Saudi Arabia: Love and Marriage – Are the Two Compatible?

I received a recent email from a follower of American Bedu who wishes to have some questions answered.  The individual brought up some good points, especially when you apply logic with the rules and regulations of Saudi Arabia.  Dating and public mixing of the sexes is prohibited in Saudi Arabia.  Many marriages are arranged.  Therefore, the reader wished to know with such regulations and traditions in place are there “love marriages” in Saudi Arabia or are they isolated to the upper class and Royals?  Additionally, with such strict laws in Saudi Arabia, then how does a man flirt with another woman or marry another woman?

These are powerful questions and sensitive questions.  Yes; dating and public mixing of the sexes is prohibited.  However, that does not prevent young Saudis from contact with one another.  The young Saudi men (and women too) can be creative when it comes to having contact with one another.  I am not necessarily referring to meeting for a tete-a-tete but rather the increase use of social networking.  Some young men may continue to use their Bluetooth on their mobile phone to exchange phone numbers and messages with young women.  Some young men may also toss a paper to a woman with their mobile phone number.  However more and more are going to social networking sites like Facebook or arabfriendz where they can “virtually meet” and get to know one another.

Contact between unrelated Saudi men and women remains frowned upon.  As a result, there are many within Saudi Arabia who view the use of social networking as haram (forbidden).  Naturally there are risks to the use of social network sites too.  A Saudi woman must always consider her reputation, honor and that of her family.  The Saudi men should take the same factors into consideration but in reality he is allowed much more leeway than a Saudi woman when it comes to interactions with unrelated females.  I am not going to go further into interactions or consequences of the use of social networking sites other than to reiterate it is a venue where some unrelated Saudis have made initial contact which eventually led to a traditional meeting of families and marriage.

In most cases, “love marriages” have been the arranged marriages where the man and woman have been able to have contact with one another whether by the phone, email or perhaps they were both students abroad.  Other cases which have lead to love marriages have also been where a young Saudi male and female have worked at an organization where segregation is not as strictly enforced such as some of the larger hospitals.  However, while there may be an initial physical attraction based on appearance and then opportunities to interact enhancing the attracting and feeling of love, marrying and living with a spouse each and every day is much different and one hopes that there will always be the feelings of love.

Traditional arranged marriages take place between families which know one another and believe their children would be compatible for one another.  Or is some cases, the marriage is viewed as a connection between tribes which has been a tradition even prior to the Kingdom being known as Saudi Arabia but simply as Arabia.  Marriages between cousins remain commonplace in Saudi Arabia.

It should also be pointed out that “love marriages” are not isolated to the case of upper class or Royals.  In fact, Royals will marry within the family, usually to a first, second or third cousin…at least for the first marriage.

Polygamy, the man taking a second, third or fourth wife must be covered as a separate topic unto itself.  However these earlier posts should help enlighten readers on the topic of polygamy in Saudi Arabia.


27 Responses

  1. i don’t know of one marriage that the couple did not court before getting engaged/married. everyone i know or know of talked daily on the phone and visited each other. for me that is getting to know someone in a respectable manner. i saw my saudi husband once every other week for about four hours.and talked on the phone maybe thirty minutes. he propose after one month…i said yes, and i really did not know much about him..but after we married we knew more about each other…and he had to come live with my family… the saudis do it…ya fun.

  2. Gia: Are you in Jeddah? I realize that there are more families in Jeddah who are more open in regards to the way a couple were allowed to get to know one another. I know a number of Saudi couples who did not have an option to even speak after that single meeting when they agreed upon one another until the wedding night.

    However I think if a man and woman put their minds to the willingness to make a relationship work through listening and willingness to compromise, while there may not be “true love” at the beginning it does grow and remain.

  3. ab – I read this somewhere and couldn’t stop smiling. — ” The main advantage of an arranged marriage is that a marriage that starts with near-zero love can only get better.”

  4. The other day I had a really eye-opening conversation with a young Emirati local. I told him that it was incomprehensible to me how you can marry someone that you haven’t spent sufficient time with, because spending time together will create trust. He came right back at me saying, that this was exactly what they were doing. By not communicating, this would create trust. He said, ff my fiancé tried to contact me via phone or directly, asking to meet etc. I would be very suspicious as to why she would do so, prompting thoughts that maybe she had done so before with other men, thus effectively destroying the trust. Similarly he said, if I contacted the lady and tried to arrange a private meeting she would think surely this man is after other things, thus trust would be gone. I never thought of it that way, and it made a lot of sense to me. Nevertheless, the local admitted that such marriages without prior contact often involved considerable shock during the first year, in particular on part of the wife, and in particular in combination with a not-so gentle husband.

    Coincidentally, I spoke with an Emirati lady a couple of days after and raised exactly that issue, of how she will deal with the shock of adapting to a new life with an essential stranger in a new house. She was, in fact, hilarious, saying Oh who can take these men serious. They are so fired-up in the first year, having been given all this advice by their fathers/brothers not be soft with the wife, stand your man, lead the house etc. that they will watch your every step and make sure they have knowledge, if not control, over everything you do. But that dies down, don’t worry, give it a year or less, and he will get back to his normal routine in life, minding his own business, and letting you go wherever you want, not even checking because he has better things to do. I’m sure this eventually depends on the guy, but regardless of that, I was fascinated by the level-headedness of this lady.

  5. Most of the marriages I’ve seen here are arranged, but the couple gets to spend a lot of time together before things are finalized. And some fall through but most don’t. I actually know a lot of very loving couples. The couples don’t spend a lot of private time however. A lot is with the family. I’ve known most of the “fiances” in the extended family before weddings occur- male and female. But I would say that’s how one sub-culture of Saudi does it.

  6. bedu
    ya, jedda.

    what is the difference between a girl who sleeps with a guy she just met in a bar/club. one night stands? really think about that one. one night stands, it happens a lot in america…

    and the girl that is arranged in a marriage for one year. waiting to be with a man that wants her, and is getting her home ready for her, and buying her pretty things for her and the home.,,ect. you get the point. very respectful…

  7. I think one of the major things that makes or breaks a relationship is if the couple can grow to live together in harmony and if they are wiling to stick it out through the good and the bad times. As long as the couple can learn to compromise on issues (both of them, not just one) and help each other work towards their goals in life, I believe it can result in a happy, very-much-in-love marriage. I do not think it makes much of a difference whether it is “arranged” or if the couple is a result of “Western” stereotypical ideas of dating.

    Sometimes the guy in a bar ends up being a really quality guy. One of my friends picked up a guy in a bar and ended up marrying him later. They are well-matched and happy together still. 🙂 This is probably an exception to what generally happens, though.

    As for one-night stands being common in America, it honestly depends where and within what subculture. As a whole, I would say serial monogamy is much more common (not that it is any better/worse from a moral viewpoint).

  8. Gia…the difference is…the girl in the bar can walk away if the sex/relationship (such as it is) isnt what she was expecting or willing to follow through on….the girl marrying the stranger…she is stuck in quite a few ways.

    Easier to walk away from a one night stand..then a marriage in which the culture dictates how ur viewed as a divorcee

  9. btw…there are so many many other ways to view someone as immoral..then to count who and how many people they have…or have not slept with.

    Sex is not the bar from which all else should be judged.

  10. i im blindly in love with a saudi gurl that comes to chat but i found most sauids arrogant dont know why .and i cant even understand the love for amreica of arabs. welll every one loves aremica but not to extent of imitating them

  11. I thinkthere are many degrees of aranged marriage, a lot of my cousins have had a happyarrnaged marriage, they were introducedto their spouse thru their parents that’s the only diff i see. The groom and his parents come home and meet the bride andher parents and each take a few days to think about if they want to meet again, most of my cousins decided to meet,coffee,chitchat for quite a while before accepting or not accepting to move forward, so in a sense i’d say the aranged marriages i’m familiar with are like blind dates – only setup by parents, and sinc ethe parents previously make sure their education/ thinking etc., matches or at least try , i think they have a better chance of meeting the right person quickly..

    of course i don’t condone, picking 12 strangers and getting them married for an alliance ( tribal/family/business) etc., which is what happened to a few of F’s siblings.. but that depends onthe family mindset i guess.

  12. i have never met a western girl married to an arab that was virgin. they all are happy with there husbands when things are good, but when bad times, they talk of some other man. the ones they were with at one point. the only one i know of is coolred, and in her story she had a husband that wanted her real bad and seemed to possessively love her and treat her bad. but i would marry a virgin girl if i had to make that choice, just because i know how girls think….the guys brain is diferent

  13. The one year marriage with the nice house sounds more like prostitution than “respect”.

    And Gia,
    “i have never met a western girl married to an arab that was virgin. they all are happy with there husbands when things are good, but when bad times, they talk of some other man.”

    You should hang out with a better class of people. I don’t know any western girls that do that – whether married to an Arab or another westerner. Yuck.

  14. Agree with Coolred’s comment.

    Sandy, yes. I suppose it really depends on the class of people one associates with…

  15. sandy
    i know… i stopped going to there gatherings.
    some of these girls were educated and from money…go figure

  16. It all depends on the person’s expectations for marriage, and it is important that the expectations of the couple match, at least in important ways. If you look at marriage as a job, and many do, because that’s what it is, then the important part is that you both agree on what is to be done, and how it is to be done. If you both read the same libretto, you should be fine.

    I personally do not think that love, romantic love, is necessary for marriage, nor did I want to marry every man with whom I have been romantically in love over the course of my life. Some men are great lovers but terrible husbands.

    So I think that an arranged marriage has every opportunity of working out if both partners have been raised with the same expectations of marriage and family life, husband’s and wife’s duties, etc. If they don’t expect to be “crazy in love”, how can they be disappointed if both people do their jobs?

  17. I would have a great deal of difficulty allowing a person I did not know well or a person to whom I’d not developed a physical attraction to touch me.

  18. @Gia,
    There’s a saying- “you can’t buy class” and it is soooo true.

    There is a lot of truth to what you say. And probably in the cases of arranged marriage where the families are looking at it – in a sense as the formation of a working alliance, rather than wealth or status, the marriages are more likely to work out. And love has a good environment to grow.

    I don’t think romantic love is the most important thing for marriage- but for some people it is essential. But mutual respect is always more important.

  19. I understand arranged marriages and i know it works and people are happy, yet personally i cannot be in an union where love an friendship is not there to start with. Love and friendship is th estarting point for even th thought that maybe we belong together… The way i see it, after marriage that love just deepends and routine takes over, Marriage is not a job where you do your duty and i do mine, it’s 2 halves to a whole, best friend, lover and trusty mate. I don’t think i could meet someone 10 times and decide to join my life ot his, but at the same time I know arranged marriage work, i see it daily , so i guess it’s a personal choice.

    @gia – you need to come west and meet a ton of youngsters , how do you know none of the western women were virgins ? did you go around quizzing them 🙂

  20. @Gia

    “i have never met a western girl married to an arab that was virgin. they all are happy with there husbands when things are good, but when bad times, they talk of some other man. the ones they were with at one point.”

    I assure you, disappointed wives who married as virgins also dream of marrying someone else. What is the difference between a dream and a memory?

  21. While arranged marriage is not something I as a man would like to have, and while unarranged marriage is hardly acceptable in the Saudi society, especially for someone like me who doesn’t have the time to mingle with women or chase girls in shopping malls or track them in social networking sites, I’m working my out of this dilemma by having a semi-arranged marriage, where I would ask my mother to find me a nice lady (that’s the arranged part), then after the two families start talking and before we get married or even engaged, I would request from the parents of this lady their permission to date their daughter for some time… no less than 6 months…. So that we both could know whether we fit for each other or not. Some (or most) people (parents or girls) do not accept this request.. and those I try to stay away from. I don’t want to handle a close minded parent/wife for the rest of my life. A few do accept it.. and I have to confess here that I did this once, but within 4 awkward weeks we both agreed that we’re not made for each other.. so we called it off. Still, I’m optimistic about how this would turn out.. and I am hoping, really hoping, that I would be married before the end of this year. Cross your fingers!
    @Zue: If the girl and the guy talk to each other AFTER the initial contact between the two families and after a real interest has been shown into marriage and commitment, then, from the local (cultural) perspective, there shouldn’t be any concern regarding reputation or trust.

  22. Gia…my ex did not “possessively love” me…for he did not know how to love. He possessively owned me and controlled me..for a period of time….but not love.

    People who love you, dont hurt you on purpose if they can possible help it.

  23. coolred

  24. radha
    they talked about it freely.

  25. n4c
    do you have a poblem with giving a dowry to your new wife?

  26. my husbands family practises arranged marriages, but thank God not to cousins!
    What they do is when there is a potential suitor the guy comes to the families house and first meets with the father and brothers. If they ok him, and the daughter wants to proceed, they can meet each other under supervision. If that one meeting doesn’t work out, then that’s the end of the story, but if she likes him they can talk on the phone. They would then proceed to signing the marriage contract which would enable them to “date” and meet eachother in a halal manner, and if that works out they would have the wedding and consummate the marriage.

    If it doesnt work out, they will divorce.But because the marriage wasn’t consumated the girl remains “respectable”.

  27. Marriage is not a job where you do your duty and i do mine, it’s 2 halves to a whole, best friend, lover and trusty mate.

    Radha’s words above say what I believe a marriage to be…and was what Abdullah and I were so lucky to have found. I don’t know yet what it was exactly that Abdullah knew to say from our 2nd meeting onward that we would marry and he knew I would be his wife. When i finally agreed much much later on marrying him he jokingly chastised me on how much time had been lost waiting for my decision. He was sooooo right.

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