By Alidz Oshagan
"It’s a great way to meet people–whether it’s friends or something else."
Garo Bargamian is talking about ArmenianDatingService.com (ADS)–an online dating service through which Armenia’s–or anyone interested in getting to know Armenia’s–can post a profile describing him or herself and be able to access anyone else’s profile. If the profile seems interesting–the user can send a message to the other person’s profile. Users can then send messages to each other and a friendship or–as Bargamian put it–"something else," can form. All this–but at no cost to the user.
For him–the "something else" formed with Larissa Balakdjian–whom he met through ADS. Bargamian says he was attracted to Balakdjian because she had written that "being Armenian is an honor and staying Armenian is a responsibility" as a part of her profile. Before long–the two were sending messages to one another and talking online. The relationship advanced when the pair began visiting each other–internationally. Larissa is originally from Sao Paolo–Brazil–while Bargamian has lived in North Providence–RI–his entire life. Bargamian and Balakdjian were married in a civil service on February 27–2004–and held their church ceremony on June 27–2004. They are now happily married and live in North Providence–RI.
The profiles that are on ADS can show a lot about a user. At the top of the profile there is a space for pictures–which can be of the user or whatever the user desires to include. In the middle–a general information section describes the user’s height–hair color–and level of education–among others. Near the bottom of the profile exists a section for habits–indicating whether or not the user smokes or drinks. A favorites section is near the bottom–which lists the user’s favorite books–movies–and foods. At the very bottom is a comment box–with which the user can describe oneself in 200 words or less.
When someone reads an interesting ADS profile–he or she can send either a comment or a message to the other person.
If a person is having trouble surfing the site or is a first-time user uncomfortable about using the dating site–he or she can go to the "advice" page. On this page–different tips are included–such as not to give out your telephone number in an early message and to relax on the first date.
People use dating sites for different reasons. In Bargamian’s case–he said he logged on to ADS because it allowed him to meet many different people from around the country and the world. Bargamian–36–said that it was difficult to meet people at Armenian events–where the sea of teenagers and young adults can make it difficult for older adults to get to know each other and interact. Using the ADS made it easier to meet people–he said.
But–unlike meeting someone at church or at events–talking to someone through an online dating service site poses the risk of embarrassment–what might other people think? Not so for Bargamian. "It’s a little embarrassing telling people because online dating isn’t very wide-spread," said Bargamian. "But I knew in my heart I wanted to meet an Armenian and–for me–this was the best way to do that."
Sometimes–after sending messages by computer–Bargamian would meet with people around the country in person–only to find out that they were not compatible. Other times–he would be interested in someone who lived across the country–but they were not willing to make the journey to see him. "With the Internet–you have to be an optimist–or else it won’t work," he said. Bargamian did not lose hope. "I took the opportunity and forgot about distance for Larissa," he said.
With an estimated one million Armenia’s living in the United States–and more than seven million in the diaspora–the sheer size of the communities is fueling much of the rapid response to online dating service sites.
"These services allow people restrained by religious or familial responsibilities to find more people with their backgrounds," said Judith Meskill–editorial director of Weblogs Inc.–the largest online publisher of weblogs–or blogs–which are online journals.
Julie Albright–a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Southern California (USC)–said the sites also help those facing the same issues as larger society–including busy schedules and few places to gather–to meet in an easy and relatively inexpensive way.
"It opens a wide pool of availables to you while dating. You can walk to the local Armenian cafe and meet one person–but online you can meet 30. It increases your odds for a love match," said Albright–who researched attraction online and is studying attraction and deception on the Internet.
"What’s beautiful about the Internet for these ethnic communities is it enables people to sort through a lot of people and focus in on those types of qualities they desire," she said.
That’s the philosophy of Said Amin–CEO and founder of World Singles–the leading online dating company for ethnic communities that runs IranianPersonals.com–HyeSingles.com–and ArabLounge.com.
Since its founding four years ago–the company has expanded to include 14 niche sites. And membership is growing.
IranianPersonals now has more than 120,000 members–nearly a quarter of them from the Los Angeles area; HyeSingles has 16,000 members–nearly two-thirds of them from the Los Angeles area.
"Birds of a feather flock together. As the database grows–it will draw more people," said the 32-year-old Amin.
One 24-year-old Armenian woman who used HyeSingles.com said that the site appealed to her because she was able to discern more specific traits about a potential match. She said the site’s open-ended questions like "When raising a family–how important is it that your kids learn how to speak Armenian?" gave her a glimpse into her potential partner’s character and outlook on life.
HyeSingles.com–unlike ADS–incorporates a paid membership. Those using the site’s free service can build a profile and send pre-fabricated messages called "flirts," but only paid members can send original messages–see who has viewed their profile–and send video–voice and text messages. Unpaid members are able to send one reply to each message they receive–and can use the chatting services if they are contacted by a paid member. The initial price of a 30-day membership is $29.95–and 24.95 per month thereafter; a 90-day membership is $59.95–and 14.95 per month thereafter. The site touts the 360-day membership as the "best value," for an initial cost of $119.95–and 7.95 thereafter.
Using ADS or HyeSingles.com may not be for everyone–but Bargamian insists it’s worth a try. "I encourage any Armenian who is single to use ADS. It’s worth trying the system. I’m living proof–here I am–married to Larissa–it’s not like it can’t happen," he says. "Whoever invented that Web site is a godsend for all Armenia’s. I have a lot of gratitude towards them–whoever they may be."
Apparently–the couple should direct their thank you letters to Arthur Chaparyan and Ara Mahdessian of BlueMediaSolutions.com–who wrote the program for the original version of ADS–according to information on the Web site. Most of the revisions were completed by Chaparyan who–the website says–left ADS in March 2004.
Naush Boghossian contributed to this report.