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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2013 2:56 pm 
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Gulf lovers use smartphones to beat segregation
28 June 2013

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A woman holds her mobile as she walks past a coffee shop in the Saudi capital Riyadh on June 17, 2013.

AFP - Jaber and his girlfriend flirt the day away, never wasting a minute to sweet-talk and dream of a future together, but like most Gulf Arab youths they can only do it virtually.

In the United Arab Emirates and all across the conservative Gulf countries, dating is unacceptable among nationals while arranged marriages are the norm.

To beat the segregation imposed by a stern society, young men and women meet through chatting applications available on smartphones. Sitting in a coffee shop in a luxurious Abu Dhabi mall, the love-struck Emirati young man holds a tea cup in one hand while the other one is busy typing love messages on the keyboard of his BlackBerry. "I saw her at the movies. I asked an employee there to hand her my BlackBerry PIN code," Jaber recalls with a grin the day he met his girlfriend. "I didn't really expect her to add me to her contact list, or for such a love story to evolve between us," said Jaber, who is in his 20s.

But it did and the first cyberspace encounter took place two months later when the young woman mustered enough courage and linked up with Jaber via Skype. It was a short meeting, said Jaber, who staunchly refused to reveal his girlfriend's name because making their relationship public would trigger a scandal in their conservative society. That first Skype date was enough "to affirm our love," said the university graduate. Eventually he convinced his beloved to meet him in secret and now the couple are considering the next step -- namely should Jaber request a meeting with her father in line with tradition and formally ask for her hand in marriage.

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Men look at a mobile as they sit in a coffee shop in the Saudi capital Riyadh on June 17, 2013.

"Despite the modernisation in the United Arab Emirates, families still hold on to their traditional conservative values," says Jamila Khanji, adviser of research and studies at the Family Development Foundation in Abu Dhabi. "Families still arrange their children's marriages, even though they have now become more flexible by allowing the engaged couple to meet, or accepting longer engagement periods to give the couple better chances to get to know one another," she said.

But while this is the case in the UAE, considered one of the Gulf's most liberal countries, it is nearly impossible for couples in neighbouring Saudi Arabia to meet as the ultra-conservative kingdom strictly prohibits mixing between the sexes. In a cafeteria at the entrance of a shopping mall in Al-Tahliya street, one of Riyadh's most vibrant districts, dozens of young men look on as fully veiled girls in high heels and designer handbags walk past and head towards the seating area reserved to women and families only.

In oil-rich Saudi Arabia it is nearly impossible for men to openly approach a woman but thanks to an easy access to the latest technologies including mobile phone applications, they can indeed meet. By switching on WhosHere, a smartphone application which is popular in the kingdom, a young man sitting at the men's section of the cafeteria could contact girls sitting in the families' section. "I can see that 16 girls have showed up on WhosHere and I can connect with any one of them," says Ahmed, who like Jaber declined to give his surname. Before such applications, men would throw at the girls pieces of paper with their telephone numbers scribbled on them.

But the Saudi telecom authority warned in March that it would ban applications like Skype and WhatsApp if providers failed to allow authorities access to censor content, according to an industry source. Internet messenger application Viber was briefly blocked in June in Saudi Arabia, while BlackBerry nearly got banned in 2010. Authorities cite security concerns to justify their actions.

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A man checks his mobile at a coffee shop in the Saudi capital Riyadh on June 17, 2013.

Although smartphones have become an integral part of dating in the kingdom, the relationship does not develop into marriage, users say. "None of my friends has married a girl he met in this way," said Ahmed. Qatari Alanood has fallen in love with a friend of her brother, but could not reveal her story in a society that shames women who dare voice their feelings. "I communicate with him on Skype," she said, speaking to AFP via Twitter. "It's a hopeless love story."

A 16-year-old student at a girls' school told AFP that Emirati classmates -- not allowed by their families to talk to boys -- use BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to contact members of the opposite sex. On BBM, users randomly add contacts whom they start talking to. "Then they move on to Skype and Facebook." They sometimes get to finally meet face-to-face, but in most cases the short-lived relationship ends with a click, she said.

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:09 pm 
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Poles seek match made in heaven at singles mass
10 October 2013

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People chat during a meeting after a mass for singles in the Jesuit Church, in the old town of Warsaw, on September 24, 2013

AFP - Glued to the wall, young men and women eye each other timidly as a priest circles the room and nudges neighbours together, encouraging them to mingle over cookies and tea.

It is the fifth monthly "mass for singles" at Our Lord's Ascension Church in Warsaw, one of several such initiatives across heavily Catholic Poland at a time when loneliness is on the rise and faith is waning.

"Core values are falling by the wayside right? I mean you definitely can't find a potential wife at a nightclub," said 30-year-old Krzysztof Merchel, a first-timer who drove down from the central village of Chotomow with two friends acting as wingmen. Scoping the room packed with around 250 twenty- and thirty-somethings, the welder says all the solitude around makes events like this one a no-brainer. "Except tonnes of people hide it right? Many are lonely and they just don't know what to do about it," he said amid the din of chitchat and laughter.

The singles mixer is the brainchild of 34-year-old doctor Matylda Krzysiak, a parishioner who lobbied the church for four years before the new parish priest gave it the thumbs up. "People are generally spending their time on the web. There's a lot of isolation. And everyone's overworked," said the stylish and single blonde. The soiree starts with mass, including a special sermon -- on jealousy or women made in the image of God or communication pitfalls -- and prayers for a good husband or wife. Believers then leave the pews to mingle in another room.

At least three churches hold singles mass in the capital, along with others in the southern city of Krakow for example or Olsztyn in the north. Churchgoers have been pairing off for ages, but special services for singles is a new formula for the church at a time when its influence is no longer what it used to be, says Warsaw sociologist Pawel Boryszewski. "There are various competing offers and now the church is trying to give it a name, to make it easier for people. Are you lonely? Then here: mass for the lonely," he told AFP.

'Ducks in a row'

Poland is among Europe's most devout countries but while over 90 percent of Poles identify themselves as Roman Catholic, ever fewer are heading for the pews on Sunday. Since 2005 the number of non-believers has risen from three percent of the population of 38 million people to seven, according to the CBOS institute, which ran its latest survey this year. "There's a lot of church-bashing," said Krzysiak, pointing down her throat in a gesture of disgust to show how some see the institution. She says sceptics see singles mass as just another ploy by priests to fill offering plates with money, but she stresses that at her church the event is free and was a parishioner initiative.

Father Aleksander Jacyniak, 54, who runs the meet-and-greet at the Jesuit Church in the heart of Warsaw's old town, says his predecessor launched it after spotting a pattern among young people at confession. "They finished school, found themselves a job, already have an apartment, basically have their ducks in a row -- but they don't have a wife or husband," said Jacyniak, who centred his sermon around the popular self-help book "Why Am I Afraid to Love?"

Official statistics here show the number of single women aged 15 and up -- discounting the divorced and widowed -- rose from around 18 percent of the population in 1988 to 23 percent in 2011. For men the percentage grew from 30 to 35. "I'm one of those folks who feel emptiness somewhere inside," said Ewelina Andrejczyk, a friendly 20-year-old with rainbow-coloured hair. The shy agriculture student did not find her other half among five dozen singles in the cavernous church basement last month, but Jacyniak says sparks do fly. Several pairs have walked down the aisle.

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People chat during a meeting after a mass for singles in the Jesuit Church in the old town of Warsaw, on September 24, 2013

Law student Tomasz Olejek, who went as moral support for his single-and-looking friend, said he found his own gal pal by chiming in during post-mass chatter outside the church. "I looked for a lady on the Internet for around eight years. Nothing. And then I met my girlfriend in the real world," the 23-year-old told AFP. "That's why I think you need to just leave the house and look."

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 19, 2013 9:15 am 
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An answer to the 'Jane Austen problem': Kissing assesses the genetic quality of a potential sexual partner
by Steve Connor
Friday, 11 October 2013

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Kissing is a way for people to assess the genetic quality of a potential sexual partner and is especially important for women to size up a future husband according to a study into the “Jane Austen problem”.

Anthropologists have long argued about why humans are particularly prone to kissing which appears to be a near universal behaviour among potential lovers, and now they think they have come close to explain why it is so important.

A survey of 900 men and women confirmed that kissing appears to play a central role in assessing a future partner, which is especially important for the Ms Bennets of the world who are in search for their Mr Darcys, said Professor Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University.

“Mate choice and courtship in humans is complex. It involves a series of periods of assessments where people ask themselves 'shall I carry on deeper into this relationship?' Initial attraction may include facial, body and social cues. The assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship sage, and this is where kissing comes in,” Professor Dunbar said. “In choosing partners, we have to deal with the Jane Austen problem: how long do you wait for Mr Darcy to come along when you can't wait forever and there may be lots of women waiting just for him? At what point do you have to compromise for the curate?” he said.

The study found that women rated kissing more important than men, and that both men and women who considered themselves to be attractive and tend to go in for short-term relationships are more likely than other men and women to rate kissing highly.

Professor Dunbar believes the findings, published in the journals Archives of Sexual Behaviour and Human Nature, show how important the role of kissing is for judging the hidden biological cues indicating the genetic fitness or desirability of a potential mate. “What Jane Austen realised is that people are extremely good at assessing where they are in the mating market and pitch their demands accordingly,” Professor Dunbar said. “It depends what kind of poker hand you've been dealt. If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates. We see some of that coming out in the results of our survey, suggesting that kissing plays a role in assessing a potential partner,” he said.

Source: The Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 19, 2013 9:15 am 
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:?

"... genetic fitness..."?

True or not, it needs a bit more explanation than just mentioning it? Like the how?

:x

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:29 pm 
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Carrot Dating app accused of sexism
by Nick Renaud-Komiya
Monday, 21 October 2013

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Carrot Dating, which allows men to buy women gifts in exchange for dates, is the creation of MIT graduate Brandon Wade, whose other dating sites have also been controversial.
Carrot Dating

An online dating app has been attacked as sexist and even accused of encouraging prostitution.

Carrot Dating, developed by an MIT graduate, allows men to 'bribe' women into offering them dates with everything from jewelry to a tank full of petrol. Users wanting to get the romance going can even offer prospective suitors plastic surgery.

The idea behind the app is that users 'dangle a carrot' in exchange for getting women to go out with them, according to its creator Brandon Wade. The app, with its unashamed promotion of bribery, has been likened by the US news website Business Insider to exchanging money for sex. Business Insider's Christina Sterbenz wrote, “through Carrot Dating, users (but really men)... can buy credits to send ”gifts“ to other users ... so they'll agree to a first date. That sounds quite like an activity illegal in most of the continental US — prostitution. Aside from being blatantly sexist, Wade's app clearly won't build the chemistry needed to fall in love. In fact, this problematic app is teaching men that women are greedy idiots who can't see through blatant and pathetic misogyny. For the record, if you offer a woman a present in exchange for a first date, then you're implying she can be bought, much like a hooker.'

This perception is certainly not helped by the fact that Wade sent out a promotional email which contained the phrase, “Give a dog a bone, and it will obey. Give a woman a present and she'll...(sic)” The Carrot Dating statement continues, “Women have all the power in the online dating world: they receive countless messages from suitors, while men struggle for even a single reply. “But by ‘dangling’ the right ‘carrot’ in front of beautiful girls, suitors can convince anyone to say 'yes' to a first date.”

Professor Edward Deci, a leading researcher in the study of human motivation, told the New York Times that trying to form a relationship based on bribery is bound to end in failure. “It is easy to get people to do things by paying them if you've got enough money and they've got the necessary skills...But they will keep doing it only as long as you keep paying them,” he said. “And even if they were doing it before, when you stop paying them the behavior drops to a lower level than when you started paying them. We’ve done thousands of experiments on this over 40 years and the data is incredibly robust,” he added.

Wade's previous creations have also been met with controversy. He is behind the dating auction site Whatsyourprice.com, where users are invited to “bid on first dates with beautiful women” and the popular 'Sugar Daddy' dating site Seeking Arrangement. The site matches men ('sugar daddies') with younger women who they can shower with gifts in order for them to form 'mutually beneficial relationships'.

Source: The Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 17, 2013 11:01 am 
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Adultery website focuses on Hong Kong marriages
26 August 2013

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A woman watches video showing marriage breakdowns at an exhibition in Shanghai, 15 March 2007.

AFP - The founder of a dating service promoting adultery is setting his sights on China's cheating hearts after a controversial launch in Hong Kong.

"It is a reality of life, we are an unfaithful society," said Noel Biderman, the founder of the Ashley Madison "married dating" service. With its slogan "Life is short. Have an affair", the website boasts more than 20 million users in more than 15 countries. It has been expanding aggressively, adding Japan and India last year. On Friday it lanched in Hong Kong, where religious and family planning groups have come together to criticise its message.

Biderman said he nevertheless expected his service to be "wildly popular" in the southern Chinese city, noting that the website received around 320,000 Hong Kong hits in the past year without spending anything on marketing. "That to us indicates massive appetite for this specific product," Biderman told AFP, citing rising divorce rates in the city.

Government data show 30 out of 100 married couples filed for a divorce in 2011, twice as many as in 1991. The number of divorce cases hit a record high of 21,125 in 2012. Hong Kong is "in transition when it comes to relationships and marriage and that can lead to an interesting environment," said Biderman. "When we put ourselves into that mix, we can do extremely well."

User "mamama222" was one of the first in Hong Kong to sign up. "I'm looking for various men to fulfil what my husband can't," she said on her profile. In catering to such motivations, Ashley Madison has attracted plenty of criticism from religious groups and social workers. "We must do everything we can to uphold the values and the stability of" marriage and family, Hong Kong Catholic Diocese reverend Lawrence Lee told AFP. "This is disrupting marriage and family, what good can it come to?" he added, noting that Chinese people had "great respect for marriage and family."

A Hong Kong Family Planning Association spokeswoman told AFP: "Infidelity in any form of clandestine extra-marital affair without the partner's knowledge or consent may hurt the marital relationship and ultimately undermine family integrity".

The concept of marriage in the city is nevertheless becoming increasingly "fragile", Chinese University of Hong Kong professor of Social Work Lam Ching-man told AFP. "Hong Kong people are facing lots of challenges," Lam said, adding that couples have to deal with an increasing financial burden and other social stresses. Lam does not believe the website will be as popular in Hong Kong compared to other locations such as Japan which saw a million users sign up in months.

Hong Kong has one of the world's lowest fertility rates, which experts say is driven by financial pressures in a city of extremely high property prices. Hong Kongers also have a reputation as some of the least active lovers in Asia, ranking low in informal surveys of sexual frequency by British condom manufacturer Durex. Younger Hong Kong residents typically live at home deep into their 20s or 30s because they can't afford to marry and move out earlier, meaning that many reside in close proximity to their parents in cramped apartments.

But for Biderman, the city is a possible springboard for an entry into China, home to one of the largest internet markets in the world. Over 640,000 people from China tried to access Ashley Madison in the past year before it was available, showing "a lot of pent-up demand" in the country, Biderman said. "If there were 10 times more people trying to log in from China as there were last year because of the Hong Kong launch and it starts to spread virally that way, that could be the impetus for me to take that plunge" he said. "Bottom line is, people have affairs, they're having affairs because they don't want to leave the family," he said. "There really is a negative impact in separating a family, there is no corresponding negative impact to an undiscovered affair...The vast majority of people that have affairs, especially on our service, never get discovered."

Source: france24.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 7:07 pm 
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Singapore bans adultery website Ashley Madison
9 November 2013
By SATISH CHENEY

SINGAPORE (AP) -- Singapore's government has blocked access to the popular adultery website Ashley Madison amid a public outcry ahead of the company's planned launch of a portal for the city-state.

The Media Development Authority, which regulates the Internet, said in a statement late Friday that it has blocked access to the Canada-based website because it is in "flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality." "We will therefore not allow Ashley Madison to operate in Singapore and have worked with Internet service providers to block access to the site," the statement said.

AshleyMadison.com started in Canada in 2001. With the slogan "Life is short. Have an affair," it has attracted more than 20 million users. It recently expanded to Japan, India and Hong Kong, and was planning to launch a Singapore portal later this month. Thousands of Singaporeans, including a Cabinet minister, have expressed outrage and urged the government to block the website.

Some citizens, however, disagreed with the ban. "What will the government ban next? A movie about adultery? An erotic novel? It's just plain silly and not having this website around doesn't mean people still can't cheat if they want to," said Shalini Nair, 35, who has been married for six years.

Ashley Madison has reportedly said it will explore legal means to overcome the ban.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:35 pm 
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Indian TV channel seeks prospective brides and grooms
5 September 2013

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A TV actress gets ready prior to a shoot for India's first Matrimonial TV channel Shagun, at the channel's studio in Noida, some 30 km from New Delhi, on April 29, 2013.

AFP - India's focus on marriage has fuelled an industry worth billions, lining the pockets of everyone from wedding planners to jewellers to astrologers and now, a new TV channel hopes to cash in.

When television producer Anuranjan Jha met his wife through a matrimonial website 12 years ago, he came up with what he describes as a gold mine of an idea.

"I thought, if the internet, which only reaches a small percentage of Indians can be so successful in arranging marriages, then why not television which is everywhere?" Jha, now the managing director of Shagun TV, told AFP. More than 47 percent of Indian households have a television compared with just over 3 percent with internet access, according to 2011 census data. It took Jha more than a decade, but he finally launched Shagun TV (the name means "auspicious TV" in Hindi) in April.

The Hindi-language channel currently attracts around ten million viewers a week, Jha said, citing figures compiled by television ratings agency TAM India. He hopes to see that number double to twenty million soon, as he expands the channel's distribution network, currently limited to a single national satellite TV provider, Videocon d2h. The channel features shows designed to help viewers find brides or grooms, look up honeymoon destinations, shop for jewellery, check out horoscopes and learn how to get along with one's in-laws.

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Crew members film on the set of India's first Matrimonial TV channel Shagun, at the channel's studio in Noida, some 30 km from New Delhi, on April 29, 2013.

Glamorous television stars anchor programmes staged in front of a garish red and gold set -- painted to resemble a wedding backdrop. A peppy presenter profiles a series of young men in search of a bride as their candid, photoshop-free pictures pop up on screen, with a message urging interested families to contact the channel if they like what they see. Shows include "Honeymoon Travels", "Gold n Beautiful", "Kundali Bole" ("The Horoscope speaks") and "Janam Janam Ka Saath" ("Together for Many Lifetimes").

Best-selling Indian novelist and commentator Shobhaa De told AFP the channel was poised to be "tremendously successful". "It's an inspired idea that could really work in a country where so many people -- women in particular -- struggle to find partners," De said, pointing out that young Indian professionals had limited opportunities to meet prospective partners due to busy careers and the absence of a widespread dating culture.

By the time the channel launched, some 2,000 people had already contacted Jha, expressing a wish to participate in his shows and find a suitable boy or girl. In a country where arranged marriages are still the norm and dating is often frowned upon, matrimonial advertisements in newspapers and websites are used by many to find prospective partners. Jha is hoping attitudes have changed after earlier attempts to create reality television shows focusing on arranged marriages ran into trouble. "Kahin Naa Kahin Koi Hai" ("Somewhere There is Someone") was launched with great fanfare in 2002, with Bollywood icon Madhuri Dixit anchoring the programme.

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Managing Director of India's first Matrimonial TV channel Shagun, Anuranjan Jha, pictured at the channel's studio in Noida, some 30 km from New Delhi, on April 29, 2013.

But the show opened to poor reviews and criticism from viewers who objected to people choosing their spouses on TV and was taken off the air after just ten weeks. In an interview with "Stardust" magazine nearly a decade later, Dixit said the show was "way ahead of its times". "Many even thought that we shouldn't have done it, wondering 'how could someone marry on TV'? They thought it was too private an event to show on TV," she said. "Had the show started today, I am sure it would have enjoyed a different outcome." Jha hopes so and told AFP he did not want to encourage dating, focusing instead on the channel's appeal to a conservative demographic. "We will not arrange any meetings between a boy and a girl without their families present. We want people to know each other's families before going ahead with anything," he said.

Commentator De said the channel's conservative leanings reflect widespread Indian thinking. "Middle India has not changed that much as far as this sort of thing is concerned. Families are still very involved in the decision-making around marriages," she said. "Plenty of young people are happy asking their families for help in finding brides or grooms. They tend not to have such high romantic expectations, they enter it with their eyes open, with a willingness to compromise."

Optician Namrata Maheshwari, a 25-year-old participant on a Shagun TV show about in-laws, agreed, citing her own successful arranged marriage to 29-year-old Mukul. Arranged marriage "connects two families, not just two people," she said, describing it as "a very important tradition". "It should stay as it is. However modern we become, however much our lifestyle changes, some of our old traditions should continue to prevail," she told AFP.

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Crew members fix a spot-light on the set of India's first Matrimonial TV channel Shagun, at the channel's studio in Noida, some 30 km from New Delhi, on April 29, 2013.

So far Jha has spent at least 600 million rupees ($10 million) setting up the channel, he estimates. He expects to turn a profit soon. "In India, marriage is tradition, it is culture, it is ritual and it is a market worth 1,250 billion rupees annually," he said. "Under such conditions, it won't be difficult for this channel to do well."

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 08, 2013 2:31 pm 
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Tinder: the shallowest dating app ever?
by Holly Baxter and Pete Cashmore
Saturday, 23 November 2013

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Pete Cashmore and Holly Baxter: 'It feels uncomfortably shallow – at first.' Photograph: Michael Thomas Jones for the Guardian

For those who haven't heard of Tinder, let me introduce you.

Holly

It's an app you can download at the click of an iPhone and play at the bus stop, one that uses your smartphone's GPS to track down other Tindering singles in your area. It's a game in which you quickly rate faces as hot or not, with a swipe of your finger to either the right or the left respectively. It's free, easy and convenient, and the prize you get at the end of it? A real-life date, with a real-life person.

Tinder is a strange phenomenon, yet also a natural evolution of what the dating scene for the millennial generation already looks like. This once stigma-ridden world has been completely revived in the past five years, becoming more the bastion of busy twentysomethings in demanding urban jobs than that of their divorced middle-aged parents. Where once it was assumed that the person advertising themselves awkwardly on a screen was there because of social ineptitude, it's now much more common – and accurate – to assume that they are instead working 13-hour days in order to convert their unpaid internship into an underpaid graduate job. Time to cruise the bars, you say? Time to loiter in bookshops and catch a nice boy's eye over a copy of Patti Smith's autobiography? Not so, my friend! Where once there were pub japes, there are now spreadsheets. Where once there were chat-up lines and prospective girlfriends, there is now the Thursday dinner meeting with a prospective boss.

In some ways it's surprising that an innovation like Tinder happened, given that the app was developed in a start-up lab funded by IAC/InterActiveCorp, the American company that also owns the phenomenally successful sites match.com and OkCupid. Why fix what isn't broken? Recent statistics told entrepreneurs that an ever-expanding number of people are entering those websites through their smartphones – that lives are increasingly being lived on the go. Additionally, market research showed the existence of the younger demographic – mostly driven people at the dawn of their careers, looking for casual forays into dating and one-night stands. In the US, where Tinder launched last September, it is now the fastest-growing free dating app. In the UK, users are increasing by 25% every week. Where match.com might be the quality bottle of red, Tinder is the alcopop: addictively simple, childishly appealing and deliberately youthful. It even comes with an age limit of 50.

Tinder uses the same GPS capabilities as Grindr – the wildly popular and barefacedly grimy gay hook-up app – but requires every user to have a Facebook account, which gives it a safer air. People are less likely to create multiple accounts, and users can't contact their potential beaux until both have said "yes" to one another on screen. This is another way in which the app improves upon the dating website experience, where women are often inundated with sexual commentary from unwanted suitors.

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Holly Armstrong using Tinder "Admittedly, I live in central London and the pickings would be slimmer if I were Tindering from the Yorkshire dales."
Photograph: Michael Thomas Jones for the Guardian

A quick scan of the local area gives me a seemingly endless list of men to choose from, all in the age range I've specified in the "preferences" section (admittedly, I live in central London, and the pickings would be slimmer if I were Tindering from the Yorkshire dales). I flick idly through a few pictures, subjecting them to either the heart icon or the big red X. I'm careful not to use it in the office: friends of mine have already come a cropper by discovering their colleagues on the screen and finding out more than they ever wanted to know – a picture of the IT coordinator's penis is never welcome. Tinder is quite strict about vetting that kind of image, but inevitably a few slip through.

Every so often, I'm informed that I've approved someone who has also approved me. "It's a match!" the screen announces, and a chat box appears, inviting me to start up a text conversation with a stranger who has declared me attractive enough to parley with. In the US, there are apparently more than 2m matches every day. It feels uncomfortably shallow at first but, as one of my fellow Tindering friends points out, "You'd just be doing it in your head at the pub anyway."

"Don't just say hi," a few men's profiles warn women who might dare to chat with them. "You may be Daddy's little girl at home, but on here you're going to have to impress me," says one particularly distasteful one. I am hit-and-miss with my openers – I start off using the standing-at-a-bar approach ("How are you?") and quickly realise this won't pique anyone's interest enough for them to take time out of their superfast scrolling to reply. Eventually, I settle on personal but innocuous statements ("Cool hair", "Good to see you like Tom Waits, too", "I also enjoy doing the supermarket shop in an animal onesie"). These produce a few interesting conversations among tens of deadly dull ones – "where u go out?" followed up with "u go out much?" and "u drink lots?" killed my exchange with a handsome Irishman. One man who cheekily asks if I'm "up for a shag" at 3pm (to which I reply "Not now, I'm working" and get the midnight sequel "How about now?") makes me laugh out loud. But most are quick to arrange dates, and I'm happy with that: the platform doesn't exactly lend itself to nuanced dialogue.

A Tinder date is much like one that you might have arranged on a more conventional dating website, with two exceptions: you have probably shared only a sentence or two with one another, and you have no way of ascertaining the other person's height. The height factor genuinely stumps me, as there's no polite way of asking, although I do learn pretty quickly that most tall male Tinderers will advertise it faux-subtly on their page ("Hey, just saying, I'm 6ft 3in and I love Bob Dylan"). Nevertheless, my first date is a lot shorter than I imagined. Even more disconcertingly, he talks like a dating profile ("So why did you move to London?" I ask; "Curiosity," he replies, before trying to kiss me) and it turns out we have very little in common. The second is much the same, except taller, and the third barely speaks a word of English, which makes for an extremely awkward half-hour before I make my excuses and leave.

The fourth and fifth excursions are a little more charmed. Number four is an investment banker (alarm bells) but has great taste in music, and when he takes me to an unpretentious bar I never knew existed near my house and tells me about his childhood, I start to forgive him his job title. "I would never usually use anything like Tinder," he says, the same way that most men attempt to when you turn up to meet them. Curiously my female friends are much less inclined to be apologetic, and explain their presence on the dating app simply with the phrase: "It's normal now." Against all odds, the investment banker and I end up arranging a second date for next week.

Number five takes me to a subtitled movie at the Barbican, the Viagra of all hipster dates. We get lost on our way out and end up standing in the darkness, trapped by a maze of brutalist architecture and a large moat, laughing at our inability to navigate one of the most iconic structures in London. I'm just about to convince myself that I'm falling in love with him.

"We could swim across," I say, gesturing towards the moat and accompanying fountains. "If this was Garden State, that's totally what would happen."

"Come on now," he says, laughing. "I'm no Zach Braff, and you're no Natalie Portman."

This true but unnecessary slight floors me, and on the walk home from the tube I block his chat box. It turns out that the dating world is just as cruel as it ever was, with just as much chance of toying with your emotions, whether you match the savvy, carefree Tinder demographic or not. But there's no doubting that the app takes some of the sting out of "putting yourself out there": you quickly forget about the reams of people you've approved and who haven't approved you back, thus sparing yourself all the emotional turmoil you might have encountered by approaching an uninterested person in the real world. Eventually, however, Tinder exhausts even the most hardened cynic's capacity for superficiality.

A day later, I'm walking back from work towards my house when three young men on bikes follow me down a side street and snatch my iPhone out of my hand. I can't help but feel a modicum of relief.

Pete

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Pete Cashmore: ‘I rejected, I accepted, I rejected some more…’ Photograph: Michael Thomas Jones for the Guardian

A brief history of internet dating and my relationship with it. In the 1990s, in the days of dial-up, strange websites with names like Love and Friends, websites designed specifically to help you meet members of the opposite sex, began to appear. I joined them. Over time, this first wave of dating sites began to be subsumed and crushed by the behemoths: Udate, match.com, datingdirect.com, offering simple functionality, instant messaging features and lots of room for photographs. I joined them, too. Inevitably, entrepreneurs started to realise that there were people out there who were interested only in having sex, and sites such as AdultFriendFinder offered users the unique experience of deciding whether or not they would like to sleep with a person based solely on pictures of their genitals. I did not join them.

After years of on-and-off e-dating, in which I've met 150-200 women, fallen in love with one and invented extravagant excuses to extricate myself from awkward encounters with countless others, you might think I'd be tired of it all. And you'd be right. I'm exhausted. Yet the latest innovations, the first app-specific ones, Twine and Tinder, have thrown up new possibilities. They are the yin to each other's yang. Twine, suggesting the slow process of binding, offers just that – its USP is you get to know people via the exchange of messages and reveal your profile photo only when you both feel you have connected personality-wise. Tinder is the spark of immediate heat, in which your phone tracks down singletons in your vague area, and gives you the simple option of noting whether or not you find them fanciable. If you do them, and they do you, then you can start talking and, presumably, arranging illicit trysts. Or coffee.

With Twine, I came within a couple of days of meeting up with one of the – apparently extremely few – people who are giving it a go, before she got fed up with the painful functionality of the app and decided that it wasn't for her. And she had a very good point, because Twine is interminable. It tries to maintain a near-perfect ratio of men to women which, as any dating website will tell you, is never going to happen, thanks to the inherent desperation of men. After a lengthy signing-up process, I was still unable to view any profiles because there were "462 more men than women in my area" but I could "jump the queue" by suggesting to my female Facebook friends that they join. Only then would I be invited into the inner sanctum. Once I had harangued a friend into joining, each "twine" (message) took about a minute to load. Worse, it turned out the person I was sending anonymous banter to was a man. Perhaps it wasn't surprising; I later logged on and found out there were no women between the ages of 29 and 45 local to my postcode. Instead the load-screen offered up the phrase "Establishing cross-system neural links", which sounds like the kind of thing the on-board computers say in Pacific Rim.

Of the two apps, though, Tinder sounded worse, just because it seemed so contemptuously superficial. There are hundreds upon thousands of women, about whom you know almost nothing, and you snap-appraise them with a single swipe. It's a finger-flicking hymn to the instant gratification of the smartphone age. It's addictive.

At first, the sheer deluge of random faces, selfies, girls kissing other girls (is that a thing nowadays?) and girls wearing cat face paint (apparently that is) was bewildering and meaningless. I rejected, I accepted, I rejected some more, a couple of people responded. I started to feel like the evil sheikh from Taken, picking out women: "I'll take that one… that one… and those two!" Or maybe I was getting annoyed that nobody was really liking me back.

Then I discovered that, as Tinder had synced with my Facebook profile, it had made my main picture a flyer from a battle rap event at which I'd performed. The ladies weren't seeing my face. So I changed it to one of me dressed in a pair of pink foam rubber buttocks. All of a sudden, the people I was favouriting were returning the favour. All because of foam buttocks.

Eleven days after I joined, I had my first Tinder date, in a once-fashionable pub. And it was really good. Three days later, we had a second one, and then another one the next day for good measure. I am calling her Anna, as she has begged for anonymity. Anna is great. We spent most of our first date laughing, our second in a kebab house (it was a lot more romantic than it sounds) and our third watching damp fireworks. That night I asked her what she was even doing on Tinder.

"Apart from the simplicity and time-consuming fun of Tinder, the feeling of exposure for a woman is a lot less than putting yourself on a dating website," she said. "And I always found that, in the main, what men were writing on their profiles was 90% bullshit, to the point that you may as well disregard it. You can tell just as much about a person from their choice of picture. And you were dressed as an arse in yours. What's not to like?"

One day, someone may find a way to combine the laudable old-school romantic ideals of Twine with the fast-food menu feel of Tinder, but at the moment Tinder is winning hands down. I imagined that nobody would ever meet anybody they cared about through something so shallow. It seemed absurd. Now I'm wondering if it's the absurdity of it that's part of the appeal, throwing together people who have a keen sense of the ridiculousness of what they are doing.

Something for me to think about as I prepare for Friday, when I am meeting Anna's mates.

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Pete Cashmore and Holly Armstrong: 'The dating world is as cruel as ever, whether you match the savvy Tinder demographic or not.'
Photograph: Michael Thomas Jones for the Guardian

The golden rules of tinder

1 No photos of weddings or babies in your profile – especially if either is yours
One surprised Tinderer was flicking through photos of a dapper-looking man when she discovered that the reason he'd scrubbed up so well was that they were taken at his wedding. There are only two possibilities here: horrendous cad, or horrendous baggage. Similarly, only the worst babysitter in the world uses the image of an angelic toddler to bolster his dating chances.

2 Resist the urge to make your first picture just your torso
It might seem sexy at the time, and you may well be proud of the spoils from your summer-long workout, but coming across a headless pic is creepy, and looks more like a serial killer's Polaroid collection than a tempting romantic opportunity.

3 Don't send more than two messages without a reply
If they haven't messaged you back, chances are that they've decided they don't fancy you any more, or their friend drunkenly swiped your face for a joke. Dust yourself off and get back on the horse.

4 Don't Tinder-chat for more than a week
This is the point at which it gets weird. You've bantered, you've worked out what each other does for a living, you've ascertained their level of literacy… Now go on a date – otherwise you've just got a pen pal.

5 Don't act ashamed
Tinder has already passed the social acceptability test: groups of friends debate faces in the pub, flatmates sit around Tindering together over the weekly group meal. There's no need to act as though you've been reduced to scraping the dating barrel, so don't include slightly ashamed assurances in your profile, such as: "We'll say we met at a party." Similarly, don't echo the sentiment on a date. Either Tinder wholeheartedly, or not at all.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 01, 2014 8:56 pm 
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Grouper, the new social-club-meets-singles site
by Sally Newall
Friday, 20 December 2013

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Internet dating is exhausting.

You have to write a profile, sift through other people's efforts, contact them, set up a date – and then go on the damn thing. Then there's pre-date research; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (while logged out, obviously). After that, more often than not you don't click, then spend the evening secretly texting friends while fantasising about sitting on the sofa watching Gogglebox. Even sites such as Tinder – the online dating site that doesn't have profiles, just the option to swipe on someone's photo to register your interest – can end in an uncomfortable evening when your date doesn't match up to his or her picture.

But a new dating service or "social club" aims to take away the hard work of going solo, matching up two groups of friends for a night out. Grouper, which launched in 2011 and is already running in 25 US cities, is launching in London next month. It's dating, with mates. Users sign up via Facebook, invite two "wingmen" and answer some questions including two truths and a lie about themselves. Grouper then "hand matches" the original trio with another group (crucially, each group can't have any mutual Facebook friends) and on the day, tells them where to meet. As Kristen Badal, Grouper's director of international operations, says: "We use online technology to bring members offline and take conversations to where we think they belong – face to face in the real world."

So, does it work? My friends and I were sceptical – what if we all fancied the same person? – as we arranged a group date during Grouper's soft launch. It turns out that the site was still ironing some things out. The initial questions were in US mode (no, I didn't vote for Obama) and we never received the two truths and a lie from our opposite numbers. Despite the hi-tech approach, this was bona fide blind dating.

Thanks to bad traffic, my two companions and I arrived 15 minutes late at 8.15pm. So far, so bad. But the designated venue, a dimly lit, speakeasy-style bar, was a more off-beat choice than I'd expected. We told the barman we'd arrived, and then we waited. Nearby were three French guys buying shots. Was it them? Apparently not; they headed upstairs while we were ushered to a table surrounded by a very merry office Christmas party. "My colleague's seen them," a flustered waitress assured us at 8.30pm. "They're having a fag," she said at 8.40pm. "They were definitely here," she confirmed at 8.45pm. "Three French guys…"

Our matches had apparently clocked us, had their free drinks (included in the £15 Grouper cost) and left. We had to laugh. Grouper stays in contact with members and if anyone drops out, it tries to rally new matches. True to the site's word, I received a text saying "special replacements" were on the way. At nine, our new dates arrived (one fresh from a yoga class). They were super-friendly, fun Americans – shame one of them had a fiancée. But as Grouper says, it's about "making connections", romantic or otherwise.

Despite our teething problems, I think the concept can work. The company's founder subsequently met his long-term girlfriend through Grouper. And others fared better in launch week. Ben, 22, a business developer, says of his matches: "We ended up partying all night. We're doing a Grouper round two with them in the new year." And Danielle, 23, a PR executive, didn't let being in a relationship deter her: "I was assured I'd be the wingwoman of the team. On screen, I can see how they'd look like the perfect match, but in reality we were very different people."

I'd certainly give Grouper another go, though; it was fun, I discovered a new bar and met interesting new people – who have offered us places to stay if we're ever in New York or San Francisco. Sadly though, there's no hi-tech solution for "I just didn't fancy it (or you) tonight". µ

Grouper launches in London on 16 January, joingrouper.com

Source: Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 24, 2014 9:52 am 
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Call me, maybe
8 February 2014

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Alexey Sobolev

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Here's hoping Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev has unlimited texting on his phone.

Sobolev competed in slopestyle qualifying on Thursday with his cellphone number written on his helmet. It was his idea of trying to get through what he called the boredom of the athletes' village on the mountain. Sobolev says he has received more than 2,000 texts since then.

After practice on Friday, he said most of the messages he has received are wishing him well in the Olympics.

"Most of the messages are good luck messages and messages from the girls," Sobolev said. "Some of the messages are not appropriate to read aloud."

Olympic rules prevent Sobolev from competing with his number on his helmet in the finals on Saturday. As far as he's concerned, his mission is already accomplished: "Everyone already knows my number."

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 8:30 pm 
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Survey: 39% of single men say oral sex is appropriate on first date
9 February 2014

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DALLAS (UPI) -- Nearly 4-in-10 single U.S. men say oral sex or intercourse is appropriate on a first date versus fewer than 1-in-10 women, a survey by Match.com indicates.

The online dating service found 39 percent of single men say oral sex is appropriate on a first date versus 7 percent of women. When it comes to intercourse, the breakdown is 37 percent of men and 8 percent of women. Match.com says in its fourth annual "Singles in America" survey, 85 percent of men say kissing is appropriate on a first date versus 70 percent of women.

U.S. singles are more than three times more likely to have met their most recent first date online than the 8 percent who say they met at work or the 6 percent who say they met at a bar or club. First dates may be more serious than many think -- 51 percent of singles say they imagined a future together while on a first date -- 56 percent of men and 48 percent women. On a first date, both sexes agree they would rather not discuss past relationships, politics or religion.

Sixty percent of singles had sex at least once last year, but about two-thirds of singles say they desire more sex this year, the survey found. However, the ideal frequency of sex for both men and women with a familiar partner is two or three times per week. Only 15 percent of men and 12 percent of women say they'd ideally want to have sex every day. Sixty-five percent of men and 69 percent of women say 10 p.m. is the ideal time to have sex.

Singles spend nearly $61.53 per month on dating-related activities, totaling about $738.36 each year per individual. With 111 million singles in the United States, this amounts to about $82 billion annually, Match.com says. Seventy-five percent of singles would date someone from a different ethnic background, while 70 percent of singles would date someone of a different religious background and more half of singles approve of partners having children out of wedlock.

The survey was conducted by Research Now in association with anthropologist Helen Fisher and evolutionary biologist Justin R. Garcia of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University. The 2013 study is based on the attitudes and behaviors taken from a representative sample of 5,329 U.S. singles ages 18 to 70. No margin of error was provided.

Source: UPI.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2014 6:19 pm 
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Online dating: 10 rules to help find the ideal partner
by Amy Webb
Tuesday, 18 March 2014

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What are you looking for? … It's best to develop a strategy for online dating. Photograph: Alamy

My worst dating experience began promisingly.

I'd met a guy online – he was interesting and good-looking, and we had great conversations. When he asked me out, it was a no-brainer, and when we met, he actually looked better than he did in his profile photos. He was smart, funny and had a great job. Midway through our date, his phone started buzzing. It was his wife. Supposedly they'd separated very recently, but he was still living in their house and she very much thought their relationship was intact.

No doubt you have a terrible dating story (or many stories) of your own. Even after that terrible date, my friends and family told me I was being too picky, and that unless I relaxed my standards, I'd never get married. Ultimately, I decided that was ridiculous. If I was looking for someone to spend the rest of my life with, why wouldn't I be as choosy as possible?

So I began a month-long experiment, analysing the profiles of popular online daters and their behaviour on dating sites. What I discovered surprised me, to say the least. It also led me to my husband. Here are my top 10 tips for online dating based on my experience.

Make a wishlist

Develop a strategy before you begin. What, exactly, are you looking for? Create a shopping list and be as specific as possible. Rather than saying "someone who wants kids", get granular. Say that you want someone who wants two kids, about three years apart and is willing to go through fertility treatments with you should pregnancy become a problem. Part of making your list is defining what you want.

Keep score

Once you've thought of all the traits you want in a mate, prioritise them. Think about the characteristics in the context of previous relationships, your friends and your family. Develop a scoring system. Allocate points to your top 10, and fewer points to a second set of 10‑15 characteristics. Decide the lowest number of points you'll accept in order to go out on a date with someone. This is basically developing a handcrafted algorithm, just for yourself.

Get online

Pick a few websites to use. Match.com is a more general environment with a lot of options. People who use Tinder tend not to be looking for long-term relationships. It's OK to use two or three sites at a time. Bear in mind that you'll want most of the features activated, and that some sites can be expensive.

Go shopping

For the most part, dating sites aren't doing anything particularly mysterious. Sites mostly create taxonomies and match users based on their answers. In some cases, sites look at the gap between users' answers and their behaviours. For example, you might say that you prefer a very tall man with dark hair who is religious, but mainly click on profiles for shorter atheists. The algorithm in that case would try to match you according to your behaviour. But maybe you're clicking on all of the profiles, even those that don't match your preferences, or sitting next to your sister, and she's also looking for a boyfriend – one who's short and blond. In that case, the algorithm won't work either. It's best to treat dating sites as giant databases for you to explore.

Keep your profile short

Long profiles typically didn't fare well in my experiment. I think that for thoughtful women, or women who are quite smart, there's a tendency to give more of a bio. Popular profiles were shorter and intriguing.

Create a curiosity gap

Ever wondered why Upworthy and Buzzfeed are so popular? It's because they're masters of the "curiosity gap". They offer just enough information to pique interest, which is exactly what you'd do when meeting someone in person for the first time. This doesn't mean your profile should start out with "9 Out of 10 Londoners Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact" or "You'll Never Believe Who This Banker from North Yorkshire Wants to Date …" But it does mean describing yourself in about 97 fascinating words.

Don't try to be funny

Most people aren't funny – at all – in print. What you say to your friends at the pub after a few pints may get a lot of laughs, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll translate on a dating site. The same goes for sarcasm. Often, people who think they sound clever instead come off as angry or mean. Here's a good tip: after you've written your profile, read it aloud to yourself.

Be selective

It's good to give examples of your likes and dislikes, but bear in mind that you may inadvertently discourage someone by getting too specific about things that aren't ultimately that important. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. As it turns out, my husband particularly dislikes that show. If I'd have gone on and on about Larry David in my profile I wonder if he'd have responded.

Use optimistic language

In my experiment, I found that certain words ("fun", "happy") made profiles more popular. Talk about what excites you, or paint a picture of a really great day that you would want to be a part of. Would you date you?

Market yourself

Don't just reuse old photos or copy your profile from dating site to dating site. There are a lot of parallels between online dating and marketing: you must know exactly who your audience is, who you want to attract and what's most likely to hook them.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 5:21 pm 
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Adultery site big in Japan where marriage reigns
2 April 2014
By YURI KAGEYAMA

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In this Tuesday, April 1, 2014 photo, Noel Biderman, chief executive of Avid Life Media Inc., which operates AshleyMadison.com., poses during a photo session in Tokyo. Ashley Madison, the world’s biggest online hookup site for married people, works only when monogamy is the rule on the surface but, deep inside, couples want to cheat. That’s why it is scoring big in Japan. Its slogan written in Japanese on the panel reads: “Life is short. Have an affair.” (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (AP) -- Ashley Madison, the world's biggest online hookup site for married people, works only when monogamy is the rule on the surface but, deep inside, couples want to cheat. That's why it is scoring big in Japan.

The nation that prides itself on conformity and proper appearances reached a million users in eight and a half months, the fastest pace among any of the 37 countries where the adultery site operates. The previous record was Brazil at 10 months. The U.S., which has the biggest number of users at 13 million, took a year to achieve the one million mark. Spain took nearly two years.

Extramarital sex and affairs are not new to Japan, but a site such as Ashley Madison is a "a leveling out of the playing field" for women, said Noel Biderman, chief executive of Avid Life Media Inc., which operates AshleyMadison.com. There is a tradition of wealthy men taking mistresses in Japan and its male dominated society has provided plenty of outlets for married men to find casual sex.

The divorce rate in Japan is relatively low at about two cases per 1,000 people vs. four cases in the U.S., although sinking marriages rates in Japan also lower the divorce numbers. In the 1960s, divorces were even rarer, with fewer than one per 1,000 people. With its slogan, "Life is short. Have an affair," Ashley Madison has drawn nearly 25 million users worldwide since being started in Canada in 2002. It now has 1.07 million users in Japan after opening here in June last year.

Biderman, who is in a monogamous marriage and has two children, insists the social network is just a tool and no one can force anyone to betray a spouse. A friendly uninhibited man with quick answers to almost any question about infidelity, he doesn't shy from declaring he would cheat if his marriage were sexually unsatisfying. One appeal of the site is that it allows for pseudonyms or anonymity. It's secure and closed so digital tracks like emails don't get left behind, reducing the chances of getting caught. It's far less messy than trying to find an erotic outlet on Facebook or in the office, said Biderman during a visit to Tokyo this week.

A small but significant portion of users around the world don't have affairs and merely flirt in "fantasy dates" in cyberspace, according to Ashley Madison. Singles can join but only if they are willing to get together with married people. Women can use the services for free.

Revenue comes from charging the male users, who are 64 percent of site's members in Japan and 70 percent globally. A package of 100 credits costs 4,900 yen ($49), which allow connections with 20 potential partners. Credits are also used for gifts to woo potential lovers, such as virtual flowers. The privately owned company had profit of about $40 million last year. Is revenue was about $125 million, up from $100 million in 2012.

Ashley Madison has not been warmly welcomed everywhere in Asia. Singapore's government blocked access to the site ahead of its launch there late last year amid a public outcry, lambasting the service as a "flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality."

The nation that invented the geisha, Japan is no newcomer to the cheating game. It already has a host of online encounter sites called "deaikei," which means "meeting people." "Soap land" is a real place, where scantily clad women give massages and more. "Love hotels," the official place for secret flings, are a booming business.

Nobuyuki Hayashi, a technology consultant and writer, is not surprised Ashley Madison is a hit. Japanese have little resistance to engaging in hanky-panky with strangers, and have relied on cell-phone and other social networking technology to hook up, he said. And with the long "salaryman" hours typical in corporate Japan, immediate gratification becomes crucial, he said. "If you are successful in Silicon Valley, you might go and buy a jet. Here in Japan, there aren't that many great ways to have fun and so men go and splurge at a caba-club," said Hayashi, referring to flashy hostess bars.

In a survey this year by Ashley Madison of more than 3,500 Japanese users, the top reason for seeking an affair was simple: "Not enough sex" in their lives. Fifty-five percent of the Japanese women respondents and 51 percent of the men gave that as their No. 1 reason. While about a fifth of the respondents in the global sample said they felt guilty about having an affair, Japanese felt almost no qualms at all. Only 2 percent of the women and 8 percent of the men acknowledged guilt.

Since the survey sample is self-selecting its findings can't be extrapolated to the broader population. But Japan is not immersed in the Judeo-Christian morality prevalent in Western nations, and prides itself on a culture that celebrates the art of seduction such as "The Tale of Genji."

"The reason people have affairs is that they want to stay married," said Biderman, noting there's a lot at stake in a marriage such as social status, jointly owned property, maybe children. A divorce might be messy, even difficult depending on the laws. Underlining Biderman's view, 84 percent of Japanese women in the survey believed an affair worked as a plus for their marriage.

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 3:49 pm 
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The men who go to Ukraine looking for a wife then fly home alone and broke
by Shaun Walker
Sunday, 6 April 2014

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A woman walks by a shop window displaying wedding gowns in Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: /Gleb Garanich/Reuters

These are trying times for Odessa.

After the annexation of Crimea, pro-Russian forces are stirring tension in this Black Sea port, and there are weekly standoffs between demonstrators who want to be part of Ukraine and those who want closer ties to Russia. But for all the political and economic chaos that has engulfed Ukraine in the past three months, one industry is still thriving: the internet romance trade.

The economies of several Ukrainian cities are boosted by the surreal and disingenuous online bride business, and Odessa is the biggest hub. It does not take long for a visitor to the city to stumble upon an "international date" – there are legions of western men in town meeting with young women they have met online, usually with the conversation facilitated by a translator. At internet cafes and homes across the city, thousands of women spend hours each day chatting to prospective suitors online.

There is nothing like the prospect of economic hardship to facilitate intercontinental liaisons, and so, far from business drying up in recent months, the romance and "bride" trade is booming. If anything, there are now more western men planning trips to Odessa than there were last year, when I accompanied a "romance tour" to Ukraine for a magazine story. I spent a week in Odessa with 29 men, all of them hoping to find a wife during their trip. They were mainly Americans, but there were also Brits, an Italian and a Saudi on the tour.

I went with a company called Anastasia International, which is no grimy basement operation, but a huge company with a projected revenue last year of $140m (£84m). It has thousands of women in Ukraine and across the world on its books, available for chats and in-person meetings with lonely bachelors across the world looking for a wife.

As internet dating has gone mainstream over the past decade, Anastasia is attempting to rebrand what was once called the "mail-order bride" industry as something modern and progressive. This is no longer the preserve of seedy and exploitative men seeking vulnerable women from impoverished backgrounds to work as a longterm sex slave, the marketing suggests. This is "international dating", a civilised way to find romance without borders.

Except that the branding is still somewhat disturbing. The men pay for every minute they chat online to a woman, something that it becomes clear is a dangerous part of the business model. The company claims on its website that finding a woman in Ukraine is like "dating a model, but with the values of your grandmother". The men featured in testimonials are sick of western women, whom they insist have forgotten "family values".

This is game time

Armed with this information, I was fully expecting to spend a week being nauseated by odious men preying on vulnerable women, and there were certainly a few on the trip whose misogyny reached prize-winning levels. But the overall story was far more complex.

"This is game time and they're blowing me off," Todd told me, mystified, one day over breakfast. It took the 43-year-old bread-delivery man from Delaware several months of working overtime to be able to afford the tour to Ukraine; he often clocked seven night shifts a week in order to save the roughly $5,000 (£3,000) he paid to spend a week in Odessa, and hopefully find a wife.

Todd, who had not succeeded in finding his other half at home, had something of a compulsive side to his personality. He spent months methodically whittling down 1,500 possible brides on Anastasia's site to two top candidates. He then spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars chatting with them online. Things were going swimmingly with both women. He assumed that his trip to Odessa would involve picking the one he liked most and taking her back with him. But when he arrived, neither of them answered his calls.

While Todd's expectations for what a Ukrainian bride might offer were patently unrealistic, it was troubling to watch him venture ever further down the path of disappointment. Many of the men on the tour were less sympathetic characters than Todd, but all of them were lonely. Some of them were disillusioned with dating scenes in the west, where women did not give them a look; others recovering from a divorce or the death of a spouse.

Another man I spent a lot of time with was Stephen, a 62-year-old from Texas, long-divorced, who was on his 11th trip to Ukraine with the desperate hope of finding a wife.

"I want a companion, because there are things I would like to do back home, but I don't want to do them alone," he told me. "I want to see the Grand Canyon, but I don't want to see it on my own. I'm tired of having nobody to share my life with."

Stephen ended up meeting a pianist named Elena on the tour. On date two she told him she thought he could be her soulmate. By the end of the week he was sure he had found his future life partner. It was an expensive week, with the dinners, taxis, and payment for a translator all adding up, but Stephen was delighted that he had found love.

But love in Odessa is not all it seems. Perhaps 10 years ago, the scenario had been what I imagined, with men swooping in, and women keen to swap the hard grind of poverty-stricken Ukraine for a new life in the US, even if it was a ramshackle house in a North Dakotan town or a sleepy midwestern farm, rather than a Manhattan penthouse or LA beachfront home.

Now, it seems, things are different. None of the men I became close to on my tour ended up in lasting relationships, and the majority appeared to fall victim to a number of sophisticated scams.

I left Stephen ready to propose, but two months later he told me by email that it had all unravelled. The woman let him know she needed more time before making a commitment, but suggested that he return to Odessa and continue their expensive platonic dates.

Todd did not even get to the date stage; in retrospect, perhaps a lucky escape. The women took their cut of cash for chatting with him, but did not answer his calls when he arrived. He later wrote to me: "It took me about a month to process what happened and get over it. I've decided to close that chapter in my life and move on. I am now concentrating on me and my life and to do things that make me a better person. And to pursue the other hopes and dreams that I have. Will I ever find my other half? One can only wonder. At least I can say I tried. If I die a bachelor, so be it."

Emotional prostitution

I was able to uncover exactly how the scams work due to a chance encounter with Alina, one of the women involved, who felt weighed down by her collusion in what she called "emotional prostitution". She explained the whole sordid array of techniques, from a light impersonalised online-chatting version to a full-service chauffeur-driven platinum fraud, where men are rinsed of cash for a full week in Odessa, thinking they are cementing a lifelong relationship while actually they are being strung along on platonic dates that end with them dispatched to the airport with heavy hearts and empty wallets. Many of them come with ridiculous expectations, of course, but I am not sure that anyone deserves this treatment.

For the women as well, although hundreds of them make a living from the scams, it is not an easy psychological burden to bear. Alina was evidence of that, and 29-year-old Chris, the tour's youngest member, found that when he confronted his date with accusations about the nature of the business, she burst into tears and said she felt awful, but needed the money to support her mother after her father had died. Other women were genuinely looking for a young and interesting partner and wanted to leave Ukraine, but spent hours chatting with elderly men in order to make money.

Anastasia International, while not directly colluding in the scams, runs a highly profitable business model that allows them to flourish. While real and lasting liaisons do occasionally form through the site, more often it only serves to increase the concentric circles of mistrust, disappointment and heartbreak for all involved. Anastasia insists that it weeds out scams whenever it finds them, and has banned some women from the site. It also says it will reimburse clients who fall victims to scams, and provides advice on how to avoid them.

Larry Cervantes, the company spokesman, wrote to me after the tour: "It's true that some of these guys are spending money they don't have. But guys go broke in the US chasing American women, as do Brits chasing Brits. So what's the difference? Throughout history men have pursued the unattainable, and throughout history they've made fools of themselves. How is this any different?"

But the difference, of course, is that the company is making a huge profit from the men making fools of themselves, and while many women are making money out of the schemes too, it is not clear that it is beneficial to them in the longer term.

Far from ending the practice, the recent unrest in Ukraine has only enhanced it. Alina told me that her friends working in the business are expecting several American men to arrive in the coming days, while the less discreetly named sugardaddyforme.com says it has seen record numbers of Ukrainian women sign up in recent months. The new Ukrainian government has rather a lot on its plate, but ending the trade in emotional exploitation is something they should tackle sooner rather than later.

Shaun Walker's ebook on the Ukrainian marriage industry, Odessa Dreams, is available to order online for £1.99

Source: Guardian UK.

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