But Ron is a fighter. He has spent the past several years rebuilding his life, including a business that has struggled throughout the recession. His social life is also on the mend, but like most men his age, he’s found that dating can be difficult. He gained a significant amount of weight after his accident, and the years have robbed him of his hair. He has tried online dating, but his height (approximately 5’5”) means most women pass over his profile. Despite all this, Ron isn’t ready to give up.
I’m sitting with Ron in a room at the upscale Londonskaya Hotel in Odessa, Ukraine. He has just arrived from his native New York and is admittedly nervous. Ron has traveled nearly 5,000 miles with one goal in mind: to see if he can find love in a place few ever venture to look. In industry terms, Ron is looking for a “Russian bride.”
Every man has thought about it—either while reading an advertisement in a men’s magazine, stumbling onto a online promotion or cracking jokes with his single friends. The question, of course, is whether any of these services promising beautiful, exotic women interested in marriage could possibly work. In our modern society, where dating is difficult and the rituals of courtship are practically non-existent, is there something to the promise of women with “traditional values” who can appreciate the kindness and generosity of most American men and leave their homes and families in exchange for the chance of a new life?
Foreign bride services are a multimillion-dollar industry, with millions of men signing up for websites like Loveme.com and Russianbrides.com to see if perhaps the key to romance exists far outside their local dating pool. A few brave ones will even plunk down several thousand dollars to go on a weeks-long trip to an exotic location such as the Ukraine, Columbia or the Philippines in a quest to meet that special someone. Rosebud decided to travel to Odessa to spend a night with some of these men on a tour hosted by one of the industry’s biggest companies, A Foreign Affair, to find out what really happens when you throw caution into the wind and take a leap of faith when looking for love.
Upon arriving in Odessa, I’m greeted by Bob Wray, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native who is running the tour. Bob began working for AFA about two years ago, after attending one of the tours as a client. A 66-year-old retired Wall Streeter and the author of A Man’s Field Guide To Dating, Bob exhibits more energy than most men half his age. He quickly starts to explain how the tour’s “speed-dating on steroids” actually works. On the first night in each city, the local team arranges a social during which the 20-30 traveling men and 100 or more local ladies come together for a night of drinking, dancing and mingling. The main goal of the evening is for the men to meet as many of the women as possible, and to make dates with some of them that will take place over the following few days in town. It’s sort of like The Bachelor, only with translators.
Bob’s job is part tour guide, part Casanova and part life coach, the latter of which is a service more than a few of the men on the tour take advantage of. As we sit down for lunch, one of the clients (who asked not to be named in this article) approaches Bob to discuss the schedule for the evening.
But the real purpose of the sit down quickly becomes apparent as the conversation turns to the seemingly impossible task of finding true love in just a few short days. Bob quickly calms his charge with a well-rehearsed pep talk while putting things into perspective: It’s just the first night, and the goal of the social is simply to meet some ladies.
Arriving at the event hall where the social will take place, the men are milling about like the first hour of a school dance, chatting in groups as the women slowly filter in. Some of the guys are traveling with buddies, but most are alone. A few confide that even their family and friends don’t know where they are. Almost all the men have been married at least once, and their ages range from the mid-40s to the upper-60s. About half the men I talk to are veterans of AFA or other similar tours. They are happy to give pointers to the first-timers about what to realistically expect from the evening.
A group of three fellas who have traveled together from Texas admit they have low expectations of finding Mrs. Right, but pragmatically explain that a vacation spent in the company of hundreds of beautiful women is better than the usual trips they take. Other clients, both repeats and virgins, can’t suppress their romantic aspirations, even though they are aware they should manage those expectations. One thing each gent makes clear is that they aren’t here for sex tourism. There is plenty of that available in Eastern Europe if they want it. Their intention—while maybe not completely pure—is to experience something more than random encounters.
Soon the women begin to arrive en masse, and it’s impossible not to at least contemplate sex. Most are in their 20s and 30s, dressed as nicely as their limited budgets will allow (the average Ukrainian only makes about $300 a month). Their styles range from tasteful to flashy, although 6-inch heels are almost universal. If someone could build an accurate attractiveness meter for crowds of gals, the women here would gauge a few points higher that those found at most nightlife establishments outside major cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami. At first, the mingling is at a minimum, although I’m personally pleased to see Ron be the first to step out onto the balcony for a chat with one of the early arriving women. After a little champagne (and endless encouragement from Bob) all the bachelors are soon seated at tables with several women, making small talk and exchanging information.
In such a social atmosphere, it’s difficult even for a journalist to remain all business. Being at least a decade younger than any of the guys on the tour, I’m quickly approached by many of the women, some of whom ask if I’d like to go on a date the next day—even after I identify myself as a journalist and not a client. Speaking to the women, the one refrain I hear repeated is that Ukrainian men are too macho, and they would prefer a nice, Western man. I ask several if they would really leave their friends and family to move across the globe if they met the right man. A few admit they wouldn’t, which leads me to believe they’re mainly attending for the free food and drinks. But some confide that they would take the chance in order to give themselves—and sometimes their children—a better life outside the Ukraine. One woman I spoke with even made the move to America once, with a man she met via a bride service. It didn’t work out (he cheated), but that hasn’t kept her from coming back tonight hoping for a second shot at happiness.
As the night progresses, it appears as though most of the men have found someone—or someones—to focus their attention on. Several of the recently minted pairs dance and play silly games hosted by the DJ. Others are content to relax in the warm summer air out on the balcony. Groups of women who have failed to secure a man begin to leave. They are soon followed by many of the men, none of whom are walking out alone.
I make my way back to the lobby of the Londonskaya and share a nightcap with Rod, another one of the bachelors. Rod left the event early in order to meet up with a woman he had been communicating with prior to his trip via the AFA website. She met him at the airport upon his arrival, and they spent several hours together that afternoon. They planned to get together that evening so she could give him a massage, the intimacy of which even Rod seems unsure of, but now she’s not answering her phone. Rod is clearly disappointed, but he repeatedly mentions that he has several more dates already lined up with other women in the coming days.
Rod, an entrepreneur who returned to his previous career as a truck driver during the recession, is a repeat customer with AFA. He was previously married to a woman he met via the service, but things didn’t work out. When I ask him why he’s returned to the Ukraine, he calmly insists, “After being with a Russian woman, I can never date an American again.”
As we finish our beers, most of the men begin returning to the hotel with one or more of the women in tow. It’s almost midnight, and most are there to change into more casual clothing in order to hit up a club or karaoke bar with the ladies. From where Rod and I are seated, I have a clear view of the elevator, and can safely say I don’t witness any of the women going upstairs with the bachelors.
As I prepare to head up myself for a scant few hours of sleep before an early flight, I watch several guys and gals head off into the night—the guys now in polo shirts and jeans, the gals with their high-rise heels tossed over their shoulders.
It’s impossible to say if any lifelong connections were made on that warm Odessa night. But at least it appeared that everyone was having a good time.
© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012
Check out these bonus videos covering the Russian bride trend:
To create link towards this article on your website,
copy and paste the text below in your page.
Friday, 31 August 2012