“I might not know as much about love as I say I do, but now I know why everyone wants it, because it’s the closest thing we have to magic.”
This quote comes from one of my favorite movies, Aquamarine. Sure, it’s a silly teen chick flick about befriending a mermaid, but this quote has remained one of my favorites since I originally saw the film. Love is a powerful force that drives individuals of many cultures to find a partner to hopefully share a life with. Although dating, marriage, and sadly, divorce customs may be different among cultures, many of them are created from, engrained in, and products of the quest to find this kind of magic we call love.
The beginning of any relationship begins with courtship and dating. Costa Rican culture still emphasizes old-fashioned dating rules, with most Ticas expecting romance and good manners from men. 37% of Ticos and Ticas believe that the man should ask the woman out and pay for dating expenses, such as meals and trips (A Tico Guide, n.p.) Surveys indicate that typically, Ticas are open to dating men who are five years older or younger, (Foreign Misconceptions, n.p.) and 65% of Ticos and Ticas do not believe age matters when it comes to love. A particular survey done by La Nacion, found that Ticas value “nothing more than loyalty and fidelity in a man, followed by a desire than a man be a good soul mate.” 29% look for partners who are responsible and romantic. Emotional maturity was mentioned by 14% of the Ticas surveyed, physical attraction by 9%, and parenting skills at 8% (A Tico Guide, n.p.) In terms of women’s physical preferences, the majority is more partial to men who are taller than 170 cm (about 5’6”.) Most women surveyed also prefer brown or bronzed skin tones, dark hair, brown eyes, and a medium build. They tend to dislike infidelity, ungentlemanly behavior, lies, laziness, and procrastination. 83% of Tica women would not consider dating men who are financially incapable of caring for a family (Foreign Misconceptions, n.p.) When Ticos were surveyed, 34% also expressed the desire to find a good, faithful soul mate. 15% of Ticos said homemaker skills are important to them as well. Economic stability was at the very bottom of their preferences (A Tico Guide, n.p.) The dates themselves tend to be very classic, such as dinner, a movie, or a picnic (University of Kentucky, 3.) Online dating is not common in Costa Rica; there are no websites such as Match.com. This is due to the fact that postings on a website or in a newspaper are often associated with prostitution. Whereas an American woman might be able to post an ad about herself, saying she likes to cook and give massages, this would be immediately interpreted by Costa Rican men as code for prostitution. Ticos and Ticas are famous for their possessiveness and jealousy, especially because of the high rates of infidelity in the country (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) “Machismo has fueled relationship infidelity,” (“Customs and Etiquette,” n.p.) leading to extremely close watch on partners, such as the installation of car tracking devices. These car tracking machines allow partners to see where the car has traveled, how long it was there, and when it left online at any time of the day. After a few dates, it is typical for the significant other to call more often and see what their partner is doing, whom they are with, and how much time is spent doing such things. Once the relationship is declared official, there is no more flirting, receiving calls from, or even looking at a person of the opposite sex without getting into a large argument with the new boyfriend or girlfriend. Tico and Tica relationships are typically very intense and require spending immense amounts of time with them (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.)
In the United States, “dating” is “widely recognized as two people who are romantically involved and spend their time together.” Like Costa Rica, many American men and women expect the man to ask the woman out on the date. However, as the United States moves towards a more progressive twenty-first century, women are often encouraged to ask the man out instead (Dow, n.p.) Similar to Costa Ricans, Americans are eager to find their soul mates, but to an even bigger degree.
What men and women view as their “must haves” in significant others in the US.
A recent study among Americans in their 20s who have never been married showed that 94% of them wanted, first and foremost, a soul mate spouse (Kelleher, 1.) Online dating is a much bigger presence in the United States than in Costa Rica: One in ten Americans have used an online dating site or mobile app, and 38% of those who are currently “single and looking” have used online resources to find a partner (Smith, n.p.) Internet playing a factor in dating in the United States turns out to be huge, as 33% of unattached adults 21 and older would cancel a date because of something they found while doing Internet research on their date. Both men and women answered that teeth were the most important physical quality in a partner. 63% of American men said their top “must have” is their partner being someone they can trust and confide in. 77% of women chose the same, but 84% of women chose “treats me with respect” as their top “must have” (Jayson, n.p.) According to the 2013 US Current Population Survey, roughly 40% of Americans married a partner whose age differs at least four years (U.S. Census Bureau, n.p.)
In most cultures, the step following a certain amount of courtship is usually marriage. Marriage is a valued institution in Costa Rica, with the country having one of the highest marriage rates in Latin America. Families pay visits to each other to display formal agreement on their children’s marriage (University of Kentucky, 4.) In Costa Rican weddings, there is lots of food, family, and music. Typical Costa Rican food, such as plantains, seafood, and gallo pinto, is served. Dozens of extended family members usually attend, with elopement being extremely uncommon (Hubbard, n.p.) It is viewed that the more guests that attend, the more blessings the couple will receive. “In Costa Rica, families are close knit, and it would not seem like a real celebration if both families could not be present at the wedding” (“Five Costa Rican,” n.p.) Music ranges from traditional Latin music to Top 40 (Hubbard, n.p.) Brides wear long gowns made of black silk, accompanied by a lace veil. The groom wears a white shirt that is hand-embroidered by the bride as a symbol of the devotion and care the bride is giving to her husband. It is also typical for the groom to give his bride 13 gold coins, symbolizing the respect for the familial and spiritual duties of the groom and his new role as the provider for the family. The coins also represent Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles (“Five Costa Rican,” n.p.) For a wedding to be official, the couple needs two legal age witnesses. If a couple plans to marry in the Catholic Church (as most Tico couples do,) they must take a pre-marital course, usually lasting about eight months, and the witnesses must be Catholic (Encuentra, n.p.) All other religions are not authorized to perform marriages that can be inscribed into the National Registry and have legal value. If a couple is not Catholic, then they must go through with a civil marriage, one performed by a family judge or lawyer (Pacheo, Marin, & Asociados, n.p.) The minimum legal age for marriage for both men and women is 18. But, with parental consent, children can marry at the age of 15. Although this used to be somewhat ordinary practice, early marriage rates have been steadily falling over the last twenty years. In 1986, nearly 20% of girls ages 15-19 were married, divorced, or widowed. In 2007, the number had fallen to 10.8% (“Gender Equality,” n.p.) Typically, women marry in their early twenties and men marry somewhat later. Unmarried adults usually live with their parents. (University of Kentucky, 4.) In 1995, Costa Rica passed an act ensuring equality between men and women in marriages. However, “custom dictates that women take responsibility for educating children and domestic responsibilities” (Gender Equality, n.p.)
Marriage is also a large staple in American society. In fact, “no other Western country has such a high degree of marriage promotion as the United States.” In a 1999-2002 World Values Survey, only 10% of American respondents agreed with the statement, “Marriage is an outdated institution” (Fustos, n.p.) In spite of the fact that there are few American wedding traditions that originally derive from the United States, there are many customs followed in American weddings. However, wedding types vary much more in the United States than they do in many other countries, such as Costa Rica. Usually, the bride wears a white dress or gown, along with “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” The groom typically wears a black and white tuxedo. Uncooked rice is sometimes thrown at the newlyweds as they walk down the aisle, symbolizing fertility. The size of American weddings greatly varies and there is a current rise in elopements (Sipher, n.p.) Like Costa Rican ceremonies, American weddings can have all types of music played. Generally, the age of marriage in the United States is 18, with the only two exceptions being Nebraska (19) and Mississippi (21.) Most states allow minors (usually age 16) to marry with parental consent (“Age of Marriage, n.p.)
Teen pregnancy is highly prevalent in Costa Rican society. The Latin America and Caribbean region ranks second in the world in terms of teenage birth rate, with 1 in 4 moms in the region being adolescents (IFA, n.p.) According to the regional Ministry of Health in Costa Rica, 177 of the 750 births registered by San Jose in 2008 were to adolescent girls who did not use birth control for fear of their parents finding out they were sexually active (“Dating & Relationships, n.p.) Each year, 14,000 teenagers become mothers in Costa Rica, which makes up 20% of births (IFA, n.p.) Teen pregnancy is much due to the lack of communication about sexual education. In religious households, the topic is altogether avoided; in more open homes, the topic is still quite controversial. If parents do talk to their children about sex, it is usually them threatening their children to not get or get a girl pregnant, instead of actually educating them about sex, birth control, and smart choices. Additionally, in the private and public school systems there are not sex education classes (“Dating & Relationships, n.p.) Last year, the Costa Rican Health Ministry and the United Nations Population Fund launched an initiative to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. The campaign, called, “It’s not going to happen to me—decisions have consequences” broadcasted on television and radio, encourages young women and men to make responsible and safe choices. It integrates sexual education, promotes rights of teens, and advocates for safe, non-abusive relationships (IFA, n.p.) The higher rates of teenage pregnancy have led to a proportional increase of Costa Rican households headed by single mothers. In 1990, single mothers ran about 13.4% of households, but in 1996, that number became 22.5%. Nowadays, single mothers run over 30% of Costa Rican households (“Dating & Relationships, n.p.)
In the United States, one out of every 10 women aged 15-19 becomes pregnant each year. Of these pregnancies, five out of every six are unintended. This rate is so high due to the fact that only one out of three sexually active women always use contraceptives. The two most common explanations for this behavior are “believing that the risk of pregnancy is small, and failing to anticipate intercourse” (Trussell, 262.) The teen pregnancy rate has declined in the United States, dropping 27% from 1991 to 2000, and birth rates dropped 33% between 1991 and 2003. A study done by John Santelli found that the contraceptive risk index declined 34% overall and 46% among adolescents aged 15-17 years. Improvements included an increase in condom use, birth control pills, withdrawal, as well as a decline in nonuse. The overall pregnancy risk declined 38%, with 86% of the decline attributed to improved contraceptive use (Santelli, 150.) In 2012, 24% of American children lived in single mother households (“America’s Children,” n.p.)
Because Costa Rica is a Catholic country, one would be led to believe that divorce rates are fairly low, but they are not. Almost 50% of Costa Rican marriages end in divorce, despite the laws that require at least a three year marriage before one can ask for divorce (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) If a couple wishes to divorce by mutual consent, the couple must present a Notarized agreement of dissolution of marriage. It must at least include child custody and parental visitation agreement, the amount of child custody payments established, an indication of spousal support to be paid, and agreement on the division of assets of the marriage (“Divorce by Mutual Consent,” n.p.) A non-mutual divorce is known as a Sanction Divorce. This means one half of the couple broke the social family contract by participating in at least one of the following activities: adultery, attempted murder of any family member, selling the children into prostitution, rape, or anything that deeply hurts the other physically or verbally. When one of these instances occurs, the couple is granted a divorce immediately, even if it has been less than three years. A major reason for divorce in Costa Rica is that many Nicaraguans, Colombians, Canadians, and Americans use marriage as a way to gain Costa Rican residency and simply divorce after the three years are up (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) Additionally, many relationships and marriages end due to infidelity, as a mistress was once, and often still is, considered a source of pride due to “machismo” culture (“Customs and Etiquette, n.p.) The mother almost always gets custody of the children unless she signs her rights away or there is concrete proof she is unfit as a caretaker (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) Divorced women must wait at least 300 days after the dissolution of their previous marriage to remarry; this is punishable by a fine (“Gender Equality,” n.p.)
Similarly to Costa Rica, between 40 and 50 percent of married Americans divorce (American Psychological Association, n.p.) Courts in the United States recognize two types of divorces: absolute and limited. An absolute divorce occurs when the court receives evidence showing misconduct or wrongdoing on a spouse’s part. This legally terminates the marriage and changes both parties’ statuses to single. Limited divorces, or separation decrees, terminate the right to cohabitate, but do not change the parties’ statuses nor does it officially dissolve the marriage. As of October 2010, all states have enacted no-fault divorce statues, which do not require evidence showing spousal misconduct (Cornell University, n.p.) Click here for an interesting infographic on more divorce statistics in the United States.
The culture of love is more similar between Costa Rica and the United States than one might originally think would be the case. In both cultures, men and women seek one individual to fulfill the concept of a “soul mate,” that is, “a person with whom one has a feeling of deep or natural affinity” (“Soulmate,” n.p.) Preferences towards physical characteristics are different in the two cultures, but the internal characteristics of respect, responsibility, and fidelity are favorable to both. As to be expected, Catholicism plays a large role in Costa Rican weddings, but the Catholic values do not seem to follow afterwards. The fact that Costa Rica has a higher teenage pregnancy rate than the United States is shocking. One would think that because of the strong Catholic culture, citizens would participate in less premarital sex. However, teenagers will be teenagers, but because of the fear in place of parent’s disapproval, Tico teens refrain from using birth control. If Costa Rica follows in the United States’ footsteps, like it has in many other aspects, and becomes a secular nation, I believe teen pregnancy rates will decline, as the topic of sex and birth control will become less taboo. Additionally, the United States has the morning after pill, illegal in Costa Rica, which prevents many potential teenage pregnancies. It is also surprising that Costa Rica would have a similar divorce rate as the United States as a Catholic country. Unfortunately, because of the “machismo” culture, many Ticos indulge in mistresses, hoping to “look like a man.” However, this only results in unfaithful and unhappy marriages, which lead to divorce. Considering both Costa Rican and American singles want to find their soul mates, a saddening number of relationships end miserably in both countries. A push towards secularization and a pull away from “machismo” will hopefully result in a more loving Costa Rica, because, as The Beatles so accurately sang, “love is all you need.”
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