Morteza Nikoubazl / Courtesy Reuters An Iranian woman looks for Valentine's day gifts in Tehran.

Iran, With Love

Letter from Tehran

“We were both 19, longtime family friends. Her father agreed to a two-month temporary marriage, which we extended to six months and then a year. She was beautiful and I was reckless; we didn’t always use protection. I am just so grateful there were no children involved.”

Sitting in what looks like any other office building in rainy, bustling downtown Tehran’s Enqelab Street, Saeed speaks of his first girlfriend/fiancée/bride-to-be. He explains that, when it came time for them to speak of permanent marriage, the girl’s father demanded that he first purchase her a home. “All the while,” Saeed told me, “he knew I was a student and could only afford family housing.” Her father also insisted on a heavy mahriyeh (a predetermined monetary gift in the marriage contract that the bride can, in theory, demand at any time). Things went awry from there.

Since then, he’s tried dating via Facebook, Twitter, and by exchanging phone numbers with girls at parties, but he says it’s never worked out. “I’m not particularly religious, but am not looking for flings either. Through social media, I’ve met girls who were just looking for fun, even women with kids. I’d like to find a companion, and maybe, when ready, settle down.”

Saeed belongs to a generation of young Iranian adults who are looking for relationships that neither require full commitment, as in marriage, nor are fully without restraint. And they are the ones who turn to agencies like the one I visited, a formal marriage agency that connects potential mates through a team of “dedicated, educated counsellors, and marriage professionals.”

It is a brightly lit office building in a downtown Tehran neighborhood where (mostly women) counsellors and secretaries are clothed in standard office attire. Potential clients are referred to a room to the right with glass doors, where a counsellor provides brief explanations of the agency’s services. After paying 180,000 Tomans (roughly $55) and filling out the

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