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Online Dating in the UAE; Taboo or the Norm?
Posted on Nov 30, 2012 by Amber
How to find love in the UAE. Is it normal to be online nowadays or are we still trusting fate as the ultimate love finding method?
The world of dating is a daunting one, and yet finding a partner to share life with is one of the most important things a person can achieve and what many of us strive for. With the emergence of the internet as a social tool, it is no surprise that a number of people seeking that special someone have turned to online dating. However, in conservative countries such as the UAE that are steeped in tradition, we must ask if this new method of dating is acceptable, or still considered a taboo and a threat to the traditions many families hold dear? This article will assess the perks and pitfalls of online dating in the UAE, and how families can adapt to this new method of finding love without distorting their traditional values.
In the Western world, online dating has been growing from strength to strength since the turn of the century. Over two-thirds of British singles use online dating websites (that’s 9 million people!) with the online dating market reported to be worth around £170 million. Figures like this point to the fact that traditional modes of meeting people and dating are changing. With the advancement of technology, comes new ways to find a partner that has been thoroughly taken advantage of in the West. In the Middle East though, this is still a relatively new phenomenon. Surveys in 2011 revealed that 60% of UAE nationals wouldn’t trust online dating and up until recently, many online dating sites were actually blocked in the UAE. This is all beginning to change. An abundance of online dating sites have sprouted up throughout the region, many targeted towards Arab people specifically, highlighting this recent shift in attitudes. A third of Emiratis believe that their society is ready to accept online courtship methods, but this figure compares with 68% of UAE expats. So what is standing in the way of Emiratis using the internet to find love? Is online dating still considered taboo in 2012?
The answer is yes…and no. It really depends on who you address this question to. The most obvious stumbling block to online dating in the UAE is tradition. The majority of Emiratis are Muslim, and so pursuit of relationships and marriage are sensitive issues, with several traditions behind finding and courting a partner. Parents of prospective couples traditionally have an important role in selecting and approving their child’s partner, and arranged marriages here remain a common phenomenon. It is understandable then, why the world of online dating is considered by older and orthodox Emiratis to be an affront to this way of uniting families. Online dating provides the individuals a chance to chat and build up a relationship before meeting or introducing one another to their families, if they choose to at all. Knowing someone before marrying them clearly seems like a good thing, but online flirting can promote immodest ‘self flaunting’ which is religiously inappropriate. It also changes the dynamic of finding love, and removes the importance of the family’s role in choosing a suitor.
Change is often hard to accept for older generations who are used to traditional ways of finding partners and who may not have had much exposure to the internet. Online dating is considered a ‘Western’ enterprise by many Emiratis, and parts of the internet are thought to be a threat to local values. With increased interest in online dating, it is feared that a part of local culture will be lost, or diluted and integrated with Western ideals, but this is something that the UAE is facing, regardless of whether online dating sites exist, and so it shouldn’t discourage them from being used.
Expats now account for a large percentage of the population in many UAE countries, particularly Dubai. Opinions on online dating will change within the local population as well as more young daters are raised with the internet as an everyday tool, and therefore are exposed to ideas from around the globe. However, many youngsters may be hesitant to try online dating solely because of the negative reactions it would create from their family. This is a shame as, just because family is removed from the process of finding a suitor, doesn’t mean that the family is not considered important for approving them. Some traditions can be updated for the modern era without losing the moral reasoning behind them.
Scepticism about online dating comes from believing that it could pose a threat not just to tradition but to the dater’s safety. 74% of people surveyed believed online relationships are more likely to be built on lies and deception. It is far easier to remain anonymous or to lie and commit fraud online than in person, especially as opposed to a date arranged by two families who have done background checks on each other’s progeny. A way to circumvent this fear is to subscribe to dating sites that require you to verify your identity through stringent checks, and once you have done so provide you with their ‘seal’ of approval. Furthermore, you can be accompanied on dates by a family member or allocated chaperone, and make sure that you meet in public places so as to remove any fears of insecurity from the meeting.
Emiratis are encouraged in their culture to marry other Emirati nationals. If this, and the issue of religion, are an issue when looking for a partner then specific sites can be reviewed and approved by a religious representative, who is aware of how to approach the online dating world whilst remaining culturally and religiously sensitive. There are numerous dating sites available now, so if your family are worried about you finding someone from a different religion or background, you can search for potential spouses on sites specifically for Muslims, or specify the nationalities whose profiles you are interested in seeing. This can be comforting for those expats that want to find someone from their home culture to bond with as well as for the families who want their traditions to be observed.
Over time, trends seem to suggest the UAE will be more open to online dating. India is a great example of a traditional place using new technology and methods for dating with great results. India-based website www.shaadi.com has over 20 million users and claim over 2 million weddings as a result of their services since it’s conception. India clearly has a lot of cultural traditions and even share the custom of arranged marriages with the UAE. Regardless, in 2008 matrimony sites were the 12th most popular web search in India, and millions of Indians have visited matrimony or dating websites.
Online dating has obvious perks. In a society where males and females do not often mix socially in a casual sense, the internet provides a place for them to socialise, develop bonds and see if they want to arrange to meet each other. Couples can build a relationship and realise for themselves if they are suitable partners instead of being forced together by families who believe they know what is best for you. Users who are typically shy in public can overcome their fear of meeting people from behind a keyboard, and may be able to build relationships that could never have occurred without the internet. The modern world of social and shared media means that we’re regularly exposed to stories of love and relationships in books, online, in movies and on TV. It is then unrealistic for people to not desire these types of relationships or to find their own love based on what they’ve been exposed to, rather than having a relationship forced upon them due simply to tradition.
Older parents in the UAE need to acknowledge that online dating is going to occur. The desire for love, and the ease and availability of the internet, make it an inevitability. New technology is going to confront traditional methods and values often. These traditional values must adapt with the times, or risk creating a rift between older generations and the new high tech youth who wish to pursue such things as online dating and don’t understand the point or value of tradition. Instead of punishing or threatening the use of these new technologies, traditional customs should be explained to newer generations. Educating them as to the history of their cultural traditions towards relationships, amongst other things, has more chance of being respected than choosing to punish and threaten against the use of ‘Western’ modern modes of dating.
For those of you in the UAE looking for love, be you expat or Emirati, there will be a dating site that caters to what you’re looking for. Below I’ve listed some for you to peruse.
- www.meetup.com – for socialising as well as dating