The stories of Greek heroes’ infidelity and hanky panky are the stuff of legend. Take Jason or Theseus or the infamous Odysseus. Jason, married to Medea and whose charms without which he could not have survived, still betrayed her by marrying an Athenian princess, quite younger. He knew full well that he was going against his vow that he would never cheat on her. Same theme with Theseus, who according to both literary and historical record was an arrogant jerk. He needed Ariadne’s help to get out of the labyrinth but when his use for her was done, he abandoned her, pregnant no less, on the island of Naxos after getting her drunk on the way back to Athens from Crete. And of course we all know the sexual exploits of the cunning Odysseus. If he had a sexual encounter on each of the islands on the way to Ithaca it is no wonder the return leg of the journey took him over ten years.
But the stuff of myth and legend is not far from the flesh and blood truth. Let’s face it — Greek “boys” are spoiled, arrogant, and flagrantly unfaithful. We have heard stories of so and so cheating on his wife for many years. As a young girl I remember one of my father’s friends boasting,”I have had relations with hundreds of women.” I have stepped outside the Greek milieu and asked straight up Americans about what they thought of Greek men, “a–holes,” “proud” “immature”” shrewd” “good with money and business” but mostly arrogant immature “d—-“. Like Latino lovers, they are two-timers or three or four or 22-timers and keep a rotating Rolodex of women in their minds. Not to say they are much different than other men out there, and to risk coming out as stereotypical, yet stereotypes don’t come out of nowhere. Of course there are individual differences, but I feel that the “Greek man syndrome” a mix of pride, dominating stubbornness, unfaithfulness and disrespect towards females, has something to do with the way boys are socialized inGreek culture.
The discrepancies between the ways a Greek girl and a Greek boy are huge and their respective socially sanctioned behaviors create a conflict in relationships. While everyone assumes that Greek men will cheat, that is not the case for Greek women. As a wife, she is supposed to be the Penelope and remain virtuous, even when her husband is a two or 22 – timer. As women socialized in less patriarchal cultures, such as the US, this sort of double- standard becomes absolutely unacceptable. It is unfair an despicable. Therein lies the conflict for a Hellenic woman of the diaspora– how much does she sacrifice staying true to the traditions of her culture by marrying someone out of her cultural pool and how much does she sacrifice of her own dignity by conforming to the stereotype of the assumed Greek macho man? In other words, do you settle for a Greek s-o-b just to keep the balance and socially more acceptable harmony of a Greek home?
Personally, because I value my own self respect more than keeping up with the Pappas’ both times I have chosen to marry non Greeks. Both my daughters are only half- Greek. I have managed to promote a very real sense of Greek pride in them by teaching them Greek literature and Greek language, entrenching them in Greek values and a living Orthodoxy, and by taking them to Greece whenever possible. I have religiously adhered to Greek food and traditions in the home. I can safely say that both “feel” more Greek even if I had to become über-Greek so to speak in an effort to keep them from going “Greek lite” as I felt holding on to Greek culture extremely important. It was important for me that my daughters grow up Greek, but with all the benefits of feeling like empowered American women. I have tried to replicate I them what I have hoped to accomplish in myself as a hyphenated American. I never wanted to “greekness” to fade away into a barf shade of grey. Yet I did not want to compromise my self respect or settle for a spoiled overbearing Greek which tended to be my lot with most of the Greek men I met. And I got tired waiting such a long time for a balanced, egalitarian marriage partner who I also had chemistry for to come around.
I know many Greek friends who have “settled” for less-than-satisfying Greek men who are full embodiments of Odysseus or Jason. Risking the label of judgmental and unfair, I do not subscribe to their idea of happiness in marriage even though they say they are, because I can see from the outside how much of themselves they had to suppress or change all to be with a Greek husband. Relationships are extremely complicated, I know that. But all too often I see the sacrifices to self and self worth, especially in terms of respect and equal division of house work and child rearing, that many of my Greek women friends have made for the sake of keeping comfortably Greek. To be treated with respect and a fair division of the work in both sex roles are non negotiables in a marriage arrangement.
It pains me to see so many smart successful women who have so much going for them in their professions and social worlds compromise themselves in the most intimate of circles. Although I have not done formal surveys and research on it, my hunch is that they cave into the pressures, consciously or unconsciously, to marry greek because our culture puts so much stake at keeping the Greek culture alive. Since it is the mothers who transmit the culture, the drive for endogamy is very sharp in Greeks of the diaspora. “ti tha pei,” the middle-aged ladies of the Philoptochos will chit chat, “tha parei xeno?”. It is considered a desperate measure, a settling for seconds should a girl marry a xeno someone outside the Greek golden race.
So, do Greek men make the best husbands? It depends. It depends whether the Greek or Greek american has absorbed the mores of a more egalitarian sort of marriage and can respect the woman. But I believe that if the saying “a good man is hard to find” is true than the chances of finding a good Greek man are even slimmer. What the poet Rilke said is true not just for Greek but all relationships, ” in relationships it is men who do not know how to love.”
Perhaps the answer then is to re educate Greek men and women in a new paradigm of sex relations that translates into genuinely equal, mutually respectful and satisfying marriages and families. Perhaps the answer should not be so either/ or. Not chopping up Jason’s children in a fit of revenge for his infidelity nor divorcing Odysseus after all the years you invested in your relationship. If only Zeus and Hera could have had marriage counseling and taken a seat on a pillowy cloud of a couch in some marriage counselor’s office. Perhaps they could have been the archetypes of a mutually respectful and satisfying marriage.