I'm not a fan of Lebanese exceptionalism. Most of the #onlyinLebanons do not apply--we're no longer the only country in the region to suffer from debilitating power cuts. We're not the only political arena to be heavily influenced by outside forces. And we're definitely not the only place to suffer from migraine-inducing traffic jams (am I right, Cairo?). But when it comes to dating, we really do set ourselves apart. This is evidenced by the well-established fact that when any of your friends move abroad, they return, not with a souvenir, but with a ring. Chronic commitment-phobia issues be damned.
And speaking of damnation, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to compare the dating scene in Lebanon to Dante's first circle of hell. It is the land of the perpetual grey zone, can't quite move forward with the relationship but you are caught in the snares of passionate torment all the same. You are stuck in the metaphorical mud, and yet the carrot of true love seems...oh...so...close.
1. The dating scene is "as small as a scorpion's"...nail
Let's start by stating the obvious: we swim in a very small pond. Subsequently, this scenario likely happened to you at least two or three times: you meet someone at a bar, and you click. You enjoy the same music, you have similar politics (more on that later), and you adore his/her sense of humor. Then the inevitable happens. You add them on Facebook and you discover that you have at least 50 mutual friends. How cute, right? Wrong! They are VERY likely your friend's ex, or your friend's friends ex. So you are left with a choice that flashes before you like the neon lights on Jal el Dib highway: take a chance on human-of-your-dreams apparent, and find yourself in an ugly cesspool of gossip somewhere in this tiny city (maybe two bars/sheesha places up the road from you), or...move on to hopeless dating scenario number 2.
2. Commitment phobia
It all boils down to a condition that a friend of mine very cleverly coined: "Bade yeha w tfou 'aleya syndrome." She stares at you from the bar; you look back and flash a smile. Suddenly her eyes roll so hard, you suspect she sees the front of her brain. Permutations of the scenario stream through your relationship, or more accurately, your situationship. "I like you," they say in so many words, "but I need you to stand at 24.2992° N, 54.6973° E, until I give you a secret signal to move forward." We have all been on either side of that conversation in this never-ending reproduction of power plays passed down from your "ex push-and-pull affair."
3. We are 32 shades of political/religious beliefs and then some
We live in a place that not only houses many religious minorities but also many shades of political belief. We are left-wing, right-wing, religious, secular, laicite-on-steroids, progressive socialists, Islamists, Christian atheists, Muslim atheists, religious seculars, minority rights activists, civil rights activists...the list goes on and on. It's just what happens when you live in a place that's heavy on discourse, and it's a good thing...if you embrace it. Problems do arise when you inevitably meet a great human that has a different belief system. You have a first date, and the other person (or you!) engages in a human pre-mating ritual called mirroring. They like you, so they really want to highlight your similarities. Mental acrobatics ensue to forge a bridge between your two beliefs. You go on a few more dates and the sectarian/village bigotry that nearly all of us were raised with rears its ugly head. You/he/she starts to chalk up all the irksome things you discover to the stereotypes our parents fed us. But it's not just our families that are the culprits. Tiny subcultures we belong to preach prejudice about people outside our tiny social bubble, too. I beg of you to cease and desist. Say no to political/religious/cultural echo chambers and find true love.
4. Sexpectations are a bit of a minefield
Another byproduct of living in a country that breeds a wide and varied belief spectrum is that there is no prevailing attitude to sex. You broach the subject like a timid warrior in a jungle covered in darkness. "Do I make a move? What if I offend her? I don't want her to think I'm sex-crazed." It's a series of questions that runs through our heads, naturally, because we live in a place where people relate to tradition very differently. Add that to the very personal connection nearly everyone, everywhere in the world has with the subject, and it is extremely murky territory. But here's the thing. You shouldn't be put off by it. Communicate. See where your sexpectations connect and diverge, and decide whether to move forward accordingly.
5. Your BAE turns into a long-distance relationship between night and day
It's the economy, dudes. Your over-worked and under-paid Before Anyone Else (BAE) gets a job offer from the petrol endowed Gulf, and you know they're going to take it. And you know you don't have it in you to keep them from leaving. No matter that you pulled emotional and mental circus acts to get to the point where you can legitimately say that you are in a romantic partnership. Ain't nothing you can do about this, friends. It's the way of our mellenial anti-romantic existence.
This applies to both gay and straight people in Lebanon. We could really do without our parents' rejection of our same-sex/inter-religious/inter-class relationship ... or any pre-marriage or pre-engagement relationship for that matter. Too many of us go about our already complicated romantic lives in dark corners, and away from the watchful eye of our Facebook friends. I sincerely hope that unquestioned traditions do not get in the way of your emotional path.
In the end, Bob Marley said it best: "The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just have to find the ones worth suffering for."
Dating in Lebanon is a very tough scene which we all help to make even more difficult. Do your part: follow your heart.