It's a digital age twist on an old story: Traveling thousands of miles to meet a woman you met online to see if true love ensues.
Many might scoff at that idea. But what if you are a middle-aged man, lonely and feeling unlucky in love, and you hear of a place brimming with beautiful women competing for your attention, a place where other hopeless romantics look to lock hearts with an older American gentleman and throw away the key?
Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET
According to A Foreign Affair, the Internet's largest international matchmaking service, this dating wonderland exists in the Ukraine. Its website, LoveMe.com, offers tens of thousands of profiles of purportedly single women.
In addition to height, weight, religion and language skills, most of them post the desire for a mature, loving and attentive man. Past results show that some of them may find him and live happily ever after. Some of them may be much less lucky, enduring harm worse than from a broken heart.
"I like being married. … Dating is fine, but you get to a certain age and you get old. I would much rather travel with my life partner," Bob Wray, 66, said in an interview with "Nightline" anchor Bill Weir.
Wray's marriage ended six years ago. He raised his two children on his own, and now that they're out of the house, he's ready for another partner. He loves living in Harrisburg, Pa., but says the dating pool is shallow -- and wide.
"I used Match. I used eHarmony. What I discovered is -- and this is going to sound crazy -- but it is the distance," Wray said, explaining that if he liked a woman from Pittsburgh, meeting for lunch would require a 250-mile drive.
So he decided he'd take a 5,000-plus-mile flight instead. After using A Foreign Affair to strike up online dialogs with a few dozen women, Bob will pay the company around $4,000 to fly to Odessa, Ukraine, and meet them and other potential brides.
His bags are packed, his Russian phrases memorized. And he's accompanied by his belief that love trumps age and culture.
"One of the things about Odessa … is that age doesn't seem to matter too much to them. They are more interested in what kind of person are you. They want a stable life partner. And, gee whiz, it is a quid pro quo. … I have something to offer. They have something to offer," Wray said.
In Phoenix, Cary Dolego, 58, is preparing for the same romance tour. A twice-divorced father of grown children, he hopes to find the romantic ideals he believes no longer exist in America.
"The ladies in the Ukraine are known for being … marriage-minded. They just seem to cherish relationships. … So they're not as apt to leave it," Dolego said.
As he makes final preparations for his love quest, he watches A Foreign Affair's promotional video, clapping during a wedding scene. And he imagines the possibilities with the potential partners he's found online.
"I think you'll agree, Svetlana is an absolutely gorgeous female. She's close to 6 feet tall and 140 pounds. … And Julia actually is, as you can see in these pictures, a very, very attractive female. And Julia is a very romantic young lady. Very romantic, likes to write poetry, just like I do," he said.
The Women Have Their Own Hopes -- but There Are RisksThe promise offered by A Foreign Affair's website is bolstered by the experience of the company's founder. Seventeen years ago, John Adams saw that the rise of the Internet and the fall of the Soviet Union created a rich matchmaking opportunity. He set up a mixer in Kiev where he himself met his Mrs. Right.
Toting folders full of potential mates, Wray, Dolego and 19 other men arrive at New York City's JFK airport to catch the flight to Odessa.
Dolego expects Julia to meet him at the airport. If this and other possible love connections fail to ignite, he says he'll keep trying.
"There's a couple of guys that have gone on the tour twice, sometimes three times. … Twenty percent of the men, according to John, get married over there on their first meeting. The other 20 percent find a substantial relationship, and they communicate back and forth, which eventually leads to marriage," he said.
Two flights and many hours later, the men arrive in Odessa. Cary is dejected that Julia isn't waiting at the airport as promised. Bob is thrilled to receive his first phone message from a woman named Elena.
"She's very nice. We've been corresponding, sending emails, but an email is an email. A person is a person. Big difference. Right?" Wray said.
After settling in, the men attend "socials" to which their online contacts have been invited and where, they've been promised, women outnumber men 25 to one. Meetings at socials lead to private dates.
Cary Dolego has clicked with a woman named Helen. Bob Wray has finally met Alla, an age-appropriate prospect he's been emailing with for months.
There are hopeless romantics on both sides of the romance tour.
"I met a man whom I liked very much. His name is Aaron. He's from the USA. Maybe it's love," said Angelika, a Ukrainian woman who participated in the tour events.
In addition to love, some women want to live in the U.S. and pursue a career. Others think American men have better family values.
"Ukrainian men seem to be less serious toward. [their home and family] because they want to find a girl who will do everything. … We think that men from America are more serious toward their families," said Svetlana Kalinichenko, a participant.
Kalinichenko, 34, said the social was "marvelous."
I like dancing and all the attention," she said.
She seemed to hit it off with a tour member. She said she would like to start a relationship with an American, adding that she has many friends living in the U.S. with their American husbands who "say they are quite happy."
Others come for a good time. One participant, Julia, estimated "no more than 30 percent" of the women attended to find true love and a successful marriage.
And of course, some women who answer A Foreign Affair's call see a chance to get rich foreigners to give them cash, expensive meals and gifts -- even a green card.
So two can play at the Internet matchmaking game, a game combining romantic hopes with less lofty things like sex and money.
Nonetheless, lawmakers and advocacy groups worry most about abused immigrant brides like Katerina Brunot, a Russian.
According to an article in The New York Times, after marrying a romance tourist and moving to the Atlanta suburbs, Brunot's Prince Charming turned into a monster. He physically abused her and, when she tried to flee, cut himself and had Brunot arrested for assault.
A Foreign Affair Founder Answers Tough Questions
While she hid in a shelter, he went back to Russia on an unsuccessful search for a replacement bride. He stalked and terrorized Katerina for years until the day he died in a shootout with police.
The case spurred efforts, eventually successful, to pass a federal law to protect immigrant brides: the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, which requires background checks for all marriage visa sponsors.
John Adams says these cases are dark exceptions and the fairy tale ending is much more likely.
"I don't agree with the premise that if a woman comes from another country that she is more at risk than if she gets married here," he told "Nightline" anchor Bill Weir.
"One study said that she's three times as likely ..." said Weir.
"And I'll show you three other studies, one by the Justice Department that says she's not," Adams said.
"But you've got a guy from the First World bringing a girl from the Third World over who can't speak the language, doesn't know the laws, can't support herself at the early going ... which is the same recipe for human trafficking," Weir said.
Find out what happened when "Nightline" anchor Bill Weir confronted Adams on the plight of immigrant brides on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET