Till Date You Part

FYI does a deep dive into the world of dating in Pakistan.

FYI does a deep dive into the world of dating in Pakistan.

Conventionally and traditionally, the idea of dating around the world denotes a period of two people getting to know each other before deciding on whether to embark upon a commitment based relationship or not. The concept we find in Pakistan, however, seems vastly different. For one thing, in most cases it relates directly to the pursuit of marriage.

When men and women are dating with the very definitive end goal of marriage, and marriage alone in mind – can such a concept work? Or does it defeat intrinsically the very purpose of what dating is supposed to entail?

What is important to remember here is that there are no standard norms to be applied. The crux of the matter depends on whose ideals we happen to be applying the concept of dating against.

For many, the world of dating in Pakistan remains a secret phenomenon. Sneaking out of the house, pretending you were talking to someone else on the phone when your parents walked in, glancing around cafes to make sure no aunty you know is sitting close by and so on and so forth. 

One the other hand, for certain others, the concept of dating has adapted itself to local social customs and norms and evolved into somewhat acceptable forms. As globalization has made it possible for people to observe and adopt western customs and behavior like working mothers, trends and fashion, advertising and media – it has also opened up the ideas of new forms of relationships between members of the opposite sex before marriage in a way that had never existed with our previous generations.

In Pakistan, the average age in many urban circles of a man to get married is around 32-35 and for ladies its 27-32 which obviously suggests those individuals are sorting other aspects of their lives first rather than getting hitched at an earlier age.

Dating has also played its part in this sense. More and more people want to test certain waters, so to speak, before finally taking the marriage plunge. 

If you think about it, the dating ‘process’ per se, makes sense. Time spent over a supper/espresso, a walk around the beach, a drive some place and back and the entirety of different things two individuals can do together is an incredible method to investigate the potential outcomes, which gives a chance to choose the most promising partner, knowing all about them and deciding whether you can live with that person for the rest of your life.

It is also imperative to look at the evolving ideals behind the modern day version of “rishta” and arranged marriages, wherein dating has become a common occurrence, with the consent and moreover, blessing of the parents. A great many families are realizing that the traditional rules of “rishta” are perhaps becoming just a little too antiquated now, and so therefore, arranged marriages have adapted and evolved. Now it is normal for men and women to be “set up” so to speak by their parents or aunts and uncles and are then proceeded to be given certain time and space to go out with each other and get to know each other before eventually tying the knot.

However, there are certain caveats attached to this new evolution. A parent-orchestrated set up almost always comes with certain conditions and most importantly a certain time frame. In the case of a couple dating otherwise, if things were not to work out for whatever reason, they would call it quits and move on. But the moving on part becomes  a little bit more difficult to manage in a “rishta dating” scene where if the boy and girl decide they aren’t quite meant for each other, they discover the more pressing task remains picking the one who eventually breaks the news to the parents! When the results aren’t quite as expected, things can go awry for all involved.

Which is also why a lot of parents now tend to leave the process entirely in their kids hands. Therefore, while expectations are still there, they are not so potent as they would have been had they actually been more heavily involved themselves.

Then there’s the social taboo side of it all.

Anila, a college senior, seemed adamant about the fact that girls are ‘victimized’ more than boys in our society, it is more of a taboo for them to be dating as this gives rise to suspicions about their virginity status and their virtue, which in our culture and religion is sacred to unmarried girl or women. When we inquired whether boys would be at the receiving end of such a ‘taboo’ she shook her head and said “no way what so ever. In our society the girl is expected to be the pure innocent virgin but boys are given a free range, they can have as many girlfriends as they want, sexual relationships, broken engagements, divorce, yet they are still at the end of the day considered a good catch if they come from a good family. Girls on the other hand, are labeled for life as loose women, sluts or used goods. Everyone thinks there is something wrong with the girl if an engagement is broken no matter whose fault is, everyone thinks that the girl is fast if she has had more than one relationship and everything she does is reflected on her family no matter how good a family she comes from.” Anila has been dating for three years and is currently in a long distance relationship with her boyfriend. They hope to get married after she graduates from college.

Relationships are complicated in Pakistan” says Haider, also a college student. “Take mine for example, I really respect the girl I am dating and hope someday to marry he but she obviously has to hide it from her parents because they don’t allow her to have a relationship before marriage. I also have kept it a secret from my family so that when we are ready I can do it the proper traditional way and send her a proposal to her house”. When asked why it was so important for him to keep his relationship a secret from his parents he replied “it’s to protect the girl basically. My parents wouldn’t want my sister to date so similarly they wouldn’t want me to marry a girl who dates either, I would want them to appreciate and accept my choice with open hearts. They don’t really understand that we are from a more open generation and can be responsible about the way we behave and at the same time still true to our roots and culture.” Haider has been dating his first and only girlfriend for seven years and hopes to tie the knot after he graduates and settle down with a suitable job.

Sara, 30, believes there is no concept such as dating in Pakistan. “There can’t be, because after only one or two meetings suddenly, we’re quick to jump in and call it a ‘relationship’. So it’s silly to call this ‘dating’. This is obviously because marriage is considered the be-all and end-all here so it’s like that’s the ultimate goal everyone’s rushing for, mostly girls, but still”. Sara who works at a bank, has had one previous relationship. She’s currently single.

Ali, 32, thinks that dating and relationships are a “healthy outlet. Because everyone knows the inevitable which is to come, which is marriage, and fidelity means everything matters before you get hitched. And if one of those relationships turns out to be ‘The One’, then great otherwise this is destiny, you know?

Sabeen, a medical student says, “I think it’s the only acceptable to date if you are considering the other person for marriage because anything else is pretty pointless and messy”.

Aarosh, 27, running his own business, revealed “ I have had many serious girlfriends as well as flings in the past and my wife even knows about them. I went to a conservative boy’s school in Lahore and my parents who had given me a very sheltered upbringing decided to send me to a college abroad. I was suddenly in a world of every kind of prospect where dating was just one of the many options. I’m not entirely proud of the way I took advantage of my new found freedom bit it taught me the difference between dating for fun and finding a potential life partner who I could really love”.

Then there is Jahanzeb, who was not too sure if his relationship fell into the ‘going out’ category. He has a girlfriend who he doesn’t like calling a girlfriend as to him, it coincides with the western concept of a girlfriend. “ I don’t really agree with the concept of  dating but I believe that one should at least know whether the other person is compatible enough to marry or not”. When asked how he maintains his relationship if they do not date, he replied, “ we talk on the phone now and then but we don’t go out and the reasons for that are purely religious” Jahanzeb is graduating from college in three months and hopes to marry his current ‘girlfriend’ who is also his third ‘girlfriend’.

Online dating has also emerged in Pakistan in a major way. Apps like Tinder and Bumble have loads of Pakistanis using it. But now, it’s brought up a whole other can of worms – ghosting and commitment phobia.

Zobia, 21, says “Tinder is useless, first of all there’s a huge chance the person is impersonating as a youngster, and in that veil comes out a married Shakoor, who comes on Tinder to fulfill his desires. Secondly even if the person is real with what the picture shows, Pakistanis are not very  honest about their likes and dislikes, interest and life, which is bizarre”

Tahir, a 24 year old fresh graduate says, “being an engineering student and a total nerd at heart, the idea of dating never pleased me but after graduating college I felt like moving to the next step and gave it a go. Tinder was trending a lot at those times, following on everyone’s footsteps, matched with a cute girl and went on my first date, which went quite well, but I never heard from that girl again, I  still wonder why did she ghost me, when everything went smoothly”.

Sara, 34, is a business entrepreneur, who uses these apps because, “frankly, I don’t really have the time for any other kind of dating. Not to mention by a certain age, your pool of men, so to speaks, starts drying up anyway, so you have to look beyond the traditional means of looking for partners.”

By: Sana Nasir

With additional contributions by Fatima Humayun

Note: All names have been changed to protect the privacy of our sources.