There are some universal truths (and far too many stereotypes) about marriage with entire studies based on debunking or proving existing myths. Statistics seem to bombard us from everywhere dropping like confetti or grains of rice at a wedding parade. Starry-eyed couples about to tie the knot in Greece blissfully, willfully ignore the stats, because – just as two-time British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.” And when it comes to Greek statistics, you can just ask Eurostat!
So here’s the lowdown on Greek marriage based on what I see around me, the findings of scientific studies and my own personal longitudinal study following 19 years of navigating the choppy seas of Greek holy moley matrimony.
1. The Greek married couple is not alone.
The cliche that says you don’t marry a person but a family could never be more true than in a Greek marriage. Indeed in-laws are a force to be reckoned with and this brings with it numerous gifts such as a family house, car and free childcare so that you don’t have to struggle with the mundane aspects of life, such as paying the mortgage. On the other extreme, the couple is deprived of working together to solve daily problems and build a common life with each other brick by brick. Many expats feel overwhelmed by the intrusion as in-laws – often living in the upstairs apartment – may pop in whenever they feel like it, establishing an open-door policy that gives them free reign in the couple’s spats or even baby naming rights. The obvious solution would be to move out, but it’s a little like the mafia as the family will never understand why you chose to give up all the benefits. “That xeni (foreigner) must really hate us,” they’ll think.
2. Greek marriages are self-motivated.
Silhouetted by the sunset with the salty Aegean sea mist caressing your lips, an “I do” slips dreamily and it all seems to be sealed with love. While we’re not denying the deep affection that joins two people in Greek holy matrimony, let’s not forget the fundamentals of Greek unions in relation to local expectations. In the not-so-distant past, parents arranged their daughters’ marriages by proxy and offered substantial dowries to suitable grooms. While this may no longer overtly be the case, the practical notions of what makes a marriage work still apply and are stemmed in Ancient Greece where only men (not women or children) were Athenian citizens. Greek men still rule the roost and many believe that there are two kinds of women: the ones who are desired for a tempestuous love affair and the ones to marry. The madonna-whore complex reigns supreme and Jennifer Lopez’s song “Ain’t Your Mama” may have been written for a Greek man. As for Greek women, they know the rules and work them to their own advantage when snagging their own breadwinner.At the end of the day, it’s hard to know who to feel sorry for the most.
3. Bride vs. Groom in gender wars.
There are warning signs steeped in Greek wedding traditions that many foreign brides and grooms choose to miss. The most obvious one can be found in the Gospel during the section where it says: “The wife will fear the groom” (H γύνη να φοβήται τον άνδρα). At this point, the bride may choose to step on her husband’s foot in an effort to show him that she has the upper hand, thus declaring the start of a lifetime of gender wars where women – even those with the upper foot – may lack the upper hand. For instance, the European Parliament’s Gender Equality report on Greek women today concludes that the “crisis has severely impacted on the position of women and on the progress in gender equality through severe austerity policies such as dramatic cuts, massive layoffs and restriction of access to benefits nd services. Women have been particularly affected by austerity and the breakdown of institutional structures and the gains that had been the joint product of EU equality legislation and the contribution of the feminist movement on civil society.”
4. Greeks are less likely to divorce.
Until the mid-1970s, Greek Orthodox divorces were rare. These days, divorce is more common with the rates still quite low though the actual perceived rate is high as separated partners may delay doing the expensive legal paperwork.
Figures from the Athens registry show that the economic crisis, if anything, has shown a decline in divorce rates (along with a drop in marriage rates).
5. Greeks are less likely to work on their marriages.
There’s a Greek saying that states that you’ve “tied your donkey” after getting married and that’s the end of that. For this reason, Greeks are less likely to seek to change a bad situation. Let’s face it, this is not a society that is raised on episodes of Oprah and Dr. Phil. Sharing intimate details about a less-than-perfect marriage is viewed as disloyalty with Greeks less likely to air their dirty laundry preferring instead to keep it in the family. Their lack of trust in Greek psychologists may not necessarily be such a bad thing either as the industry is pretty much in shambles when it comes to the quality of therapists and their academic training that is at times dubious in a country where you can study psychology at private colleges.
6. Greek families aren’t always as they seem.
Greek men always had a reputation for being philanderers, oftentimes exaggerating their exploits as shows of macho bravado. However, shocks recently ripped through Greek society with the presentation of a report by the Andrological Institute of Athens found that women are just as likely to be unfaithful as men. A study of 2,000 participating couples found that 78 percent of women have extramarital affairs, compared to the 84 percent of male cheaters. Male egos were left tarnished but nobody really believed the report because if the women are cheating between cooking, housecleaning, laundry, nurturing the kids and working then they hide it very well.