mail order bride" made people cringe. The women, everyone assumed, had to be horribly desperate to sell themselves to the highest bidder. The men, people thought, must be unappealing but rich, possibly searching for someone who was willing to have sex and do housework timid enough not to question their husbands. The industry faded as its respectability floundered but now, re-branded as "premium international dating," the mail-order bride industry is back -- and it's booming.It wasn't so long ago that the term "
A decade ago, it seemed like a seedy way to find a mate. "The night I met my husband, in the port city of Odessa, Ukraine, in late 2000, I stood against the wall in a restaurant at the Black Sea Hotel along with 200 other young women," wrote one mail-order bride about her own experience. "The two dozen men seated before us -- all from America, mostly in their 50s or 60s -- had come to find wives."
Now, though? It's all online chatrooms and chaperoned outings, and some say it's not about desperation, but about casting a wider net in order to find true love.
Have mail-order brides gone mainstream?
Sites like Moscow-based AnastasiaDate.com, where models chat up wanna-be husbands for a fee, are rapidly gaining popularity, according to Fortune magazine. The company made $110 million in 2012, and projects that it will make $140 million in 2013. Site traffic grew 220 percent in 2012, jumping to 4 million users who altogether spend about 360 million hours on the site each year.
And AnastasiaDate isn't the only site with an uptick in traffic. The top 10 international dating sites saw 12.2 million visits in March, a 29 percent increase since March of last year. The rest of the online dating industry has been "relatively stagnant," Fortune reported.
What's causing the surge?
"I think there's a lot of pent-up demand," AnastasiaDate.com's Chief Strategy Officer, Mark Brooks, told Fortune. "People are realizing that there's a bigger world than Match.com."
It also helps that the industry has safeguards in place now that simple didn't exist a decade ago. The 2005 International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, which international dating companies opposed when it was first introduced, has made it less risky to pursue an international relationship online.
"The industry has grown to appreciate it," Brooks tells Fortune. "It was designed to provide a very high level of comfort and safety to female members of international dating sites, which is, of course, of utmost importance to us."
Given the focus on gay marriage and how opponents say that it's undermining the sanctity of the institution, one could argue that the mail-order bride boom is just a throwback to an easier, earlier era, when men simply purchased their wives -- but instead of land or livestock, they can use Paypal.
But, even though the industry has improved, it hasn't become more fun for the women involved. Men still expect something (read: sex) for their monetary investment, and when you're on your own in a foreign country with no one but some guy you've met online, you're horribly vulnerable.
One model, who met two different men through AnastasiaDate.com, told Fortune magazine that the experience wasn't "fun." "Quite the opposite," she wrote. One man didn't act interested in her as a person, and the other assumed she was a prostitute. She's sticking with the site in the hopes of finding love, but still, she says of the experience: "It was awful."