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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Point and a Click to Say 'I Do'

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Late Tuesday afternoon Alyona and Sergei tied the knot — without walking down an aisle and with guests they didn't know bearing witness.

The newlyweds were the couple of the moment at www.wed.ru, which in just over a year has united some 30,000 people in virtual matrimony.

The free service is not legally binding, but "plenty of fun and not too much responsibility," says Olga Melnik, editor of Mnogo.ru projects, which runs the Palace of Virtual Weddings.

The site's design is relatively plain, with a tiny cupid and two beating hearts on a pink background, and the services are short and simple, assuming the bride and groom have a good Internet connection. They need only submit the necessary personal info, click on the "yes" buttons and — after virtual kisses and toasts of "Gorko!" — they can print out a note of congratulations and a marriage certificate. (Those who want a taste of the real thing, can click the link to a wedding cake recipe.)

Melnik said some couples use the site to reaffirm their legal marriage vows or to spice up an Internet relationship, while for others a virtual marriage is a secret they keep from a spouse at home. There have also been plenty of on-line same-sex unions, she said, which real ZAGSs — the state agencies that register marriages — do not allow. People can marry as often as they like, but partners are notified if their fiance is already hitched. Melnik said that along with wedding photographs and letters, she gets inquiries from jealous lovers asking about their partners' past.

While virtual wedding sites are nothing new for the English-language Internet, the much smaller Russian net has only a handful. However, Russian-language matchmaking services are becoming more and more common. And as they proliferate, so do Internet relationships: Wed.ru's creators are a husband and wife team who met over the web.

Wed.ru was a natural spin-off from a sister site, Mheart.ru, which caters to lonely hearts searching for companions. Apart from advertisements, both are supported by Mnogo.ru, a project owned by New York-based Lavtech.com Corp., which develops software and Internet projects for the Russian market.

"You won't count the weeks and days waiting for your wedding," the site declares. "Simply submit an application, choose a convenient time and in minutes your beloved will be your virtual spouse."

But the ease of the process still leaves room for cold feet. An attempt to log on to Mikhail and Natasha's wedding Tuesday led to a message that "for some reason, it didn't happen."

Even those who go through with the wedding can reconsider later. If, after the honeymoon, a couple finds they have irreconcilable differences, they can send an e-mail to the webmaster to sever their tie. Not to dampen the spirit of the site, the divorce process is closed to other web surfers.

The site's virtual matrimony remains a much rarer occurrence than real marriages, which numbered 896,700 last year, according to the State Statistics Committee. But the virtual divorce rate is not nearly as dismal as it is in real life: only five on Wed.ru as compared to 627,500 across Russia.

"People don't have enough financial security for the future to think about marriage," said Olga Kolesnikova, spokeswoman for the committee. She said money worries, including the problem of buying an apartment, may be one reason more couples try living together without registering a marriage.

For some, the Internet is the best refuge from real-life complications, such as a cramped apartment or restrictions on their behavior.

"In the virtual world, I can just push a button and leave. There's not that possibility in reality," said Yelena, a 23-year-old secretary who is "married" to a woman in Kaluga and has a cyber trio with her and a Russian ?migr? in Germany. Yelena describes her non-virtual self as very modest and describes her Internet relationships as "friendly," stressing that the love is only virtual.

In a telephone interview from her office, Yelena said her husband of five years forbids her to use the Internet because he thinks it's a waste of time, but she logs on anyway at work.

"I'd be in a lot of trouble if he found out," she added.



http://www.wed.ru www.wed.ru