Dating in the Gulf
Let’s start with the facts, despite what you may see on a college campus, currently, there are 66 million more men on the planet than women. In few places is this more evident than the Arabian Peninsula where millions of men come to work. Many of these men are unskilled or semi-skilled workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines. This post is not about them. In the Gulf, there is a definite nationality hierarchy at play. At the top of the pyramid are locals followed by Westerners which includes Americans, Canadians, Argentines, South Africans, Australians, Kiwis and most EU members. The next groupings are people from Eastern Europeans then the Levant and North Africa. The balance is Asians, South Americans, Africans based on education and position. This post is specifically about my experiences dating professional men with equal or greater education and earnings in Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. While the GCC is not for everyone there are some advantages of being an educated Western woman.
My first interaction with someone from the Gulf was at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I will be honest, I didn’t really know where Qatar was. Sure, I had heard, “Cutter” on the news during Gulf War I but never thought it would become such an important part of my personal and professional life. The nice man I met while staying at one of the sponsorship hotels was an officiant for track and field. He was not dressed in a dish dash/thobe. We hit it off over breakfast one morning and over the course of my days there, he told me more about his country. Mildly intrigued, if only to tell my friends I wanted to go to some far off place, I kept his card and contact details. It was all perfectly innocent. I put it out of my head until 10 years later. when I was up for an interview with a company in Doha. I flew out on Emirates fostering my love of Gulf carriers.
During this first brief stay, I became acquainted with the Gulf phenomenon, at every cafe, bar, hotel and meeting there was an abundance of ringless well-dressed men. I am not kidding, I was just recently there and it persists. Now my preference leans more to what white people often call swarthy but I think of as just another part of the melanated spectrum. I am referring to Southern Europeans, North Africans, and colored people from the Americas. A twentysomething who was used to navigating the passport/money intent issues of dating in Africa and South America, I was a kid in a candy store. The men I met were 27-40 years old, were US military officers, bankers, lawyers, professors, engineers, and architects. They were legitimately single and enjoyed a significant amount of disposable income.
It did not take long to get used to this and I found my self constantly drawn back to a city where I could work and enjoy a nice social life.
It is worth mentioning again, the Gulf is not for everyone. I was raised by a conservative Catholic mother, by my mid-twenties I had exchanged short skirts for knee length pencil ones. I don’t think shorts should be worn in public by men or women unless commuting to or participating in an athletic activity. I like scarves and love a man who knows how to wear one. Adjusting to the local public customs and general expat comportment was painless. Although one time when I was living with my Moroccan boyfriend there was an incident.
It was a few days after Michael Jackson died, two of my friends wanted to go to a tribute night at a local club. The club the wanted to go to was not one of my normal haunts, it was popular with Filipinos, Indians, and what for lack of a better term were low-rent Westerns. Off we went, two Americans and one British woman with two Qatari guys. When the Filipina band finished screeching its way through Smooth Criminal I knew I needed to leave. One of the Qataris was of the same mindset. Had driven and did not drink. I said my goodbyes and he offered me a ride home. I accepted. While in the car, I realized his English was not the best. When we arrived at my building, I asked him what he would do while he waited on his friends. Since we was just going to sit in the parking lot in the car, I offered him a cup of hibiscus tea—not a euphemism. The doorman let us up. After I made the tea he moved from the chair to the couch where I was sitting. I moved to the other end—he followed me. “What are you doing, I have a boyfriend?” I demanded. He tried to kiss me. I told him to get out. He would not leave. I called my boyfriend and started freaking out in French telling him he needed to talk to this man and get him out of the apartment. I handed the Qatari the phone, he still would not leave. My boyfriend told me he was almost home. When he arrived downstairs, the Indian doorman told said, “You don’t want to go up there, she brought a man home.” To which he replied, “Yes, I know.” When he came in a yelling match in Arabic ensued and eventually the local left. For the next hour and a half I was lectured about not being friendly to locals. I had heard the same thing from Lebanese girlfriends who went so far as to say you should not respond to locals when in a social (non-professional setting).
After the incident, I started following their advice, until I got to Bahrain. A far more liberal country, it was quite normal to interact socially with local men. I enjoyed getting an insiders view of Bahrain. Each Thursday night, the capital city, already full of Navy boys would be flooded with Saudis from across the causeway. Flocking to the city for debaucherous weekends, I didn’t need anyone to tell me to stay far away.
Over more than a decade spent bouncing in and out of the Gulf, I am spoiled by the abundance of datable men. As I left my twenties and entered my thirties the number of interesting bachelors did not decrease. I enjoyed learning about their varied cultures and we bonded over the shared experience of living and working in an environment so different from home. For some the transient nature of expats on 3-month to 3-year contracts is a drawback. Typically these relationships have a time limit as staying on in the extremely expensive and restricted environments is not always an option. I have a few male friends from Europe who have married and remained with their spouse in the Gulf but they are truly the exception not the rule. For me, a short term contractor, the time constraints were never an issue.