A woman walks a street of the capital Tehran, on July 1, 2015.
Abedin Taherkenareh—EPA
July 8, 2015 11:36 AM EDT

Iran has launched its first official matchmaking website to try to encourage more young people to marry.

Nearly half of all Iranians from 18 to 35 are unmarried, around 11 million people but the Tebyan Cultural and Information Center, a government affiliated organisation has launched a website, to combat the rising trend among Iranian youth to marry later or even forego marriage completely.

“The median marriage age in the capital Tehran has already reached 30 for men and 28 for women. This greatly increases the chance of an individual never marrying and alarm bells are ringing,” says Zohreh Hosseini, the website project manager at Tebyan. “The drop in marriage rates is one of the most important challenges facing the country today. Issues such as unemployment, economic means and housing have all contributed to this. Here in Tebyan we are focusing on one aspect, finding an appropriate spouse,” she explains.

It may be the closest thing to Tinder in Iran but young people in the West would find the restrictions suffocating. In Iran, dating is frowned upon by traditional and religious families and forbidden by the state, so finding the person to share one’s life with can be tricky. Online matchmaking has expanded swiftly in recent years with an estimated 350 unofficial websites active at present. Since some young Iranians use these websites for dating and not necessarily marrying, the state regularly closes the sites.

At Tebyan, they have come up with a solution to prevent what they call sexual relations out of wedlock. “We have combined traditional methods with modern ones. Until some years ago many marriages in Iran were arranged between families with the help of matchmakers. What we have done is to connect these matchmakers or mediators as we call them into a network and place a databank of young people seeking to marry and who have registered on our website at their disposal. The mediator will then choose suitable matches from the databank with the help of our website software and introduce their families to each other so that everything will be supervised by the family” Hosseini says.

Everyone who registers on Tebyan’s website has to fill in a number of questionnaires. They then have to take two psychoanalysis tests drawn up by experts at Iran’s Sports and Youth Ministry. Afterwards they are invited to an interview at the headquarters of Tebyan’s matchmaking website where further evaluation as well as verification is conducted. From then on it’s up to the software and the mediators to find suitable matches for each registrant.

Poverty or being unable to find the right partner are only part of the reason why marriage rates have dropped. Many young Iranians, especially women no longer consider setting up a family as their priority.

“Even when I was a kid I didn’t want to grow up to be a housewife, I wanted to get a degree, I wanted to have a career,” says Fereshteh Abbasi, a drafter who works in an oil and gas engineering company. “I wanted to be independent, and for myself to be my number one priority in life. That’s hard to do when one has a husband and kids especially with some Iranian men whose ideal wife is someone who takes care of them like their mothers.”

Abbasi, 34, admits that it might have been easier if she had married when she was in her mid-twenties, “At that age both husband and wife can adapt easier, they can adjust themselves to each other but it’s a different story as you grow older. I do want to marry but I can’t give up my independence. I’m too used to it and the man I marry will have to respect that.” Abbasi is not alone in demanding more equality in marriage; of the eight women working at her company, five are single and are not prepared to give up their careers for marriage. “We’ve worked too hard in this male-dominated society to reach where we are,”says Abbasi, “but looking back, if marriage was my main goal, I should have done so when I was 25.”

Iranian women like Abbasi have done much more than their previous generation; there are nearly twice as many female students as males in Iranian universities and colleges, and the presence of women in the workforce has also greatly increased in the last two decades despite resistance from traditional sectors of society. But being single after the age of 30 is still stigmatized by most of the society. “It’s not just that I want to marry, it’s also that I’m expected to do so. If I don’t marry everyone will think there’s something wrong with me. My society doesn’t understand that someone might just like to remain single,” Abbasi says, although she has registered on the Tebyan website.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

Read More From TIME

Related Stories

EDIT POST