In a typical discussion about Thai-farang romance, sooner or later someone is bound to raise the question of money – someone being a foreign man who’s either contemplating getting into or already in a relationship with a Thai woman. What should he expect to give her in terms of financial support, how much, should he or should he not do it, is he being duped, etc., etc.
I’m sure you’ve heard and read as I have more times than I could count how Thai women are said to be “moneygrubbers” and “gold diggers” (besides “cheaters” and “liars” and some other unflattering names). If you haven’t, a half-hour visit to the Thaivisa forum or Stickman’s website (and many other sites where current and aspiring foreign expats with Thai partners congregate), will bring you quickly up to date. I used to be upset about these types of comments but I have long since grown accustomed to seeing them like an old fixture that is a sight for sore eyes and realized that they are more reflective of the source of comments than about Thai women.
Not that, being a Thai woman myself, I think Thai women are all saintly. Moneygrubbers, gold diggers, cheaters, liars, swindlers, we have them all among us, but I believe more of us are decent, hardworking and upstanding members of society.
A reader, bifftastic, has left a question several weeks ago about this and I only now have a chance to answer it. (Thanks, bifftastic and sorry for the delay.) Bifftastic wants to understand more about the “sponsorship phenomenon” in the Thai female-farang male relationship, although this is not a problem for him personally. He asked:
I wanted to ask you about the issue of financial support.
There is much discussion about sending money (mainly amongst foreign men sending to Thai women). Some say they would never do it and seem happy that they have a relationship with someone who doesn’t ask for it or need it.
Others who are happy to help out where they can and still more who seem to send thousands and thousands of Baht every month and then complain that their partners are ‘moneygrabbers’
I know my girlfriends family all send their mum (she had 12 children in all) a little every month when they can, I send some to help supplement her income, sometimes adding a little for mum too.
She tells me of friends who have foreign partners that send anything up to 70,000 baht every month! How has this come about? Is it really a traditional thing for a man to give his wife or girlfriend money every month? Or are we all being tricked into a ‘rent-a-wife’ scheme?
I have to say it’s not really a problem for me, circumstances have led us to our present arrangement and everybody is much better off because of it. I just wondered if you could give your views on the whole ’sponsorship’ phenomenon.
First of all, let me state the obvious which somehow does not seem obvious to many: not all Thai women are alike. There are all kinds of Thai women whose expectations in a relationship, financial or otherwise, can be different. Also, an average Thai woman isn’t so different from women elsewhere when it comes to basic expectations in a relationship: affection, love, security, status, etc., and different women have different focuses: many are materialistic while others care more about the emotional side, and those who dare, want all.
Second, it’s probably fair to say that many (but not all) Thai women who gravitate towards foreign men may have a financial expectation in mind. This is likely the case, if they are poor, work in a bar, are in a low-paying job, and have a family to support. Some Thai women who are low- to mid-level white-collar workers and not poor by Thai standards may also expect financial support, if they seek a better lifestyle or have a financial (and/or moral) obligation to the family (many often do, especially if they are the only child or have few siblings). Professional and better off Thai women who are financially independent are much less likely to look for financial support from their partner, but they may have a lifestyle or other requirements that could be expensive that may become the partner’s shared burden in a committed relationship. These are likely patterns, not a sure thing. Some individual women may not conform to these general patterns due to personal values and worldview.
Third, if a woman expects financial support, how much is reasonable and how much is obscene? What’s the right amount, I think, should depend on the couple concerned to agree on really. A few thousand baht or tens of thousands of baht a month, or even hundreds of thousands of baht, gold, jewelries, a fancy condo and a car for her, a house and a pick-up for her family, etc. There is a very wide range of “support,” from meager to obscenely spoiling, and if a man hasn’t got his brains thoroughly laundered he should be able to figure out how much is reasonable and how much is unseemly. I appreciate that when a man hasn’t got a good cultural reference point, it can be a tough call.
A reasonable amount of support is not easy to determine and really not for the outsiders to say because outsiders can’t really know the relationship set-up and needs and expectations involved. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula because different relationships have different circumstances and expectations. Expectations in a love relationship, relationship of convenience and a mercantile companionship are different. In the case of many Thai-farang relationships, the man tends to be much older, often of retirement age, and the Thai wife/girlfriend a generation or two younger. There can be real love and affection in this type of relationship certainly, but the likelihood of it being a love match is probably not great. Often, I think, frustrations and resentments stem from mismatched expectations. Say, if a man of 65 years (who can’t pass himself off in the dark as 75-year-old Sean Connery) expects a woman of 25 to be with him just for his virility and sheer good looks, he’s bound to be disappointed, as is she. Or, if his 25 year-old Thai woman thinks she’s hit a two-legged jackpot and bottomless bank account who will set her and her family for life, then there’s bound to be a problem too, if he isn’t such a jackpot or is not willing to be one. But if both know and accept what the deal is, end of story at least as far as money is concerned. Usually in a love/affectionate relationship, the couple generally has sort of built-in consideration and understanding for one another. But in a more mercantile exchange or relationship of convenience, negotiation may be required to determine how much support each thinks is fair. Of course, not all Thai-farang relationships fit the winter-spring pattern (increasingly many don’t). In such cases, perhaps it’s helpful to look at the next point.
Fourth, is it normal or a traditional thing for a man to give his wife or girlfriend money every month? This is a good question. In Thai culture, among Thai-Thai couples some husbands do give part or all of their income to their wives to manage, and the wives give the husbands a stipend. This is an old set up when the wives were full-time homemakers. Nowadays, with both husband and wife commonly working full-time they likely put their respective income in the family account and draw from that for whatever expenses they agree on. Of course, different couples may have different financial arrangements. The husband may give the wife money for household expenses or spends most of it if he’s not responsible, or they keep separate accounts and decide on how to share the family expenses.
The situation is quite different in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. Thai boyfriends and girlfriends may help each other financially but the boyfriends aren’t likely to be expected to pay a monthly stipend to the girlfriends, except in special circumstances and unless it’s a sugar daddy or a kept woman situation. Or mia noi or kik situation. I don’t need to elaborate about the mia noi tradition in Thailand, except that there are many Thai women willingly or unwillingly finding themselves in a relationship with a polygamous Thai man. They may be in it for love or have been duped into it, and that’s a difficult situation. It should be noted that Thai minor wives aren’t always financially supported by their polygamous husbands, especially those who have successfully philandered despite lack of funds (but apparently having enough charms to work on at least a few women). But for many (young) mia nois or mistresses of wealthy men who have entered into the arrangement willingly, or who make a career of such an arrangement, they surely expect to be kept in a certain style: monthly salary, a condo, a car, gifts, special perks, etc. (Different mia nois may manage different returns depending on their charms, pedigree and business acumen, how smitten the sugar daddy is and how much he’s willing to pay in each case.)
So then, why many foreign partners find themselves being asked to support their Thai girlfriend or wife, and even her family? Are farang men disproportionately being asked to do so, or might some have unwittingly become sugar-daddies? I’m not really sure why and I can’t give a definite answer to the latter question. But there might be something to that. I think there are some Thai cultural and Thai-farang cross-cultural dimensions to these questions.
(a) Thai cultural dimension 1 – I’ve talked about Thai women’s expectations of material/financial support from the man in the relationship with a couple of Thai girlfriends sometime ago and it seems that regardless of financial status, most Thai women still apparently expect to be “taken care of” by their partner (financially and otherwise). This is a cultural expectation that may not reflect reality, given the high percentage of Thai women who are income earners or even breadwinners of the family (and how often do Thai women complain that their husbands aren’t reliable, financially and otherwise). Simply put, Thai women have been raised to “expect” a man to take care of them. Whether or not this is realized is another matter but that expectation, that wish, is there.
(b) Thai cultural dimension 2 – Many traditional Thai women still hold this old idea that a life of leisure is a symbol of success. Though I can’t really give any percentage estimate since there hasn’t been any poll done that I know of, I guess this attitude is probably more prevalent among less educated women from a rural background who likely espouse traditional ideas and women who have had to toil their labor for little money, for whom marrying a rich man who can afford them a life of leisure would be a great success. This certainly is not a modern notion of life partnership that exists in the West and among many modern Thais, in which each in the partnership is implicitly expected to pull his/her own weight. For those women who may espouse this old notion, their not working and being reliant on the man is hence (I’m conjecturing here) not anything to be ashamed of (if not to boast about) because to them a woman is supposed to be taken care of by her man, and a “good husband/boyfriend” should take care of her family too. But then there are some women even with a university degree who are simply not into carrying their own weight as it were, who espouse not any ideas traditional or otherwise, except the idea of living a high life without having to work for it outside of the bedroom.
(c) Thai-farang dimension 1 – A Thai woman might be into carrying her own weight if she’s in a relationship with a Thai man, but the same Thai woman might suddenly espouse the old idea mentioned above when she’s in a relationship with a farang. Is this a possible scenario? I believe so. If so, why then? I’m not sure but I don’t think it should be ruled out too quickly that such a woman might be in the relationship with a farang man just for the money and lifestyle. Though that may be the case, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care for him at all. I suspect this might have something to do with “adjusted expectations”, you know, like the two-tiered pricing – a farang partner is “richer,” so he can be expected to lift not only his own weight but her weight and her family’s too, while the poor Thai man, well, he’s poor and you can’t expect much from a Thai man anyway. I have no evidence of this, but as someone accused me once, I was probably trying to get inside of the poorer women’s heads. I could be totally wrong. If you think so, just tell me or even flame me.
Bifftastic also opined:
From a cultural point of view I can see why some western people would regard this kind of arrangement as …hmmm not sure quite how to phrase this…maybe a little sordid?
Realistically it’s no different to what goes on in many relationships, splitting the bills, arranging the finances, is all pretty normal but it seems to be a lot more emotive when it’s a Thai-Farang relationship for some reason.
I think you made a very good observation, bifftastic. It is an emotive issue indeed. In fact I’ve found it is especially emotive if an educated Thai woman has anything to say about the Thai-farang relationship or about the poorer Thai women. Some farang men seem jealously protective of poor Thai women (a sentiment I actually understand and appreciate since I also feel the same way towards the disadvantaged and downtrodden). But what puzzles me sometimes is the level of contempt for non-poor, educated Thai women among certain group of farang men.
Off topic a bit. Back to the “sordid” comment. I think, sordid or not, one should also remember that not very long ago western gentlemen were expected to find a bride with a good-sized dowry. It’s not so very different here for many Thai women who buy into the old notion of marriage for material gain. It may appear sordid because it’s out of time, like the old idea of keeping women barefoot in the kitchen sounds sordid today. So it is in a way not just an East vs. West cultural clash but also a time clash between people (Thai or foreign) living in different times.
From the point of view of a working Thai woman who carries her own weight, this sponsorship thing sometimes feels a bit sordid too, especially if it involves a woman who is a disloyal spendthrift. I cannot imagine myself living leisurely expecting my husband to pick up all the tabs – that would be distasteful to me as I feel it’s unfair to my husband. But then I don’t share the old notion and prefer equal partnership. But equal partnership is not everyone’s cup of tea. I drink and enjoy my own tea, but others may want coffee or ice cream.
It all comes down to expectations and willingness, I believe. A man has a prerogative to be with the woman of his choice. If a farang man finds this sort of financial support “sordid,” then don’t get into such a relationship, and find a woman who won’t expect anything sordid. But if he knowingly gets into such a relationship, then, either negotiate the support to an acceptable level or if he can’t for whatever reason and decides to live with it then don’t whine about it. Everybody has a choice. We don’t always get what we want and who says life’s fair?
(d) Thai-farang dimension 2 – A look at recent history of Thai-farang relationship may also shed some light. I wrote about the evolution of Thai-farang relationship in three phases: “rental wife”, “farang son-in-law” and “post-rental wife” phases, here.
I have also made “A Rough Guide for Finding the Right Thai Woman for Western Men” in which Thai women are divided into 5 major groups. I’ve put them in a matrix with expectations and considerations for each group that foreign men, especially those with limited exposure to Thai culture and society, maybe even the old hands, might find useful. I attach the matrix here, but for more detailed explanation about it, go to the original article.
UPDATE (11 May 2010): Somebody (desi – Thanks) started a discussion thread based on this article on Thaivisa forum, and discussion is going on there as well.