In Thailand it is very common to see older Western men with young Thai girls on their arm. Are they prostitutes, girlfriends, or wives? Often the answer is not so obvious.
Does paying for a woman make her a prostitute? In the western view, mostly yes. In the eastern view, not necessarily.
It is a fact that it is very easy to ‘rent’ a girlfriend for a period of time in Thailand. In all the major tourist centers like Bangkok, Pattaya, Ko Samui, or Chiang Mai there is a lively scene where foreigners connect with Thai women. Many times there is money involved.
The focus of this article is money in real relationships, not prostitution, between Thai women and western men. The problem is that the boundaries between the two cannot be clearly defined, as you will see.
In the west, love is seen as the essence of a relationship
In order to understand money issues in relationships with Thais, we have to look at the social and cultural background. Relationships in Thailand often have a different focus than relationships in the west.
For most couples in the west, love is the number one consideration, and economics comes second. In other words, when two people love each other, they are willing to connect based on that and figure out their money situation as they go along.
In the East, love is often the secondary consideration
In Thailand however, the economic situation is traditionally seen as more important than love. This is the case in most developing countries where marriages are not so much a love arrangement but an economic arrangement. Love is secondary to the security, financial and social improvement of the marital arrangement.
It is tradition in Thailand that the man makes a financial contribution to the family of his wife-to-be. This is often a negotiated amount and can be substantial. In the west we would say that he is paying for his wife or purchasing her, but the Thais don’t see it that way.
Children as old age security instead of pension
Thailand does not have a social security system like most western countries. When older people stop working or are not able to work anymore, they cannot expect help from the government.
Their social security system is their children. They are expected to pay for their retired parents and take care of them in every way which they willingly do. When Thai women marry, their husband is expected to help pay not only for his wife’s parents, but often for the extended family too.
Westerners are seen as walking ATM machines
Money plays an important role in the marriage arrangements in Thailand. If a man is able, but not willing to pay for his wife’s parents and relatives, he is seen as stingy and of low character.
When Thai women enter into a relationship with a westerner, they naturally expect the man to pay for her and her relatives. Westerners are generally seen as wealthy by the Thais, and there is often considerable pressure on the man to pay for more than he had bargained for.
Many Thais consider western men as something akin to a walking ATM machine, and it is often not possible to convince them that they are not wealthy.
Issues with privacy and relatives
This can cause considerable strains in cross-cultural relationships. Excesses do take place. I know of many stories where Thai women have deliberately exploited western men financially, and many relationships have broken up because of that.
Another factor is that Thais don’t require much privacy compared to their western counterparts. Relatives visit, stay a while, or move into the house of the horrified western husband while his wife considers this perfectly normal.
Understanding each other’s culture is mandatory
Those issues need to be brought out into the open and discussed clearly between the partners. The Thai woman needs to understand the western point of view and the western man has to see the Thai’s cultural tradition.
They have to negotiate an arrangement that works for both of them, they have to meet somewhere in the middle. Without that the relationship has seriously reduced chances of surviving.
The Thai wife is often strongly influenced by her family
Even if the newly wed Thai woman understands that her western husband does not have unlimited resources, she will often be under pressure from her family to squeeze money out of him.
Often a Thai woman who has a western boyfriend will be asked by her friends: “How much does he pay you every month?” She will not be asked: “How much does he love you?”
If the Thai woman replies that he does not pay her and they both work and share expenses like in the western model, her image will suffer and she will lose face somewhat. I know this for a fact, since it has happened to my Thai wife many times, and she told me about it.
Understanding the issues before they come up
Unless the money issues are clearly discussed, understood and agreed upon, it can happen and has happened many times that the Thai woman will leave her western man if the money is not flowing anymore.
Thai women who are more educated, have traveled or lived abroad, can better relate to the western style of relationship. There are many good cross cultural relationships where couples have worked out those issues.
My purpose with this article is to point out potential problem areas related to money in relationships, increase an understanding of social and cultural backgrounds, and encourage mutual understanding and communication between prospective partners.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade. His wife is Thai and they have created a successful cross cultural relationship. You can reach Shama at firstname.lastname@example.org