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In the 15 years since Leonor and Dan met online, some things haven’t changed.Men are still seeking out beautiful women who would be “out of their league” if they weren’t poor, and Filipinas are still looking for men who can provide for them and take them to the more prosperous West.In 2001, at age 23, she found her way to a fledgling internet cafe in a nearby city and registered at Cherry Blossoms, the oldest and most established mail-order bride service in the world.Cherry Blossoms began publishing catalogues of international women looking for husbands in 1974, charging foreigners a fee in exchange for a woman’s address.That dynamic was just beginning to change in 2001, when Leonor became one of the first Filipina women to meet a Western partner online.For the next 15 years, Dan provided her with a more comfortable life than she could have expected, but one where her own needs always took second place.Like the worst stereotype of foreign men who come to the Philippines, Dan treated native women as accessories to the lives they envisioned for themselves.But Leonor nurtured ambitions of her own, and she struggled with the fact that Dan had no respect for her desires.
“It all happened too fast.”So Leonor did what an unfailingly optimistic woman would do: She decided to try again.
In September 2015, Leonor Cabigon, a 38-year-old Filipina mother of two, returned early from a trip to find a young woman sleeping in the bed she shared with her American husband Dan in Valencia, a remote mountain town in the Philippine island province of Negros Oriental.
A self-described wellness expert, Dan first claimed to be treating the young woman for a stomach ailment, before admitting they’d been having an affair.
Instead of taking Leonor to the US, Dan poured his energies into building a wellness center in the mountain town of Valencia outside the provincial capital of Dumaguete City, a cool area in that perennially hot country that was beginning to see some tourism.
In addition to raising his children Dan expected Leonor to run the center day to day, coordinate with helpers and gardeners who did not speak English well, and do a lot of the cooking herself.In 2001, the company shifted its entire operation online—and Leonor started receiving emails from an American in his 50s living in Thailand, named Dan Mc Kee. When he came to the Philippines to visit her, the woman he met was beautiful in the ways Western men imagined island women to be, with long straight hair, high cheekbones that taper toward a delicate chin, and smooth, dark skin.