Wednesday, July 6

Beirut RATsodies: dating beyond borders

Lebanese live abroad, work abroad, date abroad. I asked one of the guys to talk about his experience of dating a non-Lebanese. This is the RATsody of the month!

Dating beyond borders
Lebanese men seem to have become accustomed to the concept of dating foreign girls. We hear of the Lebanese who moved in with his French girlfriend in their 15 m2 apartment; the friend who got married to an Italian girl he met 6 months ago, only to divorce 6 months later; the colleague who is dating an American blonde who seems to come straight out of a Hollywood teenager movie.
When you leave home to settle in another country, dating a foreign girl becomes an adventure that follows very specific stages. You start by hanging out with other Lebanese and feel awkward about approaching locals. Then, you’re puzzled about the idea. You think it would help your integration. You’re excited. You can’t resist her blond hair and blue eyes. You make a move and you intend to test the claim that French girls are great in bed. It generally doesn’t really work the first 2 or 3 times. Then you find the perfect match, get to know each other, discover a new culture, move in together and feel that you finally belong.
That’s until the moment of truth arrives, when you invite her to come spend a week in Lebanon… Because no matter how much you prepared her for the ride, or how many times you asked your parents and friends to be nice and always speak English, things unfortunately never turn out as easy as you thought: excitement is replaced with awkwardness, discussions about your parents turn into conflicts, English turns into Arabic. Then you realize what “lost in translation” feels like, and that the same jokes are actually not that funny in German.
Being part of a family that has a significant number of unsuccessful experiences in the topic, I knew I would be facing issues introducing my foreign (now ex-) girlfriend to my family.  Initially, my mother didn’t like the idea of us living together – not to mention the fact that we shared our apartment with her huge dog, that she was 2 years older than me and spoke a local dialect that often required a quick search on Google translate. Less than a week after introducing her to my entourage, annoying questions started popping up: why is she dressed like that? Doesn’t she wear any make-up? Are you really planning on marrying someone who doesn’t understand our culture? Before I knew it, they were already trying to introduce me to their friend’s daughters or sisters. I wondered if only they could learn a little from our politicians who seem to know how to please their foreign counterparts even more than the local people who elected them.
Don’t get me wrong, the experience obviously has lots of upside: teaching her swear words in Arabic, taking her to Baalbek and realizing it’s the first time you actually go there, or being proud to show her how many good friends you have at home. When I was away from Lebanon, I loved how simple our relationship was, the fact that we didn’t have to deal with her parents every day, that issues such as religion and age difference were not that big of a deal. I also appreciated not having 50 friends in common with her and not meeting her ex every time we went clubbing, which seemed to be very common experiences for my friends back home.
So how can you make it through without the hassle and the conflicts?  First, prepare yourself mentally to face the challenge and the criticism; Prepare your partner to the test that she is about to face and help her get through it: buy your mother a gift on her behalf, remind her to call your dad on his birthday, help her find common interests with your best friend. At the same time, show your entourage how much she means to you and remind them that she truly makes you happy.
Most importantly, make sure to explain to your partner that in Lebanon, dating beyond borders means she’ll be in a relationship with your parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, culture and origin!

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