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From Russia With Love, a Denver-based mail-order-bride company, knows its target market: desperate old men.
"Perhaps by now you have heard every excuse in the world why this or that lady will not go out with you. One of the most common responses is: You are just too old for me," the company's Web site begins. "Well, in Russia and the Ukraine, their culture dictates that if a gentleman is older than a young, beautiful, attractive, slim, fetching lady, it is no problem as long as he can take care of his wife and family."
And unlike in the old days -- when Hollywood was putting out such flicks as 1932's A Mail Bride, 1964's Mail Order Bride and 1982's small-screen I Was a Mail Order Bride -- men no longer have to peruse catalogues of fetching foreigners. Today a host of buy-a-bride Web sites (271,000, according to a Google search) make finding the right woman easy -- much like buying a house, only searching by age, height, weight and eye color instead of square footage and number of bedrooms.
From its offices on Leetsdale Drive, From Russia With Love allows potential clients free searches of a bevy of beauties on its site, but a $250 membership buys discounts on certain services. For $40 ($55 for non-members), paramours can send a half-pound box of belichka, or dark Russian chocolates, to Alla in the Ukraine (a divorced clothing designer who will only marry someone under 45); give Svetlana in Russia (an economist who wants someone under forty) seven red roses for $66 ($85 for non-members); or send a three-person serenade to Irina in the Ukraine (a tourism manager who wants a financially independent husband) for $300 ($75 extra for non-members). Only members, however, can partake of From Russia's immigration-related services, which include help in filling out necessary forms.
The company, whose executives are currently in the Ukraine, according to its voice mail, also provide travel and translation arrangements for suitors. "U.S. immigration law requires that they have met if the man petitions for the woman," says Mila Glodava, a Denver resident and author of Mail Order Brides: Women for Sale. Most mail-order couples exchange their vows in the woman's country because it's easier to get her into the United States as a wife, she adds, though the bride must still wait two years and go through the immigration process to gain permanent residency.
Glodava, who was born and raised in the Philippines, became an expert in the mail-order industry by accident. She was on the board of directors at Denver's Asian Pacific Development Center, a mental-health agency, in the 1980s, when she began receiving calls from Asian mail-order brides in abusive situations. Over the years, she received so many requests to speak about the topic -- she appeared on 60 Minutes and on the Geraldo Rivera, Montel Williams and Maury Povich shows -- that she decided to write a book with Richard Onizuka, then co-director of the APDC. While doing research, Glodava discovered that most women in mail-order marriages hail from her native country; Russia is high on the list, too.
Although she is burned out on the topic and has ceased most of her work in the field, Glodava is still outraged by an industry that she believes objectifies women. "It really is like buying women," she says. But unlike a house, "you can also return them." If a man accuses his wife of marrying him to obtain citizenship, immigration officials can deport her. "There is a huge disparity between the foreign spouse and the U.S. citizen. The spouse from the receiving country has a lot more power -- he has the money, the language, the know-how of the culture and the citizenship. They are in a very imbalanced relationship, and the one with the inferior power is the one who gets abused."
But cyberspace has made the industry an equal-opportunity profiteer. Women can now order husbands through such sites as the spoofy MailOrderHusbands.net, though the pickin's are slim. One old guy from West Virginia submitted a photograph of himself in coveralls (no shirt; lots of tattoos!), with this recommendation: "I can chop lots of wood, and even climb a greased pole. Order me, I have good all-around hygiene and I recently discovered Viagra so, I am eager to meet some ladies."
And then there's young Daryl from Illinois. "I am 17, but will be turning 18 in September. I figure by the time we get to know each other I will be legal tender and we can marry. My parents are kicking me out after December and I'd like to meet a woman with a lot of money so we can have fun. I like women between 18-45, but would consider older if we do not have to touch a lot."
Jered from Australia is more picky. "I like the more natural look, somewhat earthy, but one that cleans up real well. I seem to be attracted to tall women with dark hair, smallish head, elongated torso, with natural finger nails (NO PAINTED HUSSIES!!!)."
Seriously, though, it will be a long time before women break that glass ceiling, as mail-order brides are far more abundant than their male counterparts. The Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted a report for Congress in 1999 that gave some sense of just how big the mail-order-bride industry is: At the time, more than 200 international matchmaking organizations in the United States were bringing together between 4,000 and 6,000 couples annually.