Hello and welcome back to Riyadh where it is another day of sun! So this month, as it is the month to celebrate love I thought I would take a look at matters of the heart in Saudi Arabia.
It’s difficult to know exactly what the local dating scene is like. Officially there is no ‘dating scene’ marriages are arranged and there are very limited opportunities for unrelated boys and girls to meet, never mind go on a date or be alone.
While the religious police were still in force (until 2016) only a married couple could go out in each other’s company – if they were unrelated they risked at the very least being publicly berated, struck with a stick, or at worst jailed. One Saudi guy told me he was lashed after he was seen waving at a girl he knew in a mall when he was a teenager. The religious police asked him how he knew the girl and he said she was his cousin, they asked her the same and she said he was her brother – so they deduced they were being lied to and used their canes…
Until recently there was also nowhere for potential or unmarried couples to meet because life was completely segregated, from school, to the workplace, to family parties, weddings etc there was no inter-mingling of the sexes, and until 2017 there were no cinemas, no concerts, women largely didn’t work (or if they did they were in separate offices and still in many places are), and cafes and restaurants had segregated seating areas (and of course there are no nightclubs or bars!).
I do know that with things easing young Saudis do meet at mixed parties or through the workplace. One Saudi girl told me she had a boyfriend who she’d met at a party with friends and they would go out for meals or to the races, so things are changing…
Like everywhere else dating apps are very popular, Tinder, Bumble etc. It’s a safe way for Saudi girls and boys to talk to each other, even if it doesn’t lead to meeting up. A single friend I had here (expat) joined Tinder when he first arrived. He said he was quite nervous at first because he didn’t know what the social norms were. What he found was that Saudi women generally didn’t have a profile photo but were curious to chat, but after initial contact, or when he suggested meeting up, they would just simply melt away/ghost him. He said the few Saudi women he did end up meeting for a coffee had some experience of living and traveling abroad and were more confident/daring about meeting an expat guy. He also said Muslim women of other nationalities (although living in Riyadh) were more likely to meet up or keep chatting longer than Saudi women.
He said being single in KSA there is a thriving ex-pat dating scene with plenty of opportunity to meet people at parties on compounds which happen almost every weekend, once you tap into those networks. And some expats have even found lasting love – with one expat couple who met by chance on an internal flight when they were both single and started dating eventually getting married and even chose to stay on in Riyadh to raise their young family.
Meanwhile, for Saudis, apart from traditionally arranged marriages, (and marriage ceremonies are also separate for men and women – usually even separate venues, but that’s for another blog!), polygamous marriages are also legally recognized in Saudi. In accordance with Sharia law a man can marry up to four wives provided he treats them all equally and shares his wealth equally. (It’s the ‘equally’ part that can put people off! ;0) ).
There is also something called a misyar marriage which has been legal since 1996. This is essentially a time-limited marriage lasting between 14-60 days with no dowry paid and no financial obligations. Misyar marriages are usually done in secret and are seen as a hybrid between marriage and single-hood. They are used by people who want a ‘no-strings attached’ marriage, men who want another relationship aside from their wife but don’t want to have the responsibilities of a full-blown polygamous relationship, or have a wife opposed to being in a polygamous marriage, men who enter into a short-term arrangement while they are abroad, women who want to avoid traditional marriages, women who don’t want an ex-husband to know they are in a new relationship or unmarried couples seeking religious cover for sexual relationships forbidden outside wedlock.
So, while it might appear at first that finding love could be a tricky path to negotiate in KSA, like everywhere else in the world, love always finds a way ;0)
And that’s a quick look at romance in Saudi Arabia, 2022!
Until next time,