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Dating Saudi-style
September 6, 2010 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about flirting, dating and relationship customs in Saudi Arabia. I can't tell if I'm in over my head or just having some cultural miscommunication.

I've met someone. We have not been on a date, but have talked often at my place of work (where we met) and online/via text over the last few weeks. He is from Saudi Arabia, and is in the U.S. pursuing a graduate degree. It seemed to me that we were certainly headed towards a date - our conversations seemed flirty, he was very complimentary, etc etc. Now, though, he's seemingly jumped 10 steps ahead - talking to his family about me, saying he got me a gift, suggesting travel. I can imagine two scenarios - one where things like a "first date gift" are customary, but unknown to me, so I've placed more weight on that than is warranted, and another where my fairly innocuous acceptance of his attentions has more weight in his eyes than it should.

I understand that if he was still in Saudi Arabia, there would be a completely different set of rules at play. I'm curious to know about dating between Americans and Saudis (or perhaps any Middle Eastern country, if the differences are negligible) while in the U.S. - anything that could help me decide whether things are already off the rails. He also gives every appearance of being quite wealthy, so maybe some of the confusion (travel, for example) is more class-based than culture-based. I do really like him, and would like to date him, but am not prepared to jump straight to serious.

Possibly relevant details - we're both adults (30+), he also did his undergraduate study in the U.S., he's a practicing Muslim and seems to come from a fairly traditional family (14 siblings, for example). Neither of us have ever been married.

I get that "talk to him, not AskMe" is a valid notion, but since we haven't even been on a date, that feels a little awkward. I'm assuming someone out there has been in a similar position, and I'd love to hear your experiences. Anonymous because coworkers read Metafilter, and I'd rather not have this scrutinized at work, throwaway email datingconfusion@gmail.com if you have questions.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am certainly no expert, but have worked with plenty of Saudis, Kuwaitis and Jordanians. It's generally my experience that Saudi men tend to "misread" western women. There has been many an occasion where I have had to pull the Saudi to one side and say "It might be shocking for women to dress and behave in that manner back home, but not here. That they dress like that does not make them prostitutes, and it does not make it alright for you to behave as you are." - or words to that effect. They are, for want of a better way of saying it, "immature" or naive perhaps. To that end, and I stress once more I may be wrong, it may be that your friendship up until this point has been misinterpreted and he thinks you are both further down the line in terms of dating than you perceive yourselves to be.

I would like to add a qualifying statement to this post - I am aware that this post might sound xenophobic/reinforcing of stereotypes, but I assure you I speak from first hand experiences (plural) with Arabs from a number of different countries, different ages and backgrounds who needed to be "mentored" until they adjusted to being in the UK.
posted by Biru at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to work for a joint venture between American companies and a Saudi government entity. I found my Saudi colleagues to be very complimentary, very flirtatious, and rather overtly "romantic"--some felt very daring in having lunch one-on-one with me in a public place. Several of them were married back home, but were so private, they never mentioned it, and felt justified in dating American women. Compared to American men, they seemed very suave and sophisticated, but were actually somewhat naive about dating/sex/what women in the US expected.

Now, this was some time ago, and things might be a bit different, but--(yes, these are generalizations).

He would not be dating anyone, were he in Saudi. He and his family will consider that you are not someone whose status will be lowered were he to have a "relationship" with you and then drop you--actions that would not be condoned in Saudi. It's unlikely that his family will be rude to you, as hospitality is a major cultural characteristic, but you, no matter how serious your feelings, are not a suitable companion, much less a bride or mother of children. (I linked below to a blogger who writes about the difficulties of a non-Saudi bride even getting into the country--read the comments.)



Is he planning on staying in the US? If he is and isn't looking for marriage, I don't see why you wouldn't have a great relationship. He's probably glad of the chance to be a more relaxed guy that he is back home.

Same blog--Saudi man's view.

Get a Brazilian before you meet him.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:01 AM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having lived there, I agree with the thoughts above.

Also: I can imagine two scenarios - one where things like a "first date gift" are customary, but unknown to me, so I've placed more weight on that than is warranted, and another where my fairly innocuous acceptance of his attentions has more weight in his eyes than it should.

Both of those things may be true. It does tend to be a gift-giving culture and (with telling his family about you, the suggestion of travel) it seems not far-fetched that a modicum of interest on your part equals "marriage potential" in his mind.

To be sure, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but a Saudi colleague met his wife in Sharm Al-Sheikh, Egypt, spent time with her there in the course of a short vacation, kept in touch afterward, spoke of knowing her for "a long time" before realizing he should "be a man" and tell her to move to Saudi Arabia so they could be married.

"A long time" to him was six weeks, with spending just a handful of days together.

You're welcome to memail me.
posted by ambient2 at 10:36 AM on September 6, 2010


he also did his undergraduate study in the U.S.,

Whoa, so this is a guy from Saudi Arabia who's been in the US since his freshman year of college? That changes a lot -- he's been through the entire US college dating process, and is probably more adept at reading US women in a US way. I'm sure that his background affects the way he thinks and interacts, but I'd say that you should take everything you read about Saudi dating customs while taking his education in the US into account.
posted by suedehead at 10:37 AM on September 6, 2010


You are probably not thinking of marriage yet, let alone divorce, but be aware that if there's ever a custody battle, and he takes the kids home, the Saudi authorities will automatically give him 100% custody.
posted by musofire at 11:11 AM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


That changes a lot -- he's been through the entire US college dating process, and is probably more adept at reading US women in a US way

Not necessarily. You need to remember that he comes from a culture in which dating just doesn't happen. Men and women get to know each other through long engagements, which are often more acceptably broken than in the west. In my experience, having lived in the Middle East and married an arab man, things do move along very quickly even if they have been extensively exposed to other cultures. We don't lose those underpinnings just because we live in another culture for a few years, and I might a number of people (men and women) who knew the language of male/female friendships and what they should say regarding dating and more casual relationships, but whose actions strongly indicated that in their heart of hearts, they didn't understand anything other than what they had been brought up in. I was proposed to, in all seriousness, by three different men who were adamant that they really only wanted to be my friend.

If he's told his family, it is likely that he is thinking that he is more serious about it than you realize, especially if they are traditional. My husband didn't tell his family about me until he was sure he wanted to marry me, and they assumed that that's why he was telling them. Incidentally, that was only 3 months after we started seeing each other. We were married 3 months after that. This pace worked for me because I knew fairly fast that I wanted to marry him, but if you're looking for something less committed, this guy doesn't sound like your man.

PS - I know that it's a scary pace for a relationship - it freaked me the hell out. But in the right circumstances it's worth it.
posted by scrute at 11:25 AM on September 6, 2010


er.... met a number of people, not might a number of people
posted by scrute at 11:26 AM on September 6, 2010


Whoa, so this is a guy from Saudi Arabia who's been in the US since his freshman year of college? That changes a lot -- he's been through the entire US college dating process, and is probably more adept at reading US women in a US way. I'm sure that his background affects the way he thinks and interacts, but I'd say that you should take everything you read about Saudi dating customs while taking his education in the US into account.

Not necessarily. While this can be true, I know several international men who did their undergraduate studies here and were still entirely clueless about the dating culture because they focused on their studies - not dating. I know several international students who have both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and are working post-doc and *still* have no idea about how to go about dating in the United States because their focus has been their studies.

What I'm saying is that although the OP's date has been here for awhile, that doesn't necessarily mean he is up to date on American dating culture. As a matter of fact I've just been through something similar with a guy from Turkey who's been here for many years - misunderstanding abound! It happens.
posted by patheral at 11:30 AM on September 6, 2010


Not to throw cold water on this, but do you know for certain he told him family? Or did he alone tell you he told his family? Sometimes, guys have a way of tell us what they think we want to hear.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:52 PM on September 6, 2010


listen to patheral and ideefixe comments ... i had a friend that went through this and she had lots of surprises when they began to get serious.
posted by justalkin at 10:18 AM on September 7, 2010


From the OP:
Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments, links and particularly to ambient2 for exchanging memail with me. Just to clarify one point, although my friend was here as an undergrad, he did not date then, as he was expecting then to marry a girl who was back home. This statement by Ideefixe sums up my experience exactly: "Compared to American men, they seemed very suave and sophisticated, but were actually somewhat naive about dating/sex/what women in the US expected."

Your comments were enough to push me to have a conversation with him about what it is we are doing. It seems he is, in fact, seeing us as far more seriously involved than I ever would have imagined. I made my feelings as clear as I could, and I'll tread carefully from here on out. He's doing a very Princess Bride-y "As you wish" thing that makes me feel I'm not quite being heard, but at least I have my head around what I need to manage now. Thanks again, y'all are awesome.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 PM on September 7, 2010


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