By Farah Al Saati
LAU Tribune staff
Soha is a divorced 34 year-old. She believes that her first marriage did not work out because it was arranged, and this time she wants to find a more suitable husband. Soha opened an account on the online dating service, Qiran. In her opinion, such websites bring people together.
“I have a busy schedule and my mom is obsessed with me getting married quickly so I won’t end up alone. In such cases, you need to give your luck a little push and start searching rather than waiting to be found,” Soha chuckled.
Local, regional and international online dating websites are becoming more and more popular in Lebanon and the region. They provide a rather conservative audience the opportunity to entertain intimate relations without the social stigma attached to physical closeness.
Carmen, a 29-year-old English teacher, admits that she is with the idea of online dating. “I do support online dating especially between two mature people who are conscious and are not looking for entertainment,” she said. “For my family, the idea is only tolerated if two people want to start dating as a way to find perfect spouse that will lead to a good marriage.”
There are more females than males on dating websites. It might go back to the fact that in the Arab world, men are allowed to go after a woman they desire or propose through the traditional way, while women do not have that luxury. Therefore, women want to be as visible as possible online. Members’ age can be as young as 21 or as old as 60.
One of the Lebanese dating websites, Lebanese Friends, allows participants to post a small bio to “market” themselves. A 39-year-old woman, for example, wrote the following under her photo: “Hi, I’m a 39 year old Woman seeking a Man. I live in Beirut, Lebanon – is that you? Have a look at my Select criteria and drop me an email to find out more! Also, check out my Star, Sensual and Soul descriptions – maybe we’re a match made in heaven.”
Most dating websites, like Lebanese Friends, depend on advertisements to finance their business while others, like Qiran, provide paid service. The sign-up for the site is free but you can upgrade to a premium account that will provide you with more privacy options, more listings, better account and other services.
Rima J., a 45-year-old dentist who was never married refuses the idea of meeting a man online. For her, this is “not suitable.”
Unlike Rima, 21-year-old Mira, a finance student at Lebanese International University, finds online dating to be the future of relationship building. “I love this method of meeting men. We live in a fast-paced world and we don’t have time to go out that much to meet our significant other,” Mira said.
Michael Oghia is a Lebanese blogger, LOVEanon, who supports the idea of online dating. “When the traditional avenues of meeting someone, such as through friends, at work or university, or through family, fail them, people seek a place where the options are theoretically unlimited,” he said.
There is another reason for Oghia. “It’s a way to meet someone new, and do it at your own pace, he explained. “Some people are shy about meeting others, or maybe feel like they cannot do it in a public place.”
Qiran, which is the Arabic for marriage, is not a Lebanese-based site but offers a database of Lebanese singles. The website is specialized in databases of Muslim singles and helps them meet their soul-mate in a more accepted way than just random dating. Qiran’s slogan is “A Match Made in Heaven.”
Unlike other dating websites, this one does not have sexy or revealing images, the pictures are not even photoshopped.
On the Qiran front page are success stories of people who met through the website. One woman wrote the following: “Thanks to Allah & the Qiran.com team for this website. I met my wonderful husband on here and 1 month after we met in Jordan & married (Feb. 26th, 2009) Alhamdulillah. Now we are expecting our 1st child together in Jordan.”
“Thank you Allah for Qiran!!” Another woman wrote. “I met my true love through Qiran on September 12th 2006… I prayed Istikhara because I felt in my heart that he was the ONE, and HE REALLY WAS!”
Abir Houri, a clinical psychologist, finds that online dating is now more acceptable. “Few years ago, if a girl met a man online and married him, it would have been a scandal. This is not the case anymore as a lot of couples are meeting online,” Houri explained.
The reason, in her opinion, relates to the excessive use of Internet in our daily lives, be it for work, education or mere entertainment. “It’s the same as meeting with a guy through friends or in a social event then going to a café to find out more about him, this time it’s online rather in person,” Houri said.
Oghia agrees with Houri’s argument. “Online dating can still fit in with Lebanese culture as it doesn’t really challenge anything per se, it just gives people more options and freedom to choose,” he comments.
But many still find these sites untrustworthy and somehow demeaning to use. Rima admits it as she taps her nails on the desk and looks at her shoes.
“I prefer to stay a maiden all my life,” she said. “But I will not accept be treated as an item put up on display for people to check out. Those who like my picture contact me to give it a try and those who don’t just laugh at me.”