Is Love Possible With Mail Order Brides?

Angelina Jolie played one. Nicole Kidman had a role as another. A movie about one even won an award at the Sundance film festival.

They're mail-order brides. And like the personals and escorts, they are part of the romantic world's dark corners, found in the back pages of magazines.

For many people, their place is justified. Critics paint the practice as exploitative and crass, as morally dubious as prostitution.

They point to the gaps between the involved parties: old men from the wealthy first world, paired up with young women from the impoverished third, who often don't share the same cultural background, much less the same language.

Then there are the widely reported nightmare stories: young women abused, or even killed by their undesirable mates, and desperate, lonely men duped out of fortunes by conniving sirens.

But the practice also has supporters. Those who have engaged in these relationships say they are more successful than traditional relationships and they say their unions are as natural as any other.

As in all matters of the heart, the issue is more complicated than can be assessed at first glance.

A Personal Story

There are no official figures on the number of mail-order brides globally, but with the growing interconnectedness of the world, and the rising popularity of the Internet as a form of communication, many in the industry say mail-order brides are becoming an increasingly popular option.

Delaney Davis is one of these people. He is the owner of several Web sites, among them FilipinaWife.com, for those interested in finding a bride from the Philippines.

Davis, 60, is not only the seller: he's also a consumer too. A little over a year ago, he married an 18-year-old from the Philippines. The two had been corresponding since she was 16, Davis said. He was her first boyfriend.

Davis says there's nothing unnatural about such a relationship. Young women in his wife's home country, as well as many other areas of the globe, look for older men, he said.

"The young men [in impoverished countries like the Philippines] have no means of supporting a wife," he said. Even without considering foreigners, young women naturally gravitate towards older men "to provide stability and the respect factor," he said.

It was also natural for men like him to search for a wife overseas, Davis said. Most of his applicants are middle-aged, divorced, and when they re-enter the dating scene in the United States, they find many women their age have "obvious psychological scars," he said. "They'll say 'you're just like my ex-boyfriend.'"

Younger women, on the other hand, just aren't interested in older men, he said. And the chances of meeting a potential mate also gets slimmer as you get older, said Mike Krosky, the president of Cherry Blossoms — a company which claims to be the oldest in this industry.

"When people get into their 30s and 40s there not a lot of opportunities to meet somebody," he said. Krosky noted that some clients were from small towns, where the dating pool was limited.

The Other Side

Defenders of the "mail-order bride" industry are quick to point out that the women in these relationships seek out the men as much as the men seek them out.

In fact, they object to the term "mail-order bride," and prefer terms like "pen pal" relationship, or "international matchmaking," because, they say, the process is far more involved and far less one-sided than picking a T-shirt out of a catalog.

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