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Seksopolis: Marriage the Croatian Way

by Milana Vuković Runjić
Illustration by Charles Burns

Seksopolis: Marriage the Croatian Way

Milana Vuković Runjić
10 Snaps

TWO POPULAR REFRAINS

Now that we know each other a bit, I’ll quote you two popular Croatian songs. These are the songs that people on the Croatian coast like to listen to. The first one is older than me: every summer in coffee bars along the seafront I can enjoy this particular gem: “No matter what he’s like / hold on to him tight / because he’s a man.” The second song is slightly more recent; it’s sung by our most popular popstress, Severina, and it goes like this: “Even when you cheat on me I enjoy being with you.”

Why do I bring these up? For the simple reason that many Croatian women still create the image of their ideal husband based on them. A husband is this mysterious being and the most important thing is to get him to do the thing in front of a registrar and to create a marriage nest; after that, come what may. Even if a husband starts feeling a little restless we’ll let it pass because—he’s the husband. So under the motto “No matter what he’s like, hold on to him tight, because he’s a man,” Croatian women will put up with the strangest whims from their husbands, including the fact that the husbands in question stop coming home most evenings. When they feel their strength flagging, Croatian women listen to Severina’s “Even when you cheat on me I enjoy being with you,” and they wipe their tears and go on.

In our magazines you can frequently find words of comfort for those women who suspect that their husbands are cheating on them together with advice on how to survive this little temptation; after all, this is just a minor crisis which a serious marriage can weather. Even several of these crises, if necessary! You know that deep down underneath that rough surface your husband still loves you. After all, when his mistress kicks him out of his flat he comes home to you for dinner, which means that you, rather than she, are still his base. And is there anything more beautiful than being somebody’s base?

Here in Croatia, a woman is generally encouraged to be the martyr who takes care of the home while the husband is on top of a mistress, and to tolerate this silent and moody man for the next forty years despite the fact that the atmosphere in their marriage is a tad darker than the interior of a gothic cathedral after nightfall. This is why so many Croatian males enjoy the advantages of a double life: on the one hand there’s the wife who makes sure they are washed and ironed, and on the other the mistress who takes care of their burgeoning sexuality. Despite the fact that life at two addresses can be pretty stressful, a number of patriarchal types gladly enjoy it with the full support of their wives and mistresses (who are frequently aware of each other). What people often forget in this scenario are children who watch their distracted father who spends most of his time with one foot outside the door. But who has time to think of children? A man’s libido is a man’s libido, and if he can’t contain himself, what can we do? We can’t castrate him for it! We have to bow to the libido of a man: it is as mysterious and sacred as the man himself—unlike, of course, a woman, whose libido presumably died the day she was born! As you will begin to appreciate, Shere Hite and her books on female sexuality don’t tend to be read in such marriages.

WHAT TOLSTOY SAYS

Of course, not all marriages are like that. In Anna Karenina Tolstoy. Said there were two types of marriage—the happy one and the unhappy one. You can find the odd happy marriage in Croatia. It’s usually slightly less conventional than the unhappy marriage. I’ve noticed that those marriages in which women tend to “wear trousers” tend to work quite well. The relationships between manly women and womanly men absolutely blossom down here. I’m beginning to think that if the man is even the slightest bit afraid of his wife this tends to be a great foundation for a long number of happy years together. When it comes to relationships between more feminine women with less feminine women and more masculine men with less masculine men, we are not quite there. In Croatia, the status of gay relationships is not regulated at all, despite the fact that we have been discussing them for a few years now. I would not have had a specific opinion about such relationships had a good girl friend of mine not fallen in love with another woman while I was reading books about homosexuality (and not only those about Ancient Greece, where heterosexuality was considered strange); these two women have secretly gotten engaged.

Most Croatians can’t imagine the passion between two women.

Perhaps what’s missing is a popular refrain for a girl-girl relationship along the lines of “We are girls and we love one another.” Something like the Russian duo Tatu, which, truth be told, was more enjoyed by older heterosexual men than younger homosexual women. Such songs still don’t exist in our traditional little country. It’s not that we have no gay performers—but they still insist on singing hetero-pop. Despite their bad reputation, hetero-marriages are still in focus, even though some of them are more boring that TV soaps. In their name we get angry at homosexual marriages.

Most Croatians would be shocked to see a female neighbor being a bride and carrying another bride over the threshold, and would perhaps say that they are not normal. But we in Croatia like to say that other people are not normal. That’s our favourite catchphrase. And why do we like it? Because it implies that the person saying it is completely normal. And as we know, normality is the final objective of evolution, and, as we also know, it consists of a marriage, two children, and a dog. You can, of course, have more dogs and children than that, never mind the fact that this formula doesn’t work four times out of five, yet we are still faithful to it. It will take a few more centuries before we come to the conclusion that this is only one of the options of an ideal marriage, and a choice that is difficult to sustain.

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