Thursday, October 21, 2010

marriage in Chile

I don't read or watch the news here: lack of interest leads to being too lazy to work through the language. So I haven't followed the miners' story at all, except for headlines, occasional bits in English, or Chileans asking me if I've seen the latest thing about the miners. As you may or may not know, the entire country has been watching and sharing every detail of the experience, and it's been a big focal point of national unity. When the first miner was scheduled to be pulled out, at midnight on a weekday, people set alarms and got up to watch. And continued watching for hours. And then went to work in the morning.

One thing I did catch was this juicy tidbit: apparently one of the miners was greeted at the surface by his mistress, rather than his wife. And then I heard a rumor there was a third woman looking to visit him at the hospital.

There are inevitable North Americanisms in the reportage about this--things that just wouldn't occur to you unless you spent some time digging into Chilean culture.

The first thing is that male infidelity here seems to be near-universal, and pretty much expected as part of the machismo complex. Every time I go to hang out with my friend Karen, Oscar and Ximena wink and promise not to tell Anna. And they're only sort of joking.

The women, for their part, tend to pretend cheating isn't ubiquitous among Chilean men, until their partner's cheating is in their face, at which point they feel really, really hurt; often the relationship ends, and if they form new relationships with other men, they continue to pretend cheating isn't ubiquitous.

The second thing is that no one gets divorced here. Divorce was only legalized in 2004, so for all these decades, people have been separating and remaining married, while moving on to find new partners and often start new families. I'd say about half the Chileans I've met who have ever been married are currently separated, whether or not they've got new partners. I finally asked one of the English teachers about this:
"Well, first of all, it's very expensive. There's paperwork, and you have to have witnesses, who say that this person did this thing--"
"Oh! You don't have no-fault divorce."
I explained no-fault divorce for him; he laughed when I got to the phrase "legal fiction," talking about how before no-fault divorce, someone in the marriage had to be abusive or adulterous in order to get a divorce, rather than the system just accepting the reality that relationships fall apart. You still have to do this to get an annulment from the Catholic Church: everyone gets together and lies and finds a reason the marriage was never valid to begin with. (Sheila Rauch Kennedy wrote a book about refusing to do this; her case is also discussed by Garry Wills in Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit.)

The expensive paperwork and lack of no-fault divorce is probably enough to deter most people, but the English teacher had a further explanation, chuckling:
"You know, the real thing is, not getting divorced keeps us from having to be married again."

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