Wednesday , July 24 2024

Vietnamese single mothers challenge dating, marriage stereotypes

When a friend of his asked for help finding a single mother to marry, Doan Dung quickly discouraged him, asserting that single mothers are only for dating, not for marrying.

The belief has been an old refrain among some Vietnamese men for years now.

The 40-year-old Dung from Dong Nai province in Southeast Vietnam explained: “Many of them [single mothers] are not looking for love, they often need support raising their children.”

According to him, marrying a divorced woman also presents an array of challenges, such as managing relationships with her ex-husband and his family, on top of the dynamics involving the new husband and the woman’s family. He also warned his friend of potential complications arising from her children from a previous marriage.

Many single mothers in Vietnam are navigating such societal prejudices, pressures and stereotypes as they seek meaningful relationships, facing unique challenges in the dating and marriage world.

Although precise statistics on single motherhood in Vietnam are unavailable, rising divorce rates suggest an increasing number of women may be raising children alone. Recent data from Ho Chi Minh City indicates an average of 80-100 divorces per district each month. In 2022, the Supreme People’s Court recorded over 500,000 divorces nationwide.

Nguyen Minh Nguyet, 34, who administers a social media group for single mothers with 12,000 members, has observed that the notion “single moms are only for dating” has sparked numerous debates.

Nguyen Minh Nguyet (far L), once a single mother, her current French husband Florian Casagrande (far R), and Nguyets daughter. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Nguyen Minh Nguyet (far L), once a single mother, her current French husband Florian Casagrande (far R), and Nguyet’s daughter. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Some single mothers feel the common stereotypes that they are “devalued” or can never dream of “finding happiness again” are prejudiced views.

Nguyet has listened to numerous women in her group describe how their post-single motherhood relationships are often fulfilling until marriage is brought up. But once the issue becomes a concern, their partners then avoid the topic and ultimately end the relationship.

Thanh Hue, 40, from District 8 in Ho Chi Minh City, who divorced seven years ago following her husband’s infidelity, believes that many single moms are primarily seeking emotional support after experiencing pain, which makes them susceptible to men who are only interested in casual relationships.

Beyond their 20s, single mothers tend to be more accommodating and less demanding of their partners. Thus, those who are financially independent and strong are considered attractive dating options. Relationships with the latter group are seen as low-risk, not burdened by financial dependencies, and uncomplicated both during the relationship, and after it ends.

Hue still hopes to remarry if she can find someone to help support her and her two children. She occasionally meets potential partners through matchmakers, but many of those interested in advancing the relationship are not willing to accept her children.

“I have encountered surprising and hurtful questions, such as, ‘Can you send your children to live with their grandmother?’ or ‘Does their father and his family provide any support?’” Hue lamented.

On the other hand, the notion that “single moms are only for dating” is sometimes at least partially true because, in reality, some single mothers prefer to keep it casual.

Ngoc Ha, 37, from Hanoi, is one among this group.

After leaving her marriage more than three years ago, Ha went through a period of uncertainty.

Now, having found peace and achieved significant career milestones, she is able to support herself and her children. Being self-sufficient, she expects little in return from others, which helps maintain a balanced relationship.

“I have many friends in their 40s and 50s who are independent and full of energy,” Ha noted. “The men around them are quite decent, but they all prefer to date rather than commit to marriage just yet.”

Ngoc Ha and her eldest son. Photo courtesy of Ha

Ngoc Ha and her eldest son. Photo courtesy of Ha

From a male perspective, writer Hoang Anh Tu, who manages a social media group that hosts discussions on marriage and family issues with over 170,000 members, mentioned that the phrase “single moms are only for dating” became prevalent among some men five to ten years ago.

In recent years, the viewpoint has diminished significantly, and those expressing such outdated opinions have encountered widespread backlash online.

“However, this change is mostly observed on social media,” Tu noted. “In real life, these old prejudices still linger among some men.”

This bias is not restricted to men alone; it also exists among women. Heartbreakingly, some single mothers have even begun to view themselves as “second-hand women.”

Tu recounted an episode from a television show where a single mother sought advice on forming a new relationship with a divorced man. She felt “inferior” within the relationship, which hindered her from finding happiness.

“Whether you see yourself as a tablecloth or a doormat is up to you,” Tu advised. “No one can look down on you if you believe in your own worth.”

The expert holds the view that there’s no more suitable advice in this case because men can overcome any prejudice when they encounter true love. He argued: “If they cannot overcome it, then it’s not true love.”

“I want to encourage women not to see themselves as ‘second-hand’ anymore,” he added. “Every marriage is distinct and serves its unique purpose.”

Psychologist Hoang Hai Van from Hanoi confirms that forming a relationship with a single mom comes with its own set of difficulties and challenges, just like dating anyone, making it understandable why some men are cautious and selective.

However, he firmly states that discrimination against, unfair treatment of, or demeaning single mothers is unequivocally wrong.

As society progresses, attitudes toward sex and having children before marriage are becoming more open. However, prejudices against single mothers persist. Although single parenthood affects both genders, paradoxically, men often receive more sympathy.

Meanwhile, single mothers face harsher judgments, regardless of the reasons for their situation—whether it was their choice to become a single mother or due to circumstances like widowhood, abuse, or a cheating spouse.

“Whether women become single moms by choice or circumstance, they do not deserve to be judged negatively when they decide to remarry,” Van emphasized.

Tra My, 38, and her husband Tien Dat, 28, have been married for three years. Photo courtesy of My and Dat

Tra My, 38, and her husband Tien Dat, 28, have been married for three years. Photo courtesy of My and Dat

After ending her three-year marriage, Tra My, a 38-year-old yoga teacher in Hanoi, embraces her divorced status with a cheerful disposition, viewing it not as a weakness but a reflection of her inner strength and confidence. This self-assurance and her youthful appearance likely drew the attention of her current husband Tien Dat, who is 10 years her junior.

Dat said that he never considered discriminating against single moms. He loves his wife for who she is. Dat said that even he had “found peace” amid life’s challenges through her presence.

“I value her for her kindness and compassion, which she maintains despite past misfortunes,” Dat said. “I am committed to supporting her throughout our life’s journey together.”

Nguyet, after being betrayed by her boyfriend, chose to have her child and become a single mom at 24, ultimately raising her two-person family successfully on her own. She views “single motherhood” as a simple statement of one’s marital status, not an impediment.

“I am indeed proud because having a child has made me stronger,” Nguyet remarked.

However, during matchmaking, she encountered blunt proposals from men who asked her to send her child to live with her mother to better facilitate a new marriage.

This disheartening experience left her wary of relationships until she met Florian Casagrande, a Frenchman, in 2020. He respects and loves Nguyet for her courage and responsibility as a single mother, in stark contrast to the avoidance she had previously encountered.

Casagrande also noted that in his country, it’s a cultural no-no to discriminate against or belittle of women who raise children alone.

“Vietnamese men often have too many standards,” he observed. “And many may then miss out on some truly remarkable women.”

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