I’m an American who works in consulting. I was working on a project in Riyadh. I was staying at a hotel in the so-called “haram zone” in Saudi when I walked into the lobby and spotted a group of air hostesses giggling and making their way up – some Asian women, far Easterners, some English. These women wanted it bad. I was single and there really isn’t anything to do in Saudi except watch pre-approved action films and read.
The next day I returned from my day of business, walked into my hotel room and found, I shit thee neigh, a stack of notes with scribbled numbers and messages from what I assumed were the air hostesses with offers of sex. Who would refuse? I’d been out there for weeks and I desperately wanted a woman between my arms but I was also tired of the skank factor.
I headed out to the ‘divided’ McDonalds. The counters are divided by a wall. but I managed to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous Saudi woman in the “family section” looking across. I was gone. You really have no idea how beautiful these women are until you see them up close but I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t let her go.
I listened in as she ordered her big mac. I ordered a Mc.Chicken and my food had arrived. as I took my tray, I had the genius idea of slipping my business card into the burger. Desperate but doable. I did. And she saw it.
She was smart. Fatma told them she had changed her mind and wanted a chicken burger instead. I told the Filipino server that the lady could have mine and I would wait for another. She smiled. It worked.
Fatma called me that night. We spoke for hours. I was obviously into her and over the next few days I knew I wanted her.
I braved the question at work when I asked a Saudi colleagues about dating life in Saudi and whether it was possible to date Saudi women. He didn’t like the question but we were relatively close. He answered with “in theory anything is possible, including your own death. But the reality is even if you converted and showed all the proper respects it’s still highly unlikely the family would accept you as a possible husband for their daughter.” To me, that didn’t mean no.
Over the next few weeks, we arranged our first meet in the car park of a hotel. She hopped into my car. All I wanted to do was touch her. It’s crazy the way you view relationships when you live in a country where you can’t have one without being married. Fatma became sacred and it felt all that more sweeter.
We continued to see each other for months on end. We mostly spoke, we had touched but never been intimate in any way. She was from a conservative family and she herself was conservative. But she was different. She was clean, she was smart and was incredibly beautiful. It drove me wild knowing how brave she was to keep seeing me. I respected her. It wasn’t easy for any of us and worse for her.
My project came to an end and I moved back to New York. But I could never forget Fatma.
We kept in touch; I remained single and months later, she was a family trip to New York. I had to see her every day. With the help of her cousins, she managed to get away from her family group for a few hours a day. We shared our first kiss. I wanted more and more. It was something she couldn’t give me.
Fatma left and I was a broken man. Every day, we spoke and every day, my family and friends warned me about the big bad Saudis and big bad Islam. I didn’t care.
A month later, I flew to Saudi. I got in touch with that colleague of mine and told him I was serious about a girl. He helped me through it. I converted to Islam, met her family (the details of which would take too long to describe) and proposed to Fatma. She accepted.
I can’t explain why her father allowed me to ask for her hand in marriage. He said I was a respectable man with a respectable job but I think he could see that I was a broken man without her. I told him we had met in New York when I saw her at a store and she had forgotten her credit card at the till on the advice of my colleague who is now our good friend.
I commuted for a while and now we both live in New York. Fatma hasn’t changed one thing about herself. The Saudis have a reputation for being overtly and outrageously cray when they travel abroad as the culture is so restrictive but in my experience, the women really know how to hold their own.
Thanks so much for writing a book about Dating Arabs and I can’t wait for Dating Arab Women to be released. I wish people knew how rewarding it is to be with someone from the Gulf. It’s not easy but is sure as hell was worth it.