Love and Relationships

[Two Pronged] My family keeps trying to marry me off for green cards

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer
[Two Pronged] My family keeps trying to marry me off for green cards
'When I was 17, one of my father’s friends liked me and wanted to take me back to the US with him.... My family convinced me to go with him – for their sake.'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:

I am now 42 years old and have been living in America for the last 25 years. When I was 17, one of my father’s friends, who played poker with him every Saturday and Sunday, liked me and wanted to take me back to the US with him. He was a balikbayan. He promised he would take care of me and my family, so my family convinced me to go with him – for their sake.

This man, who became my husband, was very good to me. But I did not love him, and he died five years after were married. I had my green card by then and supported myself. His children got all his money.

I am okay now. I went home for Christmas last year. I met my relatives and my relatives’ friends. This included my father’s barkada. They all know my “Cinderella” story and look up to me. They treat me with respect because my “sacrifice” enabled my sisters to go to school and get good jobs after.

Once again, one of my father’s barkada fell in love with me and asked if he could marry me. I said no, but once again, my whole family thinks I should. But I feel I have done enough for them.  

They say it is not for them, but for my father’s friend. They say that, in the same way his first friend helped me get a green card, I should marry this man to help him get a green card. What should I do


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Dear Peg,

Thank you for your email.

You say that you initially went to the US and got married for the good of your family. This is a sacrifice made by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos whose work abroad sustains their immediate, and often extended, families for years and frequently decades.

While your choice to emigrate and marry a man you didn’t love was rewarded by the chance to help your sisters, your husband – who you say liked you, promised to take care of your family, and was very good to you – died after only five years and apparently left you with no money at all. Nevertheless, armed with a green card, you have supported yourself and your family back in the Philippines successfully ever since. This has earned you the respect of your relatives and friends.

Now you are being asked to repeat the whole process once more, except for one significant difference: this time it is not for the benefit of your family but for the benefit of one of your father’s friends.

The situation this time is, however, different. 25 years ago the bargain was that your husband-to-be wanted to marry you and get a wife and homemaker in exchange for a green card. This time around you do not want this man as a husband and there is no obvious benefit to you marrying him.

You have spent your entire adult life in the service of others, eschewing not only any romantic association of your own choice but also the freedom to use your hard-earned salary to further your own dreams and aspirations. After 25 years you can surely be said to have done your duty and have now become entitled to live life as you alone see fit. I think that filial piety should have limits, and as this new sacrifice is not even for the good of your own family, you are right to want to reject the yoke of yet further decades of sacrifice, especially for the benefit of a stranger.

Be strong and resist all attempts to guilt you into giving in to this Faustian arrangement.

All the best,
JAF Baer

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[Two Pronged] Marry me or else

Dear Peg:

Thank you very much for your letter.  I am having a difficult time answering it because I can’t help feeling I am missing something.

You married a man, left your friends and siblings at the tender age of 17 to live in a new country, for your family’s sake. They prospered, as did you. Whatever life you made – and it seems like a good life – you achieved on your own. 

You went home for Christmas last year, and your family, relatives, and friends welcomed you. Now, once again, they are asking you to sacrifice yourself for the sake of a green card. Not yours this time, but someone else’s.

You write that “you have done enough for them,” which is absolutely true.

Thus, why the hesitation?   

Part of you feels it would be good to marry this guy. This is why, despite how obviously absurd and selfish (of others) to ask this of you, you cannot just ignore it.

I think the key to your problem is either trying to understand the source of this hesitation or, much easier, truly believing that you do NOT have to accede to their wishes once more. I am unsure how to help you with either, Peg, but I do know something that has helped my clients and myself tremendously: self-compassion.

This is totally different from the often-bandied-about “self-care.” I, too, enjoy having my nails done and getting a make-over, but neither (or anything in this category — especially lighting up scented candles — AURGHHHH!!) really resolve issues about what you owe others, do they?

Oftentimes, when clients seem depressed “for no reason,” we’ve discovered (together) that self-compassion seems to be the key to unlocking these old patterns of thinking and acting.

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly.

Please do not forget the first sentence in the definition above, Peg: all the compassion you feel for others you also feel for yourself. The above is from Dr. Kristin Neff, who also wrote Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (2015). Kirstin Neff, PhD, did her dissertation on this topic and it is chockfull of really convincing data (and not just fuzzy thinking), based on methodologically sound research, about the validity and reliability of this. 

There is so, sooooo much more I want to say about this, but my self-imposed word-count limit does not allow it. I have no doubt practicing self-compassion will free you from the constraints others have imposed on you. Hopefully, not anymore.  

Indeed, I cannot help feeling Dr. Neff’s research and ideas are THE very best Christmas present you can give yourself!  

All the best,
MG Holmes 


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