The men involved often say they prefer what they see as the old-fashioned submissiveness of Asian women to the aggressive independence of their Western counterparts. They are men like Arlie Patterson, who was married three times before he met his Filipino wife, each time to ''spoiled American women,'' or Dan Behnen, who was unhappy with the women he met in Cincinnati bars. The women, who are often poor, see marriage to a foreigner as an opportunity for a better life.
Often, however, neither the men nor the women get what they expect. That's a very different kind of Filipino woman.
Many observers denounce mail-order marriage as an exploitation of third-world women, and there are stories of mail-order brides who are deceived, abused and who eventually return home. Still, thousands of women see that as a calculated risk, sending their pictures to be placed in a catalogue they may never see.
For them it is a gamble that an unknown future will be better than an unhappy present. Not all mail-order marriage agencies are reputable. The post office box number listed for an agency one day may be closed the next, and the business that advertises itself as a marriage broker may in fact be promoting pornography or prostitution.
But others are sophisticated and well established. Though critics compare these agencies to everything from marriage mills to slave traders, they are not paid to deliver a wife to a client.
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Instead, they charge Their male clients for a booklet of women to whom the client can write. If he falls in love by mail, he can propose marriage. The woman has the right to accept or decline. This meeting of postage and passion is hardly new. In a way, it is an echo of the days when early pioneers in the United States advertised for wives to help settle the frontier.
And, its practitioners say, writing to a foreign stranger pictured in a catalogue differs little from the currently chic practice of writing to a local stranger found through the personals. Ira L. PATTER-son, 58 years old, Pat to his friends, tattoo on each arm and diamond ring on each hand, bears the visible scar of a romance gone bad. She said she would never speak to a boy who got one, and I took that as a dare.
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She never spoke to me again. The way he tells it, Mr. Patterson also bears more recent scars, but these are emotional. Before he joined a mail-order-bride service, he had been married and divorced three times. After his third marriage ended, he dated often, but was unimpressed with the women he met. Or the woman who's divorced and all you hear about is how there's no such thing as a good man, and you're no exception.
If there is a ''typical'' client of the mail-order-bride industry, Mr. Patterson comes close, according to Davor Jedlicka, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Tyler, who studies American patterns of mate selection. In , Dr.
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Jedlicka conducted what is perhaps the only sociological survey of the men involved, sending questionnaires to clients of Rainbow Ridge Consultants, a Hawaii-based mail-order service. Forty-four percent responded. Though the respondents lived in 44 states, 22 percent were from California and most lived in metropolitan areas. Their median age was Only five of the group had not completed high school and more than half had completed two or more years of college.
Like Arlie Patterson, the majority had been divorced at least once.baymadiljoi.cf
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Jedlicka says, ''and they want to make sure it doesn't happen again. Jedlicka says. Then they add positive stereotypes of Asian women - family centered, undemanding, untouched by women's liberation. It was amid the personals in The National Enquirer that Mr. Patterson first read a classified ad for an organization called Pacific Overtures, one of an estimated hundred in the United States that introduce American men to Asian women. By May, he had received letters from additional women, not in the catalogue, who had been given his name by the agency.
Patterson selected more than 90 women from those in the catalogue and those who had written to him, and sent them a form letter telling about himself. Evangeline Flores, then 22 years old, was one of the women who received his letter, and over the next three months the couple shared their secrets by mail.
He told her of his three marriages. She responded: ''That's O. He sent a number of gifts -a necklace, a watch, a camera, a nail-care kit, a robe, six pairs of panties and six bras. They exchanged snapshots and, after about three months as pen pals, he asked her to marry him. Her mother wrote back and said ''yes. Once the wedding date was set, the couple began to exchange steamy letters about how they would spend their wedding night. He asked her to mail him nude pictures of herself, but instead she posed wearing the white bikini panties and bra that he had bought for her 23d birthday.
And so Mr. Patterson arrived in the Philippines on April 3, met Miss Flores at the Cebu airport, and married her two days later. The bride wore a long-sleeved, cathedral-train satin robe ordered from J. Penney, and the groom a rented powder blue tuxedo that he carried from Los Angeles.
Said her brother, resignedly: ''It's economic. She was barely 15 when she wed George Elkington, 49, 4 years ago. The transition was not easy. She had nightmares for nearly a year after she arrived at his home in Novato, Calif. But the loneliness, Mrs. Elkington says, is a small price to pay for a life in the United States, a conviction she seems to share with many of the thousands of other women who stare from mail-order catalogues.
They want to come to the U. Everybody in the Philippines wants to come to the U. The waiting period for immigration from that country is ''horrendous,'' he says, with some visa classifications backlogged to A spouse or fiance visa, in contrast, is usually processed in six to eight months. Once the women reach this country, however, their stories do not always end happily. Jervis says. A bill now pending in Congress would limit fiance visas to couples who have met in person.
The current law requires those who enter the United States on a fiance visa to marry a citizen within 90 days, and stay married for 2 years to avoid deportation. But as a practical issue, Mr. Jervis says, such time requirements are ''unenforceable'' and mail-order marriage is not a top priority for immigration officials. There are those who feel that it should be.
They cannot make it in this country so they go out and look for women who can be their total slaves. She tells of late-night phone calls from mail-order brides who were beaten by their husbands and who fear they will be deported if they seek help.
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Even those who profess to outsiders that they are happy, she cautions, are not necessarily being honest. Lyu-Volckhausen says. She'll tell me the truth because I'm an Asian sister. Along with the stories of men who abuse their brides are the stories of women who abuse the system. Florence recalls one Malaysian woman who agreed to marry several of her pen pals, apparently planning to wed whoever could bring her to the United States first.