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The Dating (Mis)Adventures of a Single Black Woman in the Middle East

PHOTO: Michal Karpinski/Shutterstock

How I navigated cultural differences, dodged the apps, and found love while dating as a Black woman in the Middle East.

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’ve been living in Oman for over eight years as an English Language teacher by day and freelance travel writer and blogger by night. From my experience living in the region and traveling to nearly 50 countries, Omanis are some of the kindest individuals in the world. It has been ranked one of the safest countries for ex-pats to live in, according to the annual Ex-pat Insider Report by Internations. I’ve always felt safe and welcomed in what many call the Pearl of Arabia.

Of course, while living in the Middle East, one of the first questions I tend to receive is about dating. When I first moved to Oman, I told myself I would not date, granted I only expected to stay a year or two. However, I fell in love with the region. As luck would have it, I met someone that caught my eye within my first week of moving to the enchanting country. He was an African Omani (mother from Burundi and father Omani). It wasn’t your traditional love story, especially for the region.

Cultural Differences Are Bound to Happen

We met at a hotel bar while hanging out with friends after work. I was with my college colleagues, and he was with his oil company coworkers. Most Omani men wear traditional dress clothes called dishdashas, yet when my ex and I met, he wore jeans and a t-shirt just like anyone else foreign to the region. He didn’t hide that he was Omani once we began to chat, but while talking to him, I had to remind myself of this fact often. To my surprise, I went from not planning to date in the region to having a Significant Other within months.

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Pretty early in the relationship, he confessed his love for me. This nearly scared me off because, as an American, early confessions of love can be seen as a red flag. In the past, while living in South Korea, guys approached me with the same fervor, with some specifically looking for an American woman to get a green card to the States. This was one of the first cultural differences I noticed in dating someone from the Middle East compared to back home in the West.

Another huge cultural difference was that I am Christian, and he was—while not wholly practicing—a Muslim. It was haram (i.e., forbidden by Islamic law) for him to date me. Nevertheless, he did so anyway, but later this became a huge point of contention when things became serious. His Omani family and friends would never accept me unless I converted to Islam, which I had no plans of doing. My paranoia of feeling our entire relationship lived in the shadows ultimately became our undoing.

Dating App Fails Are Universal

A couple of years after my failed relationship with an Omani, I decided to try dating apps. While plenty of guys were looking for hook-ups, I filtered through the app and met someone I coined “Mr. Ph.D.,” based in Abu Dhabi. I chatted with Mr. Ph.D. for over a year before we decided to meet in person during one of my weekend trips to the UAE as a travel influencer.

We went on our first date to the Hakkasan Abu Dhabi restaurant inside the Emirates Palace. I asked Mr. Ph.D. about his family’s background since he was a full-time student in the UAE. I stated in a jokingly manner, “Your family must be well-off for you to be a full-time student in the Middle East.” He replied, “We do alright, I guess.” One of the things he noted about his father was that he was established enough to take care of four wives due to his success.

This is not uncommon for the region, as the religion states it’s fine to marry several wives as long as you can equally care for them. He then said, “I can’t imagine only having one wife since I’ve seen a marriage with multiple wives. No man only wants one.” That was the beginning of the end for me and Mr. Ph.D. I couldn’t fathom being anyone’s second, third, or fourth wife.

In-Person Networking Events for the Win

While I’ve had plenty of dating fails while living in Oman, all it took for me to get a successful win was attending an in-person networking event. I highly recommend getting off the apps and attending in-person events to get to the core of the dating market. My current Sudanese businessman boyfriend matches my speed in terms of life goals, desires, wants, and needs.

We both checked out the guestlist for the networking event beforehand to see who would be in attendance. Lo and behold, he had my profile up on his phone, trying to find me amongst the sea of guests at the event. During our first date, which was a wine and cheese event at one of the hotel chains, we talked about everything under the sun and didn’t want it to end, so we moved on to an after-hours coffee and shisha shop to continue the stimulating dialogue.

When he complimented me on my intelligence and being able to keep up with him, I said to myself, “He’s different.” When I learned that he isn’t keen on having kids but is about his grind and business, I said to myself, “He’s my unicorn.” And while it hasn’t been easy navigating dating in the Middle East, from my personal experience, I can say it is worth it.

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