Marriage Proposals, Or How I Learned to Say No

In the name of privacy, I have changed the names of the men I did not marry. But there is no point in changing the names of my ex-husbands, as my readers probably know their names anyway.

I received my first marriage proposal when I was 16. As a person who was unable to say “no” to anything, I accepted it. Luckily, we were not allowed to get married until I was 18, the legal marriage age in the USSR, and by that time we broke up.

To my next proposal, from Sasha, I still couldn’t say “no”, and ended up marrying him. The fact that I was hoping to divorce him before I got married at 19 shows that I should have devoted more effort in learning to say “no”. I decided to divorce him within the first year.

My next proposal came from Andrey, I said yes, with every intention of living with Andrey forever. We married when I was 22 and he divorced me when I was 29.

After I recovered from my second divorce, I had a fling with an old friend, Sam, who was visiting Moscow on his way to immigrate to Israel.

Sam proposed to me in a letter that was sent from the train he took from the USSR to Israel. At that point I realized I had a problem with saying “no”. The idea of marrying Sam seemed premature and very risky. I didn’t want to say yes. I should have said no, but Sam didn’t have a return address, so I didn’t say anything.

That same year I received a phone call from Joseph. Joseph was an old friend who lived in the US, and I hadn’t seen or heard from him for ten years. He invited me to visit him in the US and then proposed to me the day after my arrival. The idea of marrying Joseph seemed premature and very risky, but in my heart it felt absolutely right. I said yes, and I wanted to say yes.

I was very glad that I hadn’t promised anything to Sam. But I felt uncomfortable. So even before I called my mother to notify her of my marriage plans, I located Sam in Israel and called him to tell him that I had accepted a marriage proposal from Joseph. I needed to consent to marry someone else as a way of saying “no” to Sam.

After I married Joseph, I came back to Russia to do all the paperwork and pick up my son, Alexey for our move to the US. There I met Victor. I wasn’t flirting with Victor and was completely disinterested. So his proposal came as a total surprise. That was the time I realized that I had a monumental problem with saying “no”. I had to say “no” to Victor, but I couldn’t force myself to pronounce the word. Here is our dialogue as I remember it:

  • Me: I can’t marry you, I am already married.
  • Victor: I am sure it’s a fictitious marriage; you just want to move to the USA.
  • Me: That’s not true. It’s a real marriage.
  • Victor: If it were a fictitious marriage, you wouldn’t admit it. So, it’s a fictitious marriage. My proposal stands.

My sincere attempt at saying “no” didn’t work. I moved to the US to live with Joseph and I soon got pregnant. Victor was the first person on my list to notify — another rather roundabout way to reject a proposal.

The marriage lasted eight years. Sometime after I divorced Joseph, I met Evan who invited me on a couple of dates. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved with him. But he proposed and got my attention. I was single and available, though I had my doubts about him.

Evan mentioned that he had royal blood. So I decided to act like a princess. I gave him a puzzle:

I have two coins that together make 15 cents. One of them is not a nickel. What are my coins?

He didn’t solve it. In and of itself, that wouldn’t be a reason to reject a guy. But Evan didn’t even understand my explanation, despite the fact that he was a systems administrator. A systems administrator who doesn’t get logic is a definite turn-off.

So I said “no”! That was my first “no” and I have mathematics to thank.



  1. David:

    – A dime and a nickel?

    Thanks for sharing your stories, by the way. Your blog is always fun to read.

  2. Bill:

    The coins are a dime and a quarter.

    Lousy economy…

  3. misha:

    Good for you, Tanya. Keeping away from vain people who derive their self-esteem from their lineage is a smart thing to do. Keeping away from the royal blood that is too often rife with genetic defects because of heavy inbreeding is also smart, not to mention keeping away from the idiots in general.

  4. Thomas:

    “One of them is not a nickel.” – But the other one is?

    One could solve this as well without any nickels using foreign currencys – 10 Eurocent + 1 Eurocent have the value of 15 cent, so they “make 15 cents”.

  5. A S Kay:

    As a person who was unable to say “no” to anything….

    What was the reason you were like that?

  6. Tanya Khovanova:


    I believed that not saying “no” was part of being nice.

  7. No:

    You must be very hot. would like to see your picture 🙂

  8. Tanya Khovanova:


    I do not think I am hot. I think I am marriageable.

  9. Thras:

    Obvious. Now, the thing that makes the problem hard is very interesting. Something about this problem turns off people’s reading comprehension. Weird. What is it?

    Mostly that the candidate statement, “one is not a nickel” is kind of stupid. The unconscious brain corrects that statement, replacing it with ‘neither is a nickel’. That statement makes sense, and could be what the author actual intended. In normal conversation, the substitution of one for neither would be an obvious sort of misstatement. An interesting sort of peak into the automatic error-correcting mechanisms in our brain that are evidently necessary to make natural language processing possible.

    I’m a systems administrator and do the same sort of math problem thing with the girls I date. They never get it.

  10. Gil:

    I heard a case of a girl who asked her father for his blessing for a certain arranged marriage. The father did not like the proposed husband and at the end he asked him “how much is 1/2+1/3?” when the guy did not know the father put veto on the proposal.

  11. rhelune:

    When I was 16, I pledged to only mary the (first) person who literally squares a circle.

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