Richard Novac was done with dating American women. After a failed 18-month marriage and forays into the L.A. dating scene, he decided that women here were too independent.
So he turned to the internet for a foreign bride.
After five years of research, Richard ruled out Eastern European women because he wasn’t rich enough, but Filipino women fit the bill; English is their first language, Catholicism promotes traditional values, and they are petite.
“I came to the conclusion, correct or incorrect, that our culture has been doing a disservice to women,” Novac said.
The search for supplicant brides often leads American men to the Philippines, but interviews with brides and husbands show that the search for a mate can often lead to cultural consternation.
Dr. Annalisa Enrile, a Filipino professor in social work at USC and a board member of the Mariposa Center for Change, said these marriages last because of a value in the Philippines called Utang Na Loob, which roughly translates as a debt of gratitude.
“They feel that they own this man something,” Enrile said. “And they owe it to him to make the relationship work.”
The Mariposa Center for Change helps about 50 Filipino women every year who came to the states through dating websites and end up victims of abuse and domestic violence.
Enrile says that these women often stay in the marriages because they don’t know where to turn for help in the U.S. and they worry they won’t be able to get their papers to stay in the country.
Novac sorted through thousands of online profiles on Cherry Blossoms, an online dating service that connects Asian women and foreign men, before finding his wife Evangeline.
Today, Evangeline and Richard have been married for seven years, are raising a daughter, and expect another baby.
“I was just focused,” Evangeline Novac said. “I wanted to meet an American guy because that’s my dream.”
Their marriage was mutually beneficial; she gained a loving husband, financial stability and US citizenship, while he got a more traditional wife and a strong family.
Thousands of Filipino women marry American men every year and it’s difficult to measure how many end up in abusive marriages and how many find the right mates, but there’s a spectrum of results, Annalissa Enrile said.
On a warm August night, 15 Filipino women gathered with their husbands in The Bungalows, a gated community in Orange County with identical facades and potted plants, for a birthday party.
Bisaya, a Filipino language, and salted fish filled the air as young kids run through the quiet streets, and their fathers pour mixed drinks.
Most of these men are 10 to 30 years older than their Filipino wives, but many of the women in attendance say that the age gap doesn’t bother them as much as the cultural gap.
“If my husband is ready to move [to the Philippines] today, I’ll go,” Bonna Joy Holiday said. She has been in the states for four years and met her body builder husband on FilipinoHearts.com.
She loves her husband but often feels isolated when he goes to work and she’s home alone without a network of friends to fall back on, Bonna said.
“Even though we used to sleep with seven people in one bed, that’s how we used to live [in the Philippines],” Bonna said. “But I know my husband can’t survive with seven people in one bed.”
Other women at the party have full-time jobs, pursue educational opportunities or just enjoy taking care of their kids.
“If not for my parents [in the Philippines] I wouldn’t go home,” said Emma Holden, who used to talk with her husband Joel for an hour every day when they were dating online.
Cherry Blossoms, one of the prominent dating sites for men to meet Asian women, started as a mail-order bride catalogue in the early ‘70s. Today, the site has online profiles.
“I am looking for a woman who believes in God, home oriented, likes to cook, go to church and help others. I believe in Jesus Christ and I am his follower,” a user calling himself Tim S. wrote on the site.
Men on these sites sometimes misrepresent themselves as good Christians, but are actually in the market for subservient women, Enrile said.
She also noted that Filipino values can create a culture of servitude for women.
Another Filipino value called Pakikisama roughly translates to maintaining smooth interpersonal relationships and loyalties, and Dr. Enrile thinks that this cultural norm keeps women from leaving their marriage.
“These dating sites make me feel like we’re a commodity and you can buy and sell us like anything on eBay,” Enrile, a Filipino herself, said.
Check out "My Imported Bride" by David Haldane to hear the story from an American man's point of view.