now I see that it is just the tip of the iceberg really.
I have met several Georgians who have either married recently or are about to be married. They don’t seem particularly excited about the prospect, nor do they seem to be in love, the partners are not especially good looking or rich (two possible reasons to marry), and it seems that the women are giving up a lot to be married to a man who really has very little to offer them. How can you live with someone if you don’t even love them??? How does that work?? I mean, that is a huge thing, to marry someone, and to have sex, not just for the first time with them, but for the first time ever, as a virgin in your late 30s, and when there is no chemistry or love between you? Surely that can’t be a pleasurable experience? Many women wait until they are older to get married, because they don’t want to have children, and one of the main reasons for marrying is to have children. It usually happens after the first sexual experience, so not only do you have a huge life change, moving out of your family home and into your husband’s house to live with his family and your new mother in law, but to a new life as a wife, and suddenly as a mother too. Giving up your job and financial stability and friendships. You would think that post natal depression would be a big problem in Georgia, with so many major life changes at once, but as yet it is not something I have come across, although it could easily go on behind closed doors. Its a really stressful time for women, and many of them are really scared of having sex for the first time. Women are expected to be virgins, but men are allowed to be more experienced and it is perfectly acceptable, if not expected, of them.
I have friends who have married men who they know to have slept with their best friends, another concept which is weird to me, but would be hard to avoid in a community where everyone’s social networks are interlinked.
You might think that they get married because of family or peer pressure, but again, it seems that this is not the case. Many of my friends have married men that their family disapproves of, and losing a member of your family to another family is the loss of an income, and loss of an extra pair of hands at home. Weddings are also expensive. Yet women marry men they do not love, even though their parents are against it. Maybe they are marrying to get away from their family??
I thought that perhaps it was every girl’s dream to have a wedding, or maybe people loved the idea of a party. But again, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In Britain, the wedding planning is the most stressful and exciting bit. We spend years planning the perfect day, and we invite everyone to come so we can dress up posh and show ourselves off and be a princess for a day. But in Georgia, my married friends had simple weddings, with just one or two family members present, and no big party after. The weddings were even decided by the groom’s family, since they were paying, and they decided how many guests the bride could invite. Some got married in secret. If you got married in Britain, you would spend the next month showing off your ring, wedding photos, and boring everyone to tears about your bridesmaids, wedding cake, or honeymoon. Georgians don’t do this, and just seem to drop it in conversation that they got married.
The wedding day in Britain is the one day that you escape normality, but not so in Georgia. You might go to work in the morning and get married in the afternoon. And what about a honeymoon? In Britain you and your new hubby go off to some tropical island for two weeks of sex and romance, come back and tell everyone how lovely it was. But there doesn’t seem to be the same concept of honeymoon in Georgia. It is all just very confusing to me.
It gets worse! If you are orthodox as most people are in Georgia, then you don’t necessarily have sex with your new husband until a few weeks into the relationship. When you do, then you can have an official ‘I lost my virginity’ ceremony at your local church, and be blessed by your priest, and have your proud family congratulating you for ‘doing the deed’. It is a really big deal for strict orthodox Gergians, and I hink it is the only time that a woman may stand at the altar?? In Britain, we know that ‘honeymoon’ is really just code for staying in bed and having sex all day, but we never ask about ‘it’. So why the need to shout about it and be so open on such a private and intimate experience. In Britain, sex is fairly taboo, but in Georgia the whole family seem to talk about it and give advice. It seems strange to me to invite your friends and family to celebrate your sleeping together. It is bad enough seeing pregnant women and knowing that they are no longer virgins! I’m not saying that they should or shouldn’t be virgins, I’m just saying that it feels weird and uncomfortable for me to be party to such private and intimate details!
Personally, I know that I would have to be totally in love with someone in order to make a compromise and to completely change my life to accommodate them. But Georgians seem to do it easily. I could not move house, give up my job, have children, or stay home all day cooking and cleaning, just because that is what wives are supposed to do. Nor would I want my husband to dictate what I could or couldn’t wear, to tell me who I can be friends with, or to be at his beck and call, just because I was the ‘wife’. Even if I were in love with that guy.
Maybe the incentive to get married is because its the only acceptable way to have sex? I don’t think this is the case either, as sometimes a woman will move in with her fiance even if they are not yet married. They may not even have sex until a month or more into their relationship, and once they have all the children they want, they generally stop having sex (at least, that is what many Georgians have told me).
I really wonder what Georgians made of ‘Sex and the City’, did they get it, or were they completely confused, or disgusted? Talking to some Georgians about their sexual experiences recently, I was shocked to discover that the only sexual position approved of by the church was the military position. Anything else was frowned upon. Surely a couple should be allowed to do what they like in such an intimate encounter? Why has the church been so strict on this, surely sex is sex, no matter what the position? Does this mean that women are being pushed into marriages that they end up feeling trapped by, and at the will and demand of their husbands, whom they spend their time running around after? I mean, what exactly IS in this for the woman? Because in general, its not even like most Georgian men are even handsome, with their cha cha bellies and fags sticking out the corner of their mouths. Women in Georgia are beautiful, and smart, and funny, so why do they dedicate their lives to men, especially after studying and working so hard?
It is all just very confusing to me as a foreigner, and I don’t yet have that Georgian understanding of why things are the way they are. Other post soviet countries are not like this, and I think that Georgia is really very unique in its traditions in this case. Where do such beliefs and traditions come from? How have they changed, and what will the future hold for future women in Georgia? Foreign girls are seen as easy by Georgian men, and probably not surprising given the number of TLGers sleeping together, and adverts and strip clubs advertising Ukranian or Russian girls for sex. Who visits these girls I wonder? Foreigners or Georgians?
The younger generation seem quite different on this front, and are still fairly naiive and vulnerable on the topic of sex, but they all dream of getting married, and having a husband who will pay for their trips to the beauty parlour or for holidays, and things. I wonder how many of them end up disappointed? Especially with such a large number of men spending their days stood on street corners chatting and playing board games with other unemployed guys, or guys who spend half their life at supra and are persistently drunk! Why do such smart and busy women continue to run around after grown up men?
I’m worried about the younger generation. They wear inappropriate t-shirts with bold statements on them, and I know that if the child or its parents really understood the slogan then they would never want their child to wear it. And I worry about the singing and dancing of my kids, particularly because they don’t really understand what the song they are singing, actually means. And it worries me that so many songs and dances have sexual conotations that are way too old for the children performing them.
I’d like to see how Georgia has changed in ten years or so from now, and whether Georgia has been become more or less European of Middle Eastern in its issues of sex and marriage. Either way, it will certainly be exciting!