Along with drinking alcohol, eating pork and getting down (unless it’s onto a prayer mat, of course) on a Friday night, dating is just one of those things that Muslims don’t/won’t/can’t do. We get to know people for marriage purposes, of course. What exactly is getting to know someone, you ask? Well, it’s hard to define, because for different people it means completely different things.
At the most conservative end of the spectrum, getting to know a person means sitting in the girl’s lounge room in front of her parents (and most often his) from the very first meeting. This applies even where the guy and girl met of their own accord at work or university; the guy will still have to formally express interest by coming to the girl’s house. In this case, the parties will obviously know each other to some extent before the doorknock, but they won’t have started getting to know each other for marriage purposes. The moment interest is expressed (and not rebuffed), it bypasses the girl and goes straight to her parents and his. It’s a case of ‘hey, can I have your dad’s number?’ rather than ‘hey, what’s your number?’ 😉
However, for a lot of Muslims the rules are not as defined. I’ve heard of couples talking non-stop for a week on Facebook before they go for the parental visit. I’ve heard of couples emailing and chatting online for weeks before it. It’s pretty clear that these couples are not ‘dating’, but what about when it goes on for longer and involves actually meeting up with or without chaperones? What if they meet up in public places for a few months before the parental meeting? If they decide within a month that they want to get married but continue to see each other without parental involvement, do they then fall into the ‘dating’ category? Or what if, as I’ve referred to previously, the couple in question wish to get married right away but their parents refuse to come on board?
Things get very, very complicated when trying to characterise these couples. Generally Muslims don’t refer to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend, but if a guy and girl are seeing each other and they are not socially or religiously engaged, some would argue that they are exactly that. But the words ‘boyfriend’ and girlfriend’ are just not part of a Muslim’s vocabulary. They seem to imply a certain level of casualness, and Muslims don’t do casual relationships. We talk baby names within the first month. We talk mortgages and values and five year plans, for goodness sake! This is why couples who for some reason are unable to get engaged in the official sense often refer to themselves as such anyway, because after all they are intending to get married. They just don’t know when or how.
I know, this is all very confusing. But in my defence, from a social perspective there are no clear-cut answers to these questions. It really is up to each couple how they wish to define themselves, and in turn, be defined by the community. Some people I know keep their long-standing relationships secret for fear of being judged, while others take the complete opposite approach and make everything as public as possible, so there is no doubt as to their intent to get married someday. Either approach can backfire. The ‘secret’ couples are always outed, and when they are their secrecy can make it look like they are up to no good. The ‘open’ couples often receive smiles to their face and whispers behind their back. There’s no way of winning without the social status that only the exchange of rings can bring.
What do you think is the line between ‘getting to know’ and dating? Is it a question of semantics or is there something more to it?