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Long forbidden, dating has arrived in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom with some Saudis meeting and marrying without the help of relatives. Well-heeled millennials meet via Tinder, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. The pair finally met in person in Egypt, where gender mixing is more accepted than in Saudi Arabia, long dominated by a puritanical form of Islam that has been challenged recently by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's push toward a more moderate interpretation of the religion.
Because sex and romantic love remain highly controversial subjects in the kingdom, interviewees spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, and pseudonyms have been used.
While there have been noticeable social changes recently, men and women who are not closely related still traditionally don't mix, and some avoid even looking at an unrelated person of the opposite sex. Girls and boys are educated separately, and workplaces that employ women are nominally segregated.
So meeting, dating and getting married can be a treacherous obstacle course. Secrecy is the norm, particularly when it comes to sex. Lulwa, 27, bridles at a deep-seated sexism in Saudi society that she says reduces women to their reproductive functions, even among some members of her liberal circle in which the genders mix and alcohol is sometimes served at parties.
It is both a blessing and curse that Lulwa is not searching for a partner in her native Riyadh. But the relationship has no future unless Lulwa leaves her country, or he proposes marriage and converts to Islam. Fadila, 29, an ant, has been looking for love in all the wrong places since she was a teenager.
Early on, her beguiling smile had boys asking for her telephone. Fadila sometimes complied, but often gave a wrong to prevent gossip. The two used to sit in his car, where she felt safe.
But the couple was, in fact, being watched by the religious police. They arrested Fadila, but not the prince. She says it later emerged that he had been having affairs with a of women and drinking regularly. Her mother and brother got her released the next day, and the episode has been kept secret from everybody else except her best friend. Fadila is lucky — experiences like hers have cost other women their lives.
Afterward, Fadila decided to focus on academics, where she has excelled. She gained an honors degree in ing and now has a good career. And thanks to government efforts at increasing Saudi Arabia's employment rate, more and more women are working and studying near if not alongside men, providing a plethora of romantic possibilities. This social loosening was given a boost on Oct. So about six months ago, her heart aching, Fadila gave up and decided to do the unthinkable. She let her older brother find her a husband. First a suitable match was identified.
Finally, the mothers got together to drink tea and check each other out. After meeting her intended just twice, Fadila went through an official engagement ceremony, which involved the couple ing a contract specifying that she would never be forced to live with her in-laws and prevented from working outside the home. Now the two see each other openly and have even taken a trip abroad together. On paper her fiance is ideal — an IT specialist who is handsome, open-minded and respectful, she says.
Like Fadila, Omar is now looking into getting hitched traditionally after trying the alternative. It looks like the handful of couples at nearby tables are on dates. Omar, 26, is candid about sex, a subject that looms over any discussion about how men and women interact. This affects the way they act, including in bed, he and others tell NBC News. Because Saudi women are expected to be virgins when they marry, many opt not to have vaginal intercourse and instead engage in other types of sex when dating, Omar says. While he has more experience with women than many unmarried Saudi men, because of his time in the U.
Friends have tried to set him up at dinner parties, and asked him to go on hiking outings. So he hangs out with women. Omar says he is reconciled to never getting married, which would be extremely rare for a Saudi.
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