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Mail-Order Matchmaker - 2004-03-19

Arranging the courtship and marriage of two eligible singles is an ancient custom known commonly as “matchmaking.” In today’s edition of New American Voices, you’ll meet Natasha Spivack, a modern-day matchmaker who arranges marriages between American men and Russian women.

Natasha Spivack, a tall, statuesque woman, works out of a cramped apartment in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The shelves in her small living room-office are lined with photo albums filled with pictures of the 300 or so couples that she has brought together. Ms. Spivack says her mail-order matchmaking business, Encounters International, grew out of her own experiences, and her own misfortune. Not long after she immigrated to the United States from Russia with her family in 1985, her husband was killed in an automobile accident.

“And all of a sudden I found myself single, a single mom, with little children, in a different country, with a different language, and without any support around. I guess I went through the roller-coaster of all kinds of experiences, trying to establish myself here as a professional, as a breadwinner, and as a person who wanted to have a role model for her children and a lifetime partner for myself.”

For several years, Ms. Spivack, a linguist by training, supported herself and her two young sons by teaching Russian at one of the local universities. She married for a second time. But on a visit to Russia she was struck by how lonely and miserable some of her former girlfriends were. That sparked an inspiration: a matchmaking service that would bring these women together with American men.

“Primarily I know that women by definition are looking for stability. For many American men, family is sacred. So American men can provide Russian women with stability. Stability for them for them as women, for their children, for their future children – so that’s probably what Russian women appreciate the most in such marriages.”

As for the American men who are her clients, Ms. Spivack says they generally fall into four categories.

“One group, these are men who are divorced, who have been married all their lives and have basically lost their dating skills. They’re used to family life and they want to continue that. The second group of men has never been married. They’re probably in their late forties, early fifties. They are very picky. They probably are not married because all their lives they had this ideal, dreaming of somebody that they never found, and now they're trying Encounters International as something different. Typically, we find the woman of their dreams. And these are the happiest men, because if we cannot find a match for them, nobody can find it.”

In another group of clients are men who have Russian roots, and are seeking a Russian wife as a way of re-connecting with their heritage and culture. The final group includes what Ms. Spivack calls the neediest men – the hardship cases, men who are either handicapped or scarred or deformed. Natasha Spivack says she has been able to find matches for all her clients, no matter what their situation. And the divorce rate among her former clients is about 13 percent – as she points out, considerably lower than the divorce rate for the United States or Russia in general. Most of the divorces happen because of unrealistic expectations, she says, and because the parties involved close their eyes to signs of possible trouble. She herself is very clear-eyed about the matches she arranges.

"I try my best to really be a matchmaker, try to match people as best as I can, but very often, you know, people just want to ignore my advice. Say, if the age difference is huge, then there should be some motivating factor for the woman to marry the man. Typically, it’s money. Why would a young, beautiful woman love to marry a very old person? Well, because he can provide for her a very good life. If this man believes that she is in love with him, then he deceives himself. He just needs to be in touch with reality. So the woman comes, and if he withdraws money from her, and says, ‘No, go to work, I’m not going to give you a good life,’ then it is like a broken expectation, a broken agreement.”

For the women who sign up, Natasha Spivack’s matchmaking services are free. The men pay eighteen hundred dollars, and receive the address of a woman whose photos – and sometimes video – they can view on the Internet. The couple is obliged to correspond, with at least five letters per month. If their relationship clicks, the man usually pays around three thousand dollars for a trip to Russia to meet his prospective bride, so that she can apply for a 90-day so-called “fiancee visa” to visit the United States. During this 3-month stay, Ms. Spivack provides informal counseling, if needed -- especially to the women, as they try to cope with unfamiliar and sometimes bewildering circumstances. But after the couples are married, she avoids getting involved.

“That’s their life. That’s their life. I brought them together, but they’re adults. Let them live their own lives.”

Still, on the last Saturday of every month, Ms. Spivack holds a social for all her clients, at which they can mingle and share their unique experiences as mail-order Russian-American couples, and re-connect with the woman who helped bring them together.

English Feature #7-38456 Broadcast March 22, 2004