Talking about marriage in Kazakhstan

Talking about marriage in Kazakhstan

It’s really important to join your life with somebody who has the same priorities as you.”

I’m still working on transcribing my interviews with single Christian women in the U.S. last spring — I swear! In the meantime, I talked with my friend Marina about her experiences. Marina is a young Tatar woman from southern Kazakhstan (one of the more conservative parts of the country), and recently came to one of the major cities in Kazakhstan to work. Below are excerpts from our conversation, which she approved before I posted it: 

Tell me a bit about yourself…

What about me? When I began to grow up, I grew up in a Russian speaking atmosphere. And actually in my circle of society, when I lived, nobody looked at religion, because it was extremely unimportant for us.… but now I see that in Kazakhstan there are more people with the hijab. They are really a bit nervous if you talk about another religion, because they say that only their rules are just right. And in their families, it’s okay if the woman doesn’t have the same rights as a man. For me actually, it’s terrible, because it’s not usual for us.

Maybe it’s because Tatars, some of them are Christians. [Really? I ask.] It was since the early ancient times, when if you wanted to live, “you will be Christian!” otherwise you will die. Ivan Groznyy, Ivan the Terrible, he came to Kazan and told some Tatar people, “you must be the Christians or you will die.”

So some Tatars, they are Christian, but our [Tatar] family, we are Muslim. But we are not such fundamental Muslims. Actually sometimes my father goes to the mosque. I was there maybe just several times for my life—not so much.

For the Muslim part of the country, it’s important to get married to the same person, to a Muslim. But for the Christian part, I think they are more cosmopolitan, they don’t have that strict of rules…

So why do girls want to get married here?

Actually most of them are, they’re really afraid just to stay alone. And they have a big pressure from the relatives, that you must get married. They think if a girl of 23 years old didn’t get married, it means that something is strange with her.

For example, I have a friend, …one year older than I. In April she will be 26, and she’s still not married… And it’s a bit strange for her parents and her relatives, but she is really so smart, so nice, and she really, she has a big imagination and she’s a really clever girl.

Since she was 20, they’ve told her every day that you should, you should… And she told them, “Okay, but if for example I get married to somebody I don’t like, it will be terrible.”  … I understood her. For example, if you couldn’t find your own type of husband, it’s a bit… It’s a bit strange to decide.

What do you think about finding a husband?

Now I think that most guys, they are a bit… Celia, I think that at the beginning of the century, the guys were more polite, more intelligent. But now, they are a bit izbollovaniy [spoiled] with a lot of choice in everything. The girls in the clubs, the girls at the internet. They don’t have any ramkiy [frame, limits] for their behavior.

It’s destroyed the personality of men. Because it’s a bad influence when you can choose everything, and when you can get everything you want.

When the man is older, it’s much more difficult for him to create a clean family, because he saw a lot of women. When he meets with some girl from a good family, from an intelligent family, she has some limits. And she knows that that thing she couldn’t do before marriage, of course, yeah… [Marina raises her eyebrows]. But the men say, “oh don’t think about that, oh I love you so much and we will live together” —but not in the official together. Not an official family.

Do the girls say yes?

Some of them, yeah, unfortunately. I’m from the kind of family that, my parents told me since my childhood, that if you get married it will be once, for the whooooole life.  But now there’s a lack of good upbringing. Most of the men are really razvratnyue [dissolute].

It’s so difficult to find some guy who just really respects your personality, respects that you are from an intelligent family, that you have a good upbringing, and just really respects that you are girl.

So what should a girl do?

I don’t know. When I see some really self-confident man, I’m just, it’s not my type of man. [She speaks to him rhetorically] “If you need, you may choose another really easy girl,” I mean… [laughs]. That why now I’m still single…

So what percent of guys do you think are “dissolute”?

Maybe it’s wrong, but I think that 80 percent of them are… At the age of 18, most of the guys know everything about woman, about drink, about drugs…  It’s a bit strange, when the most part of girls just sit at home and finished school with good marks.

But actually, some intelligent guys stay at home and have the big aims and big goals in their lives. And they’re really successful in their life, because they choose another way. Not the way of the spoiled, but the way of the education, the career.

And I think that kind of guy…. the person at home, it’s really exciting and interesting to be in common with him.

On the occidental express by DarkB4Dawn

I’m curious… I know a lot of young divorced women with children here. Does this happen often??

It happens. For example, if you need to choose from a terrible husband or just to live alone… if you have a child you need to live alone, without that terrible kind of husband. Some men are beating their wives, they are drinking a lot, they have no job, they just stay at home and look at TV… And the woman, she just works two or three jobs, she just tries… to do everything for her family, but the man just stays on the sofa.

So do you think you’ll get married?

Actually, I hope I will find the kind of guy who really respects me and I respect them. Because I think it’s really important to be, first of all, friends. That passion – during the coming years it will be less, but we need to respect each other…

I’m so careful now, because I understood that my heart, I have only one heart, and if I will be in contact—it’s really hard when somebody gives pain for you, but you hope for something from the person.

So what have your parents told you about relationships?

In my father’s words, he wants to see the Tatar guy near of me [dating]. But for me it doesn’t matter.

And he told me that the guy should be from an equal family. When I was a little bit younger I couldn’t understand him. But now I understand, because when a guy is from “the not fully family,” with no father or mother, he has no good model of his future family. He has not that example, that’s why he couldn’t imagine how that should be in the most suitable way.

It’s the same advice as my parents gave! I comment to Marina. She nods and goes on,

Now I am 24… and I need to meet with some guy, and he has come from his own family. How can I join with that kind of guy—he’s from really extremely another world—and… live during all my life with him [exclaims!] And for me now, it’s a bit difficult to understand how it will be… And I need to have children with that unknown person, really unknown.

Love ya! by idea ablaze, on Flickr

Before marriage, I know about him just only his appearance and some kinds of habits, and that is all…. It’s really hard to understand what a man really represents. How to understand his inner world, how he understands what things are happening, what thing are in his mind…

When I was younger, I thought that everything depends on the personality and their own features. It doesn’t matter from which family he … but now I understood my father was right, because it’s really important. If people have no model of the right family in his mind, he can’t create something equal in his life.

It’s really important to join your life with somebody who has the same priorities as you!

So what is most important for you?

Not appearance, of course… but I need to feel comfortable with him, to trust him in each situation. And he must be a hard worker, to have real aims and to go towards those aims. I think that he should have a sense of humor [she laughs], because without that it’s a bit strange to communicate when people are so really… Ghhmmm! [she frowns and grunts like a sour-faced guy].

He should have some hobbies like mine. I like to roller skate. [Quickly backtracks] But it’s not important… He needs to respect everyone who’s near to him. Yeah, that’s the most important thing! Not when he thinks he’s a god and can do everything…

When love, love will tear us apart again, by [ henning ]

But I know it’s not a trade-market when you can choose everything you want. It’s not “I want that kind of guy, where can I find that kind of guy.” In life it’s not the same, that’s why it’s really hard to find somebody you are really fond of.

You talk about picking and choosing. Do people talk about Russian mail-order brides here?

Not so much here, as in Russia. But yes, the American guys, they hear about the Russian girls and say “oh, she is beautiful and has long legs and is very thin with blond hair” (she circles her hands around an imaginary waist) like a Barbie doll, and they are like “lth lth lth” (she laughs and mimicks a puppy dog panting after a young female!)

Marina laughs and tells me Russians are just like other women: some nice and pretty, some not. And she adds,

Yes, you look at him and say “you are not so beautiful, you are not so clever, you are not so rich…” But he still says, “I need to find the perfect woman.” But first of all [she says to the men,] you need to look at yourself and change yourself, and after that expect to find something equal like you…


In interviewing Marina, I was hoping for, you know, some cool “cultural” differences that I could write about. But as she told her story, I was struck most by how similar her perception of life was to the small-town Midwest I’d come from. Be careful, her parents cautioned her, wait, pick the right person, make sure they come from a stable family. When I met her parents, the love and protection was evident, and observing the rocky relationships many young women face in the capital made me understand why.

I was also struck by her statements on what it means to hook your life up with someone completely unknown. In Kazakhstan, as in many countries, successful young people move to the cities. Even holding on to what their parents taught, they’re still “on their own” in selecting dates, lovers, and spouses.

Around the world, our ancestors often expected families to be arranging or at least supervising matches. But for young people today, modernity can mean both opportunity and isolation, and the task of finding a suitable life partner falls onto the individual. That can be especially daunting when both partners are expected to fulfill themselves in their career, their hobbies, and their own life choices. Whom do you trust enough to invite along on this ride?


Image Credits: 1. Tatars in Kazan, 1885, russian pickle blog. 2. Nightlife in Kazakhstan, 3. Boy and girl browsing books, darkb4dawn in flickr. 4. Love ya! idea ablaze on flickr. 5. When love, love will tear us apart again, [ henning ] on flickr.

One comment

  1. Marina’s comments about so many “dissolute” young men mirrors what we hear from many young Navajo women… This becomes an even bigger challenge when the young women want to stay within their own cultural heritage when looking for a spouse.

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