I get a number of emails from American women asking advice about their Arab men. Each situation is unique and all very interesting. Some of the men are Arab but born and raised in America. Some of the women who write are working in Kuwait and dating a Kuwaiti. Some are living in their home country but having an online relationship with an Arab man living in his. I wish I had all the answers and could guide everyone off into a land of never ending bliss. But since that’s not reality I’ve decided to compile a list in hopes of answering some questions.
So what are some of the biggest cultural differences you should expect to encounter?
Casual relationships: This is the one where you, the American woman, think you’re dating this really nice Arab guy and it feels like it’s getting serious.
1. He says all the right things but his actions aren’t matching. This comes from not wanting to ‘bother’ a woman with things that might upset her… like the truth.
2. He still lives with his mom and dad and he’s almost 30. Perfectly normal, don’t stress. He’s not a loser.
3. Spends every night away from his home, doesn’t answer his phone, and finally calls at 6am claiming he was at dewaniya all night. Chances are he was. Get used to it, you’re always going to be less important than dewaniya.
4. Having intimate relations with you then either disappearing for a few days… or forever. This happens often and for a lot of reasons. Women in the Arab culture are highly respected and taught to respect themselves. Being intimate with a man before marriage is almost unheard of. So a woman who doesn’t abide by this rule is often seen a a woman who has no respect for herself by an Arab man’s standards. She’s certainly not marriage material. Keep your panties on, women!
5. Expressing dislike for certain outfits or style of clothing you’re wearing. He believes you should only look good for him, at home, behind closed doors.
6. Silent treatment. Not for a few hours or overnight but for days… weeks even. And during this time you’re expected to call him (though he’s not going to answer) and send endless text messages. If you don’t then he’s going to accuse you of talking to other men during this time.
7. Everything is always your fault. Don’t ask me how, but Arab men are masters at turning things around. Regardless of what he does and how bad it really is, you’re eventually going to find yourself doing the apologizing.
8. Your phone, computer, Ipad, etc. are his business. His are not your business. He will ask (or do it without asking) to look through your phone at any given moment. You’ll never have a sufficient warning. He, on the other hand, will more than likely have more mobile phones than you’re even aware of. And don’t ask to look through the one you DO know about… it’s ‘disrespectful’ and you’ll be accused of behaving like a man.
9. Checking in. My husband is guilty of this one, but also returns the favor. If you’re leaving the house without him you’ll be expected to notify him verbally, by text, or a phone call. You’ll need to tell him where you’re going, with whom, and approximately how long you expect to be gone. If he’s not comfortable with your answers he’ll simply drive you himself.
10. Bros before ho’s. Know it, accept it, and live with it. Regardless of how much fun you think the two of you are having together, he’ll choose spending time with his friends at the drop of a hat.
Serious relationship. This is the one where he’s mentioned marriage, or at least hinted at it. 1-9 above still apply and perhaps seem even more frequent.
1. Family member introduction. Don’t get excited, chances are you’re not off to meet mom anytime soon. You’re more than likely going to meet male cousins and maybe a brother or two.
2. Intimacy pressure. He’s going to do anything in his power to convince you that sharing a bed is perfectly natural since you’re going to be sharing your life together in the near future. Be patient. Wait for the ‘near future’. Refer to #4 above.
3. Living together. Since you’re ‘officially engaged’ according to him (you’re not, rest assured) then living together is OK. It’s not. Remember, you’re not in the typical American relationship where people meet, date, live together, share a bed, then decide if they want to get married. No no no.
4. He studied in America, he acts like an American. Yeah, he may have thrown those dishdashas in the closet and traded them in for a pair of jeans, but in no way has his mind changed. Certain Western behaviors trigger certain Eastern thoughts. Don’t agree? Throw on a bikini and tell him you want to spend the day at the beach.
5. You’re engaged! Eh, probably not. You might have a beautiful ring on your finger and a date marked on the calendar, but if you haven’t met mom and the sisters, chances are you’re being strung along. Arab engagements differ from country to country so I won’t go into great detail about the exact procedures. But rest assured, there ARE procedures. Not legal or required by law. But cultural. And if they’re not followed then in HIS mind he’s not engaged. Not to you at least.
Of course the bullet points above are from either personal experience or simply witnessing those around me for many years. I’m sure there are some out there with far more experience than me who could add numerous items to my lists.
The things above may make the Arab male seem unreasonable and make some wonder why a woman would even consider marrying one. But that’s not the case. There are reasons behind much of what they do. Not sure we’ll ever really understand their reasons, but with a lot of trust and mutual respect, the reasons don’t seem to matter.
On a positive note, when an Arab man does get married it’s almost as if he matures overnight. Yeah, he’s still protective but he’s also truly dedicated and loyal. His wife then becomes one of the women in his family. A very high honor since the women in his family are most important in his life. If a wife calls his husband and he’s in dewaniya he WILL take her call (probably step outside to do so). Unlike if a girlfriend calls. If the wife explains she really needs him to come home, or needs something from the store, he WILL leave dewaniya right then to keep her comfortable. This behavior is what keeps most of us wives from asking for very much. We know we’ll get it. And knowing a person will do pretty much anything in the world to make you happy prevents us from wanting to bother them with silly things.
Finally, all men from all cultures are completely different. So, please don’t read this and get offended. Don’t write to me telling me that I’m bashing Arab men or the culture. That’s not the case. And please, if you have more to add, feel free to email or comment. I would love to hear different perspectives.