Dating is challenging anywhere, but dating in conservative countries like those of the Arabian Gulf is a grand adventure. But life always finds a way.
Young people in the Gulf are very creative when it comes to avoiding the strict rules of the game imposed by society, and navigate love in an underground full with its own rules that defy traditions.
Case in point: Kuwait.
The affluent liberals
The affluent class, often Westernized and more liberal, tends to be more accepting of the concept of dating.
Mariam says: "Most of my family knows I am in a relationship. My father and my brother probably don't know, but if they find out, I wouldn’t be in big trouble. They would just ask me: 'when will you two get married?'”
"I was once dating someone, and we were about to get married, but our families disapproved, because of conflicting political interests. We are still friends, and she introduced me to the man she is with at the moment," says Abdullatif.
Things are more difficult for gays, however, even among the liberal segments. "There is some kind of tolerance for homosexuality in our entourage," says Khouloud (not her real name), "but it is not a full acceptance. We operate in a bubble within a bubble."
"Usually, we meet at a cafe known for being a gay hangout. I start with small talk and if she is being receptive, I know that she does not mind a relationship, without the need to ask her directly, as it may strain the situation," she explains.
Relationships within this class may face problems for certain considerations, related more to origins, business and political interests rather than conservative values. At least that's the impression one gets from talking to people.
The semi-liberal class in Kuwait makes up the majority of people in the Sheikhdom. Their attitude to dating can be said to be contradictory, if not hypocritical, engaging in dating while at the same time frowning upon it
"Through experience and dealing with young men, you know that getting serious with someone after a relationship is often a lie. The majority of men who get into a relationship with you believe that what you two are doing is wrong, and thus would not consider marrying a girl they have been in a relationship with before marriage," Abeer says.
There are some exceptions, however, she adds.
Men and women are also judged by different, patriarchal standards. Families are more accepting of their sons dating than their daughters doing it, for example.
"I got to know a young man and we would meet in public, but only our close friends knew about our relationship. Later he introduced me to his sister. My family, however, should not know about it now. Otherwise, I’ll be in trouble," Sarah told Raseef22
"I was dating someone and my brother overheard me talking to him on the phone, so he beat me up and forbade me from using the phone. He gave me back the phone after he calmed down, and after a period of time he forgave me as long as I didn't do this again," Mariam said.
Others have a more guilty attitude. Mohammed says: "I am seeing three girls. One of them could be serious, but I did not promise (the others) anything.”
Shourouk, for her part, stresses that "the first rule in relationships here is not to trust men, and not to feel reassured until years pass."
"Men usually lie, and some of them don’t even give their real names. There are other rules. There’s an unwritten agreement that intimate pictures are confidential, for example, but a lot of guys violate this rule to show off."
As a result of the secrecy surrounding relationships, a lot of abuse could take place, including physical violence, the girls say. Probably a natural consequence of dating in a secretive and unhealthy underground.
The conservatives' secret dating policy
There is a more conservative and religious class, especially the one with a tribal or fundamentalist background. But even there, love, dating, and other things are inevitable.
Salem says: “I worked at a university, where sometimes I met female colleagues. I am currently in a relationship with one of them. I am always keen on keeping the relationship free from anything that God forbids. We only talk on the phone and meet at a reading club, and we have agreed to get married.”
Amina shared her experience too. "I normally wear an abaya
but I take it off when I meet with my boyfriend. I went to his apartment once and we got a bit physical. Of course, if anyone from my family, male or female, found out, I could be killed."
Editor's note: Names used in this article are pseudonyms