Monday, July 19, 2010

We've Come a Long Way, Baby - or Maybe Not!

The old west was a tough place where men were men and women were scarce.  During the mid-1800s, "Mail Order Brides" became a common way for finding a life partner.  With few occupations available to pioneer women outside of being a seamstress, teaching or whoring, any female wanting to travel west considered being a bride her only option.  Tons of men from the east had already migrated west to claim land, start businesses or pan for gold and find their fortune.  Unlike today, the emphasis was not on the woman's looks, rather the need for a companion.

Some enterprising men earned a living by delivering the women west. Wagon trains carrying countless 'ladies' were a common sight. But how did they book passage? Prospective grooms wrote letters home and asked that clergymen pass on information, or they took out ads in newspapers.  Females interested responded in kind, and it was through letters, which sometimes included the exchange of photographs, that women got to know their intended spouses.  Usually some sort of finder's fee was the impetus to those who started the business of transporting the ladies to their mates.  Those hoping to find a better life were often disappointed.  Being a pioneer wife wasn't a bed of roses and not for the faint of heart.

Imagine the surprise!  I can't even fathom marrying someone I'd never met.  I wonder if women cheated back then like they do now on the computer dating sites.  Of course men do it, too.  I'm talking about posting a photo taken years and pounds ago.

 See, times haven't changed quite as much as we believe.  Instead of wagon trains west, now technology has provided us with different methods of mating.  Prior to the computer, mail order magazines, showing mainly women from undeveloped countries looking for a better life were a much-used option. Now, a large number of "dating" sites have cropped up on the Internet.  Some claim to match you with your soul mate and screen the membership, while others are clearly more interested in garnering membership fees and could care less about anything else.  I know of what I speak.

I wrote a book based on my sister's experience with a computer dating site.  Like some women in the old west who were single, divorced or widowed, she turned to a new and promising way to help find that certain someone.  What happened wasn't pleasant, and I offered Embezzled Love as a warning.  Here's the blurb and an excerpt:

They advertise on television—“find your true love; we’ll match you with the person of your dreams.” Their irritating spam clogs your computer inbox—"free tonight? Let’s chat.” You can turn the channel or hit the ‘trash’ button, but the promises still linger in your mind. Is it any wonder divorced and lonely, Cassie Fremont, signed up for an on-line dating service?  What later shocked her was cost of the ticket for a ride on the roller coaster from hell.

Cassie awoke to an unusual sound outside. She rolled over to wake Evan only to find him gone - strange that he would get up so early on a Saturday morning. With a wide yawn, she forced herself to leave the warmth of her bed and get up and walk to the window to investigate. She pushed the curtain aside and peered out. The bright ascending sun blinded her momentarily, but once her eyes adjusted she saw a small tractor - a bobcat she believed they were called. Evan stood with three men and watched another dig gaping holes in her beautiful lawn. “Oh my God,” she spontaneously shouted, pushing the window open. “What are you doing?” Her words went unnoticed, covered by the roar of the lawn-eating monster.
She rushed to her closet, pulled her robe from its hook, and shoved her arms through the sleeves while stuffing her feet into her fuzzy slippers. Her soles barely touched the stairs as she flew down to stop the destruction before it got too far.
She burst out the back door. “Evan, what’s going on?”
“Hi, baby girl, sorry we woke you, but we wanted to get an early start.”
She barely heard him over the din of the tractor, and felt uneasy under the watchful stares of the strangers in her yard. She raised her voice to be heard. “Can I speak to you inside for a moment?”
Evan craned his neck toward her to hear. “What?”
“Inside, I need to speak to you inside,” she yelled.
Evan followed her into the house. When he tried to wrap his arms around her in a morning embrace, she pushed him away. “What the hell are you doing to my yard?”
He looked surprised. “I’m making some improvements.”
“How do you figure that digging a huge hole in my beautiful lawn is an improvement? Evan, I love my back yard.”
He reached for her hand. “Babe, if you love it now you’re gonna go crazy for it when I’m done. I’m putting in a big fish pond, complete with all the plants and a foot bridge.”
“Because, your home is going to be the showplace for our business - I need clients to be able to view my work. When I’m done, you won’t believe it’s the same yard.”
Cassie slowly shook her head in disbelief. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Don’t worry. I promise it will be a thing of beauty. You trust me don’t you?”
“I guess I have to at this point.” She pictured her once beautiful sod. “By the way, who are those guys?”
“Some of Stan’s extras. I hired them for the weekend.” Evan said with excitement. “You don’t mind putting up a little front money do you? I don’t have enough cash to pay all three of them.”
“Well … I guess I can handle it. How much do they get an hour?”
“Mexican labor is cheap, even in California. I promised them six dollars.”
“I’ll have to get dressed and get to the bank before noon. I don’t have enough cash on me. Do you have any other surprises I should know about? Swimming pools, tennis courts, riding stables?”
Evan laughed. “Nope, just a great big pond that we can load with lots of Japanese Koi.”
“Aren’t those expensive fish?”
“Nothing’s too good for my baby. Besides, I ordered a new credit card for the business to get us started. It should be here any day now.”

There are still Mail Order Brides, today.  As in the catalogs, most are from underdeveloped countries or places where women have little value.  There are documented cases of disappointed grooms or brides that have resulted in murder.  So, think about the risks before you jump headlong into something that may not turn out as happily as you expect.  Yes, I know there are happy-ever-after cases out there, but what are you willing to risk in hopes of becoming one?

If you'd like to read more, visit Wikipedia.  It has some interesting facts and figures.


Anonymous said...

Once a wagon. Today a key board. Warning signs ignored and the world keeps turning. Thanks for references the re-minder Ginger.

Ciara Gold said...

My great-grandmother was a mail order bride - sorta. My great-grandfather moved to Tex from Switzerland and his sisters who still lived there knew of a woman who had no prospects for a better life so they arranged for her to go to Texas to marry him sight unseen. It must have been okay because they had six children. I'm like you, though, Ginger. I can't even imagine and yet it still happens in today's modern world.

Rhobin said...

With all the sex slave and reports of abuse, mail-order marriage is as dangerous today as back then. Those brave (or desperate?) women never knew where they were landing until they arrived. Scary.

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