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Online matchmaking gains ground

RIYADH: The recent proliferation of marriage sites on the Internet is proving not only a boon, but also a bane for many. Although Internet surfers are offered multiple choices of marriage sites in the Kingdom, they are also bombarded with advertisements of different types of marriages, especially “misyar” — a so-called “no obligation marriage of convenience where a woman forfeits rights (unless otherwise stipulated in the contract) and marries a man as a “no obligation” wife.

People, who are serious in finding a match, are put off by this frivolous approach of many sites. Also some of the advertisements do not relate to marriage, as pop-ups delay the opening of the links one seeks to open.

Ali Al-Shible, member of the education council at the Imam Saud University, was in support of such sites as long as they abide by Shariah laws. “Match-making between men and women is a praised feat and is a deed that appeals to Shariah — provided that it abides by religious actions, traditions and norms. But many see in the existing marriage sites a means of exploiting desperate people. This is wrong,” Al-Shible said.

Some sites are just there to make money. Most of the existing marriage sites offer the service for free, but some sites charge a certain amount of fee to subscribe.

The amount generally does not exceed SR50. Although the amount is relatively small, it is the first step by these sites to rake in more money or just take the fee and not provide any service.

Khaled, a 37-year-old subscriber to one such site, said, “You subscribe to one site and inside it you will find other location promising a better service. Yet when you do log on to it you discover it is the same site run by the same administration.”

In addition, most of these sites do not highlight their success rate or success stories. If this is known at the outset, then many would be more confident of making a choice. In addition, some sites link you to one page after another if one asks questions, putting a mark on the site’s credibility.

In spite of this, many young men and women are driven to subscribe to such sites, because they hope to find marriage and happiness at one stop.

Dano, a 36-year-old who wished to be addressed by his site name, has divorced his wife. He has one child who lives with his mother.

He said that after his divorce, he was on the lookout for another wife through the regular channels — recommendations from family and friends — but recalling the previous, bitter experience made him reluctant to take another wife based on his family’s choice.

“I decided I wanted to find someone who matches me in interests, character and desires. That’s why I browse these sites in the hope that I’ll be lucky the second time.”

Kholoud, 29, said such sites are just moneymaking rackets with the owners of the site least interested in the subscribers’ benefit. “Thousands of subscribers pay money and what they get for it is old data. Most of the data are outdated,” said Kholoud, while questioning the credibility of such sites. She also asked why such sites are not governed by government regulations.

Ghadeer is a 32-year-old, single, bank employee. She justifies the existence of such sites to the fact that traditional marriage matchmaking methods had proven to be “filled with holes” and this is evident by the high percentage of divorces in the Kingdom. Thus, she sees in these marriage sites a modern and alternative mode to find a suitor.

“This is just another way to look for a suitable partner away from family pressure. This method can also ensure that the suitor is the one before taking the important step of marriage,” she said.

Meshaal, a 48-year-old engineer who subscribed to a site looking for a second wife, was all for such sites. “Why don’t we see in these marriage sties a way out of routine and this service may well offer a marriage without jeopardizing one’s position,” he said.

Meshaal added that it is difficult to announce publicly to his wife and family that he wishes to take another wife. Therefore, he is looking discreetly through these marriage sites for a partner. He has registered under an anonymous name on these sites, where he clarifies that he wishes to keep it a “misyar” marriage.

Though this form of seeking an alliance is risky, it is gaining credence especially after the Ministry of Planning study revealed that divorce had increased by 20 percent, while 65 percent of marriage conducted by a matchmaker failed.