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Contest: "Personal Experiences"

There's No Shipping Cost for True Love
By Jim Collins

The Russian Bride Speech

We were talking about women, and Vern, as usual, was trying to get on my nerves.

"You should see Don's wife," said Vern, "I'm tellin' ya, she could be a model. He got her from Russia -- one of those mail order brides. He says she keeps the house spotless and hardly ever complains."  

Sometimes I wondered if Vern really thought about women this way or if he just said these things to piss me off.

"If I had it to do all over again," said Vern, "I'd get me one of those Russian brides. You e-mail a bunch of them on the Internet, then you go over there for a couple of weeks, and bring back the one you like best. You can't go wrong! If it ends up you don't like her, just ship her back and get a different one."

Since Vern had apparently met Don's wife, I didn't understand how he could think of her as some kind of merchandise rather than a human being. As I said, maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me. Vern gave his Russian bride speech every few months, and I just did my best to ignore it.

About a year later, I was talking to my archeologist buddy Jeff. We'd both done a lot of traveling when we were in our 20s and we were having one of those conversations in which we try to convince ourselves that we aren't getting older.

"Hey," said Jeff, "how about Outer Mongolia? There really is such a place-- we should go to Outer Mongolia."

"I'm game," I said, "And we should backpack our way across Russia on the way."

I told Jeff about Vern's Russian bride speech, and he pointed out that if you ignored the parts that made women sound like pets or property, Vern just might be on to something. The Outer Mongolia trip remained somewhat amorphous, but Jeff kept encouraging me to look into "the Russian bride thing." Of course, I knew I'd never hear the end of it if Vern found out, but I decided, what the hell, I just wouldn't tell Vern…

A few days and a few hundred bookmarks later, I'd found enough Russian bride sites to choke a horse (or even a small herd). I'd also developed a healthy skepticism. If these sites were to be believed, half the women in Russia were fashion models with PhDs and they were all named Elena, Anna, or Olga. Yeah, right. At least, I thought, they could come up with some other names.

I figured that not all the sites could be bogus though-after all, Vern's buddy Don had actually married a real-life Russian bride. So I did an Internet search on "Russian bride" and "review," figuring somebody must have started cataloguing and critiquing all these sites. The second match I found was where I read those fateful words "I bet you are not sure if [Russian bride sites] are 100% honest in supplying you with reliable information on the subject--otherwise what are you doing here?" I was hooked. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. reading everything on the site. I was so excited that I even e-mailed the URL to Vern.

Since I'm basically a cheap bastard, I was also impressed with the prices on When you compare that site's Weekly Ladies Catalog with "800+ photos, addresses and phone numbers of single Russian women for only $95" to the going rate at other sites of $10 to $15 per address, it's not hard to do the math. I also signed up for the "Letter of introduction in Russian" service; $75 seemed like a bit much at first, but when I thought about it, it seemed pretty stupid to write to Russian women in English when a lot of them wouldn't understand what the heck I was saying. I also spent about $100 on a professional photographer who could make me look younger and more handsome than I really am (and believe me, THAT was a bargain . . .)

Unquestionably the best source for meeting Russian women is the Weekly Ladies Catalog at I have typically gotten responses to about 70% of my "first contact" letters-and that's from writing to women who are frankly too young and too pretty for me. Most of the letters I get are well thought-out, detailed responses to specific things I have said in my letters-I almost never get "form letters" that sound as if they have been written to a bunch of other guys, which is standard fare from the women at most other sites I have tried.

Russian Women for Free

Before I signed up for the Weekly Ladies Catalog, I decided to try my luck on a site called "Free Russian Personals" ( I liked that word "free" but, not surprisingly, I soon found out that you get what you pay for. After writing to a few dozen women I heard back from "Anna" who was really attractive, smart, and seemingly everything I could ever want in a woman. Of course, it only took a few e-mails before "Anna" fell in love with me and needed money for her deathly ill mother, all the while neglecting to answer my questions about her address, her last name, her phone number, etc. When I checked with the Free Russian Personals folks, I found that they had removed Anna's profile from their site-it seems that Anna fell in love a lot and her mother got horribly ill on a fairly predictable schedule.

Of course, many of the Free Russian Personals ads are legitimate and eventually I met a nice woman named Elena who was going to school in France. We exchanged a few letters before she met a French guy with whom she has presumably been living happily ever after. Nonetheless, I learned a lot from the Free Russian Personals site. Basically the women on receive as many as one hundred responses every day. A lot of those letters get ignored ("Hey baby, you're a fox! Lets hook up. I'm rich, so we should take you shopping in New York!") (And, yes, that was the entire content of a real letter that was received by one of the women I met.) Nonetheless, if you want to have a reasonable chance at meeting a woman on the Free Russian Personals site, you pretty much need to be one of the first few dozen guys to write to her, and it helps a lot if your letter is in Russian. You also have to send your letter within the first few hours after a woman's ad posts, since a lot of guys are sending her 500-megabyte picture files that fill up her mailbox in a matter of minutes. Once her box is full, your letter will vanish into the ether, and you'll never even know it. (And by the way, on behalf of all the women I have corresponded with, I would like to forward their collective request that you guys refrain from sending a) pictures of yourself naked, b) pictures of yourself in Speedo briefs, and c) pictures of somebody else naked with your head pasted on the top of their body; believe it or not, Russian women are not fooled by this clever technique.)

In summary, here's my bottom line on the Free Russian Personals site: with good professional photos, a Russian letter of introduction, and persistent lurking so that I could send my letter within minutes after a new batch of ads posted, I got a response to about one out of twenty-five "first contact" letters I wrote, and about half of those responses were from Internet scammers who just wanted to con me out of my hard-earned cash. My total time investment was about five hours for each woman I met. But, hey, it was "free."  

Kiss-ing Russian Brides

I also tried my hand at meeting women on the website. A lot of Russian women advertise there, but I was pretty disgusted by the way the site was run. There are many undocumented facts and tricks that you need to know to make the site useful, and the people who run the site employ a few practices that I found to be very questionable. If any of you guys out there are interested, I'll gladly supply you with all the details.

I had better luck meeting women at than I did on the Free Russian Personals site. I typically got one response from every ten "first contact" letters that I wrote, but I think many of those were because my introductory letter was in Russian. Russian women on get about fifty to seventy-five responses per day and one woman told me she got five e-mails between the time she started setting up her profile on the site and the time she finished it (about fifteen minutes). So you still have to be one of the first guys to write to a woman on if you don't want to get lost in the crowd.

After I started corresponding with a few women, I noticed a pattern in their letters. All the responses I received had basically two parts. Part One was a general letter that I assume was sent to a bunch of guys. Part Two consisted of a few sentences at the end that answered my specific questions or replied to something I had said. The English in Part Two was always a lot worse than the English in Part One. I tried to get women to increase the size of their Part Twos by asking a lot of questions, but it didn't work. If I gave a woman too much work to do she either just answered the last question I asked or didn't respond at all. A couple of times I got Part Twos that I could tell were supposed to be for other guys.

I also found that after about two to four weeks, some women would stop answering my e-mails. Sometimes this followed a letter asking what I came to call "weed-out" questions-questions that were designed to investigate my attitudes and opinions about relationships, children, marriage, etc. I always answered these questions honestly (and I would recommend you do so as well) even when I could tell that she wasn't going to like my answers. After all, what would be the point of hanging on to a relationship that had to be built on lies to survive? More often, however, women just disappeared for no apparent reason; presumably they found the man of their dreams and he wasn't me.

All Those Eggs and Only One Basket

Of course there were also a few women on who fell madly in love with me and desperately needed money by their second or third e-mail. They were all fashion-model beautiful and spoke great English, but were strangely unable to provide things like a last name, an address, or a phone number.  

I was feeling particularly exasperated about this state of affairs one day when I received an e-mail from an incredibly beautiful woman named Lena with whom I had been corresponding for about a month. I had really come to like Lena a lot, since she was not only beautiful, but also smart and she had a great sense of humor. She and I had been corresponding about when I would visit Russia and the possibility of our meeting. Suddenly she suggested that we should meet someplace "more romantic" than her hometown. "Oh great," I thought, "this is where she hits me up for a plane ticket, visa money, and travel expenses." I knew she was too good to be true. So, with a heavy sigh, I asked for her phone number and told her that I wanted to send her a gift and would need her last name and address. She was reluctant to tell me any of those things, and I thought, "Sure enough, just another scammer."

Then, much to my surprise, Lena gave me her phone number. I arranged for a translator and called her a couple of days later at a prearranged time. When we talked she seemed really nervous and I felt pretty awkward too, but we both felt a lot closer to each other by the end of the conversation. Her birthday was a few days later, so I sent her flowers and candy (along with a toy for her cat) through a Russian gift delivery service. (By the way, if you ever want an adventure in cross-cultural communication, try to get a Russian flower delivery service to include a cat toy!) As an added bonus, the delivery service took Lena's photo when they delivered the flowers. I had learned from the web site that this was a good way to insure that a woman was "real" and not an Internet scammer. I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about Lena by this point, and the photo settled any final doubts I might have had about her.

Things with Lena took off pretty fast after that. We talked on the phone again, and tried hard to not use the translator, who just stayed on the line to help when we got stuck. We wrote to each other every day. Her Part Twos quickly got bigger and her Part Ones soon disappeared completely. We had incredibly deep discussions about our hopes and dreams. We discussed our strengths and weaknesses honestly and openly, and we accepted each other for who we were. She pledged her eternal devotion to me and I fell madly in love with her. I wrote her poems and her English wasn't good enough to know how bad they were. She replied with poetry in English that she found God-only-knows-where.

I made her feel safe. She made me a hero. We had dreams about each other that were eerily similar, and it seemed that sometimes we were sharing the same dreams. Once I composed an e-mail to her with lyrics from a Russian song: "Без тебя я не я, Без тебя меня нет" which translates to "Without you I am not myself; without you there is no me." After I'd written that, but before I sent it, she e-mailed me saying, "I think about you all time. My heart prompts me that I can not separate you from me any more."

After a month I'd dropped all my other correspondence; now I knew what had happened to the women who stopped answering my e-mails and I was giddily happy for them all. I started putting together my fiancée visa package and realized I had ended up with thirty pictures of Lena and a two-inch stack of letters we'd exchanged. I started reorganizing my business and financial affairs so that I could give Lena everything she had ever dreamed of once we were married. I sent Lena a long e-mail discussing my approach to financial matters and prompting her for her input. She was strangely silent, but I ignored that and assumed that she was just busy or had had a hard day at work. I sent her roses and a teddy bear, planning to send her a gift each week until we met. Two more days went by and she didn't e-mail me. I wrote and asked what was wrong.

As it turned out, she had thought the financial discussion meant that I didn't trust her. In fact, the flowers I had sent her made the situation even worse. I had used the same gift delivery service that had delivered her birthday flowers, and the same guys showed up to take her picture and deliver the roses. Apparently everyone in Russia sees the flower-delivery photo as a test to catch Internet scammers-or at least these guys did. So Lena ended up feeling humiliated and certain that I didn't trust her at all. She was devastated and told me goodbye. My frantic explanations and apologies went unanswered. I began to seriously consider joining a monastery.

Ok, I know that this is the part of the movie where the cultural misunderstanding gets resolved, everyone laughs about it, and we all live happily ever after. So now I'm just waiting for that scene to made its way to the screen before the final credits start rolling …

Maybe things will work out with Lena, but if they don't, at least I've had a chance to experience a tenderness and passion that I thought only existed in dreams and poetry. I sure won't talk to Vern about any of this though-he'd just tell me that Lena was "defective merchandise" and that I should throw her away and order a different one. At least there's one thing I can be certain of: true love is real and it's out there somewhere waiting for me to find it.

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