And yet, you have the power to make it as intriguing as the Mona Lisa. Starting out with how to choose the right […]. Online dating is a rollercoaster adventure. What does a successful profile look like?
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What is the right etiquette? And how can I pick the right person when there are so many options? Jean Smith, anthropologist, author and flirting expert, offers her advice for minimising feelings of self-consciousness on a date, but putting the energy on the other person.
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Join Guardian Soulmates today and start meeting like-minded connections. But for all the political and economic chaos that has engulfed Ukraine in the past three months, one industry is still thriving: The economies of several Ukrainian cities are boosted by the surreal and disingenuous online bride business, and Odessa is the biggest hub. It does not take long for a visitor to the city to stumble upon an "international date" — there are legions of western men in town meeting with young women they have met online, usually with the conversation facilitated by a translator.
At internet cafes and homes across the city, thousands of women spend hours each day chatting to prospective suitors online. There is nothing like the prospect of economic hardship to facilitate intercontinental liaisons, and so, far from business drying up in recent months, the romance and "bride" trade is booming. If anything, there are now more western men planning trips to Odessa than there were last year, when I accompanied a "romance tour" to Ukraine for a magazine story.
I spent a week in Odessa with 29 men, all of them hoping to find a wife during their trip. They were mainly Americans, but there were also Brits, an Italian and a Saudi on the tour. It has thousands of women in Ukraine and across the world on its books, available for chats and in-person meetings with lonely bachelors across the world looking for a wife.
As internet dating has gone mainstream over the past decade, Anastasia is attempting to rebrand what was once called the "mail-order bride" industry as something modern and progressive. This is no longer the preserve of seedy and exploitative men seeking vulnerable women from impoverished backgrounds to work as a longterm sex slave, the marketing suggests. This is "international dating", a civilised way to find romance without borders.
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Except that the branding is still somewhat disturbing. The men pay for every minute they chat online to a woman, something that it becomes clear is a dangerous part of the business model. The company claims on its website that finding a woman in Ukraine is like "dating a model, but with the values of your grandmother". The men featured in testimonials are sick of western women, whom they insist have forgotten "family values".
Armed with this information, I was fully expecting to spend a week being nauseated by odious men preying on vulnerable women, and there were certainly a few on the trip whose misogyny reached prize-winning levels. But the overall story was far more complex. Todd, who had not succeeded in finding his other half at home, had something of a compulsive side to his personality.
He spent months methodically whittling down 1, possible brides on Anastasia's site to two top candidates. He then spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars chatting with them online.
Things were going swimmingly with both women. He assumed that his trip to Odessa would involve picking the one he liked most and taking her back with him. But when he arrived, neither of them answered his calls. While Todd's expectations for what a Ukrainian bride might offer were patently unrealistic, it was troubling to watch him venture ever further down the path of disappointment.
Many of the men on the tour were less sympathetic characters than Todd, but all of them were lonely. Some of them were disillusioned with dating scenes in the west, where women did not give them a look; others recovering from a divorce or the death of a spouse. Another man I spent a lot of time with was Stephen, a year-old from Texas, long-divorced, who was on his 11th trip to Ukraine with the desperate hope of finding a wife. I'm tired of having nobody to share my life with. Stephen ended up meeting a pianist named Elena on the tour.
On date two she told him she thought he could be her soulmate. By the end of the week he was sure he had found his future life partner.
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It was an expensive week, with the dinners, taxis, and payment for a translator all adding up, but Stephen was delighted that he had found love. But love in Odessa is not all it seems.
Perhaps 10 years ago, the scenario had been what I imagined, with men swooping in, and women keen to swap the hard grind of poverty-stricken Ukraine for a new life in the US, even if it was a ramshackle house in a North Dakotan town or a sleepy midwestern farm, rather than a Manhattan penthouse or LA beachfront home. Now, it seems, things are different. I left Stephen ready to propose, but two months later he told me by email that it had all unravelled.