THE BROADER PICTURE / Marriage in a free market

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The Independent Culture
THESE WOMEN are Russian, and they are looking at photographs of the men they hope will be their future husbands, all-American dream husbands who have cars and houses and jobs. To find their future spouses, they have signed on to the books of a marriage bureau, American-Russian Matchmaking, which is run by a man called Ron Rollband.

Mr Rollband, who lives in Los Angeles, is a marketing consultant: 'I've handled everything from food products to heavy industrial equipment.' In 1990, he diversified into people, and set up his marriage bureau. Since then, he says, he has introduced thousands of American men to thousands of Russian women. 'I've lost count of the number of couples,' he says, 'but I think we've had about a hundred marriages.'

Last week Mr Rollband came back from his twelfth trip to Moscow. He took 19 of his clients with him, who had each paid almost dollars 4,500 ( pounds 3,000) for a two-week jaunt to Moscow, where they were introduced to about 350 women. 'Some of the men are overwhelmed,' says Rollband. 'They say they've never met so many beautiful women in one room.'

There are, unfortunately, not enough men to go around on these trips, so the Russian women are also given pictures of men back in America who have paid the initial dollars 50 ( pounds 33) fee to become members of Mr Rollband's agency. If the women like the look of any of the men, they can write a letter introducing themselves, which Mr Rollband will then forward. But if they're lucky, they will get engaged to a real live American on one of the whirlwind marriage trips to Moscow.

Only six men got engaged on Rollband's last trip. 'That was the worst I've ever had,' he says. 'But I had some pretty strange people on this trip.'

What were the men like?

'Stick your finger down your throat, and you'll have a good idea.'

He quickly adds that not all of his clients are so undesirable. 'My clientele is the upper level. Some of my guys are gorgeous, you'd salivate over them. But they've been so busy building a career, they've had no time to build a relationship.'

Mr Rollband, who is 57, has some sympathy with the problems of forming a lasting relationship. He has been married more times than he cares to mention. 'But right now I have every man's dream,' he says. Last January, he married one of his bureau's clients, a 24-year-old former medical student called Lidia, who now works for American-Russian Matchmaking.

'She's amazing,' he says. 'I get offers for her all the time from men who are in the agency's membership. She looks like she fell off a Christmas card, and she never gets mad. She's the most affectionate little thing.'

He admits that he warns his own clients against relationships with such a big age gap. 'I tell my clients, any more than 15 years is asking for trouble. But they still go ahead - they can't resist the girls.'

Mr Rollband also admits that the marriages he arranges are prone to difficulties. There are cultural differences. (Lidia, for example, is far more interested in nature than he is: 'It's almost bizarre.') Indeed, one of his agency's very first success stories, a marriage which took place in California in 1990, has already run into problems. 'They're still living together as far as I know, but he's not happy.'

In fact, says Rollband, despite the fact he makes a good living from his business, 'I only get a sporadic sense of satisfaction.' There are his clients, 'some of whom are wonderful, but some who I'd like to put a bullet into.' And then there are the trips to Russia, which he is not very keen on.

'Moscow is very depressing. It really pains me to see how people live there.' All in all, he'd like to give the whole thing up. 'I'd prefer to do something else. Anything else.'

Unfortunately, he can't find anyone he trusts to take the business over. And there are still all those unmarried men, and all those hopeful women, placing their trust in him, waiting for the dream marriage.-

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