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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Rotten Is the Best You Can Find

There is an old joke: Two elderly women are discussing the food in a new restaurant. "It's just terrible," complained one. "I can't even force myself to eat it."

"Yes, I know," sighed the other. "And the portions are so small."

A similar spirit seems to rule when women talk about men. And, given this country's well-known tendency to the extreme, that goes double for Russian women on the topic of Russian men. I have sat through countless sessions on the theme "men are awful and there just aren't enough of them to go around."

"Men are pigs," my friend Nadya wails whenever we get together. "They are weaker than we are, more stupid, altogether more primitive."

I am just starting to launch into a "we're better off without them" diatribe when she continues:

"We are two intelligent, well-educated, vibrant women. And not bad-looking, either. Why can't we find men?"

I usually refrain from pointing out that we have found men. We just haven't found the right men. Not that I haven't looked. I have even combed Russian literature looking for an ideal -- no dice.

I would like to say that I have long ago given up on finding Prince Charming. But the truth is that I, too, am sure that he is just around the corner.

"Your job is the most important thing in your life right now," my wise friend Sonya lectures me when I complain about the lack of suitable male companionship. "You should concentrate on that."

In the next breath she is listing every available man she knows, and planning how to bring us together. For my birthday she gave me a beautiful set of two china cups. "In the hopes that you will have someone to drink tea with this year," she said, with a sly wink.

In the politically correct atmosphere reigning the United States these days, no one except a doting grandmother or a very small child would be likely to say to a woman, "Why aren't you married?" But in Russia I am asked that question all the time. My normal answer: "Just lucky, I guess."

Last week I met a new Russian man, who immediately maneuvered the conversation around to my marital status.

"Where is your family?" he asked. "My parents and siblings are in America." "But what about your family?" "That is my family." He shook his head. "Don't you have a husband? Children?" "No."

The head wagging grew more pronounced. "A woman should be married. She should be a mother." When I protested that I am happy the way I am, he responded, "It's just not normal."

So what is "normal" for a Russian woman? A daily marathon of juggling mutually incompatible goals: loving wife, understanding mother, responsive friend and successful professional -- not to mention beautiful, gracious, satisfied woman. And, of course, great cook.

She would probably be better off giving up on the whole business and retiring to a convent. But just try to convince her of that.

I recently underwent a psychological encounter session, designed to help people get in touch with their feelings. Woman after woman in the group complained about her husband or boyfriend -- some men were described as cold and unresponsive, some boorish, some dictatorial, others violent. When asked their greatest fear, these same women would say, "I'm afraid that he'll leave me."

Small portions, all right.