Love Online in Saudi Arabia … It’s Complicated

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Finding love online is complicated and usually comes with a side of  social stigma. Sure, true love might exist on the inter-webs, but you also might struggle with skeptical family and friends who believe otherwise. Now just imagine replicating the scenario in the conservative culture of Saudi Arabia. Our new DIS paper shows just how complicated things become.

First, dating is not allowed…or at least not the way you would imagine a “date” to be. It usually involves parents being present, and we all know how awkward that can get. If you are lucky, you might get some private time together, but it would be in the house of your would-be in laws.

This is a constant struggle for singles in Saudi who try to find love online, and it is much worse for women. Balancing technology use to find life partners and staying true to cultural and religious beliefs is complicated. The most common way to get married is to have it arranged by parents, which is limited to what parents can arrange. Use of technology can be helpful, but it is always considered suspicious.

Singles in Saudi who try to find love online must balance their use of technology against staying true to cultural and religious beliefs, and this situation could be worse for women. Arranged marriages are the most common practice, but these are limited by parents’ willingness and social connections. Given that technology use is considered suspicious, how can this affect the design of technologies that would help Saudis find their spouses?

I have been always fascinated about the marriage process in Saudi. It may seem simple at first, but it gets complicated as it progresses. I personally had a struggle with my parents to choose whom I would marry. After talking to some Saudis, I realized it is a struggle that even some parents have trouble with.

I grew up in the US and spent my teenage years in Saudi Arabia. My collaborators have similar backgrounds and have done work to incorporate Arab and Muslim values into how technology is used within those contexts. We interviewed 18 Saudis (9 male, 9 female) about their opinions on the current marriage process and what role technology can play in it. Most of them had a more “progressive” view to support the use of technology to find a spouse.

Our interviews gave us the following insights (see infographic) :

  1. Parents control the process. Parents usually want a marriage that is sustainable. Their belief is that a marriage involving someone they know has a better success rate. Also, they believe gender interactions should be in check to avoid leading to unacceptable behavior such as flirting. Young adults understand their parents, but find marrying someone they know may compromise compatibility.
  2. Technology opens opportunities. Even though parents believe technology is not trustworthy, young adults believe it is a risk worth taking to broaden their search horizon. This usually involves parents demanding their young adults to respect their desires in marriage. Young adults understand that, but find that technology grants them some independence to make decisions for themselves.
  3. Culture and religion at risk! Parents usually associate technology as a disruption to culture and religion, but young adults are actually finding it as an opportunity to redefine what culture and religion means to them. Specifically, parents view marriage as a responsibility that may evolve into a friendship. On the other hand, young adults believe it should be the other way around.

 

Many of the concerns addressed by Saudis may even exist in other contexts. Family and friends in the US, for instance, might mirror the role of parents in Saudi. The current generation has a different definition of marriage compared to the previous one. Also, with the US population becoming more diverse, the concerns mentioned could apply to many Arab and Muslim families living in the US. In addition, non-Arabs and non-Muslims would have a better understanding when deciding to date or marry a Muslim or Arab.

You can read more in my DIS paper.