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Iranian cleric turns high-tech matchmaker
TEHERAN - Shi'ite cleric Jaffar Savalanpour Ardabili, 38, sits at the centre of a web of yearning.
His desk overflows with applications, his website is so full it is closed several days a month to limit submissions.
His office is filled for most of each week with hopeful men and women - all of whom are seeking his help in getting married.
'But I do not like to be called a matchmaker,' he said, laughing. 'It reminds me of old women.'
In business for the past three years - and swamped since newspaper articles publicised the opening of his office three months ago - Mr Ardabili is doing a unique job in a country where, after the 1979 Islamic revolution, dating was banned and people were punished for having extra-marital relationships.
Some restrictions eased after the election of President Muhammad Khatami, a moderate, in 1997.
But still, Mr Ardabili is careful to work within approved Islamic standards. His website has links to statements of permission from prominent Iranian clerics.
'I just want to be a true cleric, and as a cleric, my job is to help bring balance and happiness to people's lives,' he said.
His first foray into arranging marriages was in 1996, after he received permission to work with students at Teheran University.
He helped a couple whose parents, at first, opposed their union. He even flew between Dubai and Shiraz in southern Iran to negotiate with both families.
'I was so proud on their wedding night,' he said. Two years ago, the couple sent him a picture of themselves, still married and in love.
His tally of successful cases stands at 180, the most recent being the wedding of a 30-year-old Iranian nurse and a 39-year-old dentist living in Norway.
The nurse went to Mr Ardabili because she wanted to escape the arranged marriage her family was planning. She was interested in moving abroad.
Mr Ardabili sifted through his applications and found the dentist.
The two spoke on the phone and exchanged e-mail messages for four months. Then the dentist came for a month-long visit. Love bloomed.
The nurse's family was against the marriage at first, but softened when they learnt that the matchmaker was a cleric.
The dentist has returned to Norway; his new wife awaits only a visa to join him.
It is a far cry from traditional marriage, a complicated ordeal in which families first approve one another before the man proposes.
Iranian women do not go out looking for their own husbands.
But Iranian society is changing rapidly. Men and women are becoming more educated and familiar with the freer ways of the West. More than 62 per cent of university students accepted this year were women, and about half of graduate students were women.
They are demanding a more active role in society - and in their own lives.
Mr Ardabili's own relatively free spirit was influenced by a six-month stay in Canada in 2000, where he visited a brother and studied.
'I noticed that people were so happy there,' he said. 'They went out to dance and party over the weekend.
'So I thought as a cleric, I should use religion to bring happiness to people's lives in my own country.'
When he returned, he started his business online.
He asked applicants for a short biography and answers to a series of questions about their expectations: 'How do you feel about your husband/wife working long hours? What kind of a wedding would you like to have?'
He lines up several candidates for each applicant and they date, sometimes for months - a departure from traditional marriages, in which the wedding might take place within weeks of a first meeting.
His 'processing' charge of about US$7 (S$12) is supplemented
by donations that happy couples often make after they marry.
Full credit for this news article goes to: Straits Times, Singapore
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30% Of online relationships evolve into real-world affairs. A staggering nine out of ten women in relationships flirt with other men on a regular basis.
Studies find that more than one in five men do have an affair, at least once in their lives, and that women are now about as likely as men to cross the line.
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The chance of a married woman having an affair is highest within the first five years and falls off gradually with time. Men have two high-risk phases, one during the first five years of marriage and, the second, after the 20th year.
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