A Different Kind of Love - finding a wife for life in the Philippines
Filipino women tend not to smoke or drink, and they're a little more placid than Irish women. In turn, Irish men offer security, and maybe a few quid for their family back home. When Joanna Kiernan met some Irish men who had married younger Filipino women, she sensed no great love or passion, but she did find mutual appreciation, companionship and happiness
'They come to me when they have heard about the younger ladies in the Philippines, because in Ireland, or in the West, the trend is you will marry someone close enough in your own age. Like, a girl here will not marry a man that's 20 years her senior, only in the very odd few cases. You do have the odd lady that likes to have a toy boy, but you have the majority of men that prefer much younger girls."
I am sitting with Chris Sexton, 70, in the front of his Nissan Sunny outside the parish church in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare.
I offer to buy him a coffee somewhere, but he won't hear of it, and he plumps up a floral cushion he seems to have swiped from his couch and placed on the passenger seat in anticipation of my arrival. As he pats it twice, beckoning me in, I get the sense that this will be an interesting chat.
Chris is a self-styled marriage agent and regularly arranges for Irish men to travel to the Philippines in search of a wife, through his agency East Meets West.
"The logic behind all that is," he explains, "if a man is 40 or 50 years old and he wants, perhaps in his own mind, he wants an offspring. A girl his own age, most likely, cannot give him that."
As Chris continues, the term 'offspring' swirls around my subconscious: it is not a word I would ever have associated with humans; birds maybe, sheep or cattle, but never humans.
But then, despite the Beckham-style stud in each ear, Chris is a country man, a Clare man, a farmer, so I rationalise that perhaps this is common.
Chris is married to the lovely Rosaliah, who is 33.
Filipina Rosaliah firmly believes that it was destiny that brought her and Chris together, as they met the day after he broke up with his previous wife.
Chris maintains albums recording the details of the women that his agency has to offer, containing, "their photograph and their schooling, and their statistics like their height, their weight and their religion and all this kind of stuff, their educational background and their work records, everything. I look for good characters and no baggage, if possible, meaning no offsprings prior to getting married to the men I take over there," he tells me.
Chris refuses to look on his agency as a business, insisting that he makes no money from it. The men he takes out to the Philippines will simply cover his expenses for the trip.
On one particular trip we spoke about, he accompanied 11 men and he is currently in talks with a man from Dublin, two men from Laois and one from Killarney, regarding the next voyage.
Chris is aware that the women who come to him may have inflated perceptions of what their newly married lifestyles in Ireland will be like.
"In fairness," he says, "not putting down anybody, but the girls in the Philippines anticipate that -- the same way we thought years ago that if us Irish people went to America, that you would find gold in the streets, and all you had to do was just go there and pick it up -- so the Filipinos sort of think that they will have a much better life here, from looking at TV and films of different countries and that."
Chris and his wife are currently trying for a baby, "if God be willing," and he believes that the men who contact him are attracted by the Filipino women's more traditional, homely outlook.
"The Asian girls and the Eastern Bloc girls, they wouldn't be as much advanced as the girls in the West and that is one of the particular reasons why men select Filipino girls. I get the feedback time and time again that these Filipinas are so calm, so relaxed, so sweet and non-temperamental."
"Placid?" I suggest, in a mocking tone that it seems goes unnoticed by Chris.
"Placid, that would be the word," he agrees.
I ask why these men would not want women with a bit of fight in them, and if it is healthy to actively seek out a relationship with someone who will constantly agree with you.
"Look it, my dear," Chris responds slowly, "when a man gets to 40-plus, you get so set in your ways. How can you change to a maximum degree? You can change maybe to a minimum degree, but my God, it's very hard to change completely. The way that I would like it to be would be 50-50, that's the best way, but it does not work out in Ireland that way. Of course it won't work out with the Filipinos either, like, on a 50-50 because the man . . ."
Chris pauses for a second, before he continues. "As I stated to my wife prior to getting married to her, I said: 'Listen, the age difference is so much between us and I'm so set in my ways, I'm sorry, I won't be changing.' And, I says: 'Another thing I have, unfortunately, is I have a bad temper and you will have to cope with me on that situation if we have an argument.' 'No problem,' she says. 'I will just go to my room.' And sure enough we have had a few little tiffs and whatever and she did go to her room and it was lovey dovey again a half hour later."
With more bluntness than I had intended, I enquire whether Chris honestly thinks that these women could be physically attracted to such older men.
"I tell the men straight out, 'Don't come to me unless you are interested in finding a wife for life.' And when I interview the girls I say the very same thing," he answers with a sudden intensity.
"We play a negative role all the time to the girls," Chris continues. "No girl knows how rich they are, or property-wise what the men have at all. We just make sure that the men will relate to the girls, that: 'Here I am, I'm just an ordinary person.' So there isn't a very positive frame being painted, because if there was a very positive frame being painted, then these girls would be only marrying the men for what they had."
A set of pink rosary beads swings gently from the rear-view mirror of Chris's car as we speak. He is endearing and infuriating in equal measure.
At certain points in the interview, he turns on the charm, apparently surprised by my "glamour". It's not a word I associate with myself, but I take the compliment nonetheless: a girl's got to take them where she can.
He asks if I "have any of the blood of the continent mixed up with you?" explaining that I look more like I'm from the Ukraine than of Cork and Dublin descent.
I disagree and ask if he thinks he could pawn me -- "a genuine Irish 24-year-old" -- off to the men he deals with as easy as he could a Filipina of the same age?
The answer is no. I would apparently be a harder sell.
"You'd be very demanding. Maybe you're not, maybe you're a very sweet girl, but that is the thinking of the men," he concludes.
Eugene O'Reilly is 60. He lives in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, with his Filipina wife Rosselle, 33, and their four-year-old daughter, Princess.
He is quick to point out just how difficult finding a nice woman in Ireland these days has become.
"Well, it's a big problem in Ireland today. I know that for certain because I had a few relationships before," Eugene half giggles, as if he knows the statement might irk me slightly. "It's a big problem in Ireland to meet a girl that you can trust, or that has respect for you and all that, you know? It's very hard to get a girl here in this country that doesn't drink or smoke and I think it's terrible. Out in the Philippines you don't see them smoking, you never see a girl smoking or anything, and they don't drink, so they don't go out drinking," he reasons.
Eugene met Chris Sexton at the Ploughing Championships one year and was intrigued by his service.
"I was curious of what he was doing," says Eugene. "He explained it and I said I'd go on a holiday anyway. I met Rosselle and I went back for three months the next time."
On Eugene's fifth visit to the Philippines, he and Rosselle were married and the couple returned to Ireland when she became pregnant with Princess in 2006.
I ask Rosselle if she had any fears about meeting a stranger with the prospect of marriage.
"Yeah, of course I was scared. I'm afraid because he's a foreigner. I just met Eugene in a restaurant, with my aunt," she tells me, "She want me to go to the hotel, but I said no, it was not like that. I don't want to go there alone. So I go to the restaurant with my aunt and my sister."
Eugene, for his part, is very happy with his lot.
"I don't pass any remarks on what other people think or do," Eugene states plainly. "I'm very open. People are more open out there in the Philippines than they are in this country.
"To be honest with you, in this country, we've still a long way to go," he says. "I don't know whether it is the unknown or what."
But not everyone is as confident about coming forward as Eugene and his wife Rosselle.
Another couple I spoke to, a 46-year-old farmer from the north-east, and his 28-year-old Filipina wife, wished to remain anonymous. We will call them Jim and Anna. These are not their real names.
"Some of the neighbours do be reading the paper," Jim offers by way of explanation.
They arrive to meet me with their nine-month-old son, who has two little pink chubby cheeks from the turmoil of teething, which completely disarm me.
"It's good with the farm; to pass it on: there's somebody there. You like to have somebody after you when you go," says Jim, noticing how taken I am with his son.
Anna is a determined, plain-speaking and girlishly pretty young woman, and Jim a quiet, timid man whose eyes strike me, as did Eugene's, as having a lot of youth in them still.
For Jim, travelling to the Philippines in search of his wife was inspired by a fear of loneliness, which caused him to do something uncharacteristically radical.
"Curiosity, that was all really. Eventually then I said I would go just for the holiday and adventure, that's all," he says. "I met ones that Chris introduced me to and that was it really. You went round the city and that, and you just had a bit of a chat with these other people, that's all it really was and then a bit of shopping. I just met about nine or 10 for the crack. It was just that I got on well with this woman here; I got on well with her and we kept a correspondence, text messages and I did write a wee bit as well."
I ask why he didn't marry an Irish woman.
"I would have married one, if I had met the right girl," he responds. "I did try other dating things and that in Ireland as well and that didn't really work out, so I decided to try this. I don't go to discos or dances much. With me work as well, I'd be kind of busy and I just wouldn't be bothered after that to go out anywhere."
Jim and Anna were married in a Catholic church in the Philippines in 2008.
"Some people, they think that Filipinas are only interested in money and that's why they marry foreigners, only for sending money to the family. We want to prove that not all Filipinas are like that," Anna states defiantly.
However, she admits in the next breath that this was her one big chance to have a family of her own.
"I said: 'I think this is my time to make a marriage.' I was working all the time and breadwinner of my family. Working all the time," she adds, "He is very quiet and has respect for my parents, so it started that way."
It was Anna's mother that suggested she contact Chris Sexton's agency.
"I said to my mom, 'No, I don't want to do it because I'm afraid. They say foreigners are wife-beaters also', and I had a boyfriend at that time. I'm not interested, but I just go with the flow and then I see my husband and I say, 'Oh, he's handsome!' I said to myself, 'Oh, I like this one.'
"My family and relatives said: 'That man is serious for you, respectful, just go!' I have also the advice from my family, of what I am supposed to do. He is not the bad kind of foreigner. So I go. I am the breadwinner in my family," says Anna, "but I stop right now, I married right now."
"If you do get married to a Filipina you have to kind of expect that you'll have to give a little bit to the family. It is a big thing in her country to marry a foreigner," says Jim honestly.
Anna is equally honest, agreeing that a huge attraction to Irish men is that they are more financially secure. "Yeah, but it's not Filipina only [who want to marry westerners]. I think it's any country right now, like Chinese, Thailand, Nigeria," she adds.
It's a strange situation and no matter what your opinion, all relationships are a kind of bargain in some way or the other: sex, money, love, friendship. Everyone seeks out something from a partner that they feel they're lacking themselves.
The tales of happiness that I encountered in writing this piece did not inspire that romanticism one gets when hearing accounts of great love and passion. It was all a little more practical, more bearable, more mundane than that.
There was contentment, nothing heart-achingly beautiful or breathtaking, but rather an ordinary mutual appreciation of what they could bring to one another's lives, whether that be companionship, security or, indeed, offspring.