Arab relationships are a minefield of their own. You maneuver the area like a soldier holding on to dear life, in an attempt to avoid the massive blow up that may happen at any given moment.
There are 50 shades when it comes to Arab relationship statuses.
1. It all starts with that one uncalled-for encounter
Arab parents have somehow managed to implant an automatic checklist into their kids' minds. That checklist is used during any encounter with another human being.
So usually, when someone approaches you - in a not so subtle and romantic way - your mind subconsciously starts going through the checklist, ticking a 'yes' or 'no' on each of the items.
Then two things may happen: you either realize that checklists are seriously overrated and decide to go with it or you fall victim to this bizarre checklist and reject the person in 3, 2 ... 1.
2. The realization that there are really only "two degrees of separation"
People are really only two connections away in the Arab world as opposed to the original "six degrees of separation".
This means us Arabs are all just two steps away from discovering the person you are dating may actually be a long-lost relative or a relative of a relative of a friend.
3. The public speculation on your love life begins
Your mother's friend's friend's friend's sibling's cousin saw you and your bae hanging out ... and the neighborhood gossip begins.
Your life suddenly begins to feel like an episode of The Bachelor/The Bachelorette.
4. The emotional distress kicks in
You grew up in an extremely affectionate household with countless to2borny's, ya 3dame's, ya albi's from close family friends to relatively distant friends, to complete strangers.
Habibi was not just a word used exclusively to show intimate affection.
At some point in your life, you stopped differentiating the levels of affection ... which ultimately leads to the birth of emotional distress in your intimate life.
5. Emotional distress out, flirting fails in
One of the two (sometimes) has extreme difficulty fully embracing the concept of flirting. Either that or they have fully embraced the Arab 'let's crack a joke at the most inappropriate time' gene present in 99.999% of Arabs.
6. Someone's definition of "sexting" differs from everybody else
7. Speaking of sexting ... what about sexpectations?
We all know the topic of sex is not one that is approached openly and freely in our part of the world. It is still considered a taboo to even just TALK about sex.
"From habibi to hmar real quick" is basically the case if he/she doesn't even broach the topic. Why?
It's a series of questions that run through our heads, naturally, because we live in a place where people relate to tradition very differently. It's extremely murky territory.
But here's the thing. Don't be put off by it. Communicate. See where your sexpectations converge and diverge, and take it from there.
8. The make-it-or-break-it discoveries
How traditional is the person you're seeing? How many Arab rituals has the person you're seeing adopted? Are you two compatible?
There will come a time where all these questions will be answered. Make sure to think rationally! Don't let the 'clap on the plane' ruin something good.
9. If all goes well, the meet-the-parents anxiety syndrome begins
The first step to guaranteeing you're on the right path to a marriage is getting the family's approval - meaning the bride needs to get on the groom's family's good side, and vice versa.
This is a bigger challenge for the bride than the groom. Because if the groom is a "doctoor" or "ibn doctoor" or "mhandiss" or "ibn mhandiss", then no girl is ever good enough for that kinda guy because #ArabMoms.
She may come to you with something sweet like "mitil benti serte habibite," a mere three seconds after meeting you. Don't take it at face value, and don't let your guard down! There is more to come.
10. The 34 shades of political/religious beliefs
We live in a place that's home to people of various religious, political, and social beliefs. We are left-wing, right-wing, religious, secular, Christian atheists, Muslim atheists, religious secular ... add 'em all up and that's 34 shades of beliefs to navigate.
If you so happen to meet an incredible human only to realize that the both of you have completely different belief systems, then get ready for the bumpy ride ahead.
You attempt to bridge the gap, but the stereotypes start making their way into the relationship, widening the gap even further.
But, if you say no to political/religious/cultural restrictions, your love will be set free! Maybe.
45. The groom meets the bride's father/uncle/grandpa/brother
A formal meeting between the groom and the "men" of the other side really means things just got serious.
The men, aka mukhabarat in diplomats' suits, arrive to meet the groom: It's full on diplomacy on the outside but screams scrutiny on the inside.
46. Then comes the tolbeh, aka when God is brought into the mix
This usually happens at the bride's house where the groom's family arrives to ask for the bride's hand in marriage.
This is normally a formality at this stage because the union is almost a done deal.
An exchange of poetic praise follows between the Kubar (literally translated as the 'elders') of the family. Then everyone silently recites Surat al Fat'ha, because there is a new security check here: God.
Mabrook! Onto the next phase.
47. And then the 'surprise proposal'
To say Arab marriage proposals can be a bit over-the-top is seriously an understatement.
Despite the fact that both sides already know the 'proposal' is happening because the 'tolbeh' is basically the pre-requisite to that even happening - the surprise lies in the creativity of the proposal.
48. The "let's make it official in front of people" engagement
Yup, this engagement party exists so that the 3rd shade is eliminated. The couple can go out together without worrying about who sees them.
In short, it's the public's blessing. The man can finally be referred to as "khateebi" rather than "boyfriend."
Society's approval stamp received.
49. The big fat Arab wedding
From the crazy dancing to the awkward conversations about you being "next" ... there is one important detail that cannot go unnoticed at Arab weddings.
What is it, you ask?
The guest list which is really more of a population census.
50. Relationship life in a nutshell
Need we say more?
The shades of an Arab relationship never end really. This graphical presentation pretty much sums it up.