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I Tried Traditional Lebanese Matchmaking; Here’s How It Went

Although it seems like an antiquated concept, matchmaking still is a normal occurrence in Lebanese culture and it does work for many people. So when my mother set me up with someone she thought was suitable, I decided to see for myself.
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Whether my mom decided that my diminishing egg reserves are an urgent call to action, or that my youthful looks are too precious to waste on singledom, I’m not sure. But she insisted on setting me up with someone she believed was suitable.

She’s the kind who recites my CV to strangers or gives away my email address to potential suitors; she’s always on the hunt for a husband. So it’s no surprise that she’s continuously asking her friends if they have a beau for me.

She doesn’t really know the guy, she sees him in passing on her regular trips to the beach, but one of her friends had tipped her about him. So one Sunday she decides to chat him up, and then proceeds to invite him over for dinner the next day. She then hurriedly calls me to make sure I’m free on Monday evening and tells me she’s about to “introduce me” to someone.

Panic!

You see I’ve never really engaged in her matchmaking efforts. Living abroad meant that I was blissfully removed from all her courtship affairs. Sure I got the random email here and there but I never spent much energy on them.

But now, things are different; it’s all under my nose, and it’s hard to escape it. Part of me was curious to find out if there was any merit in meeting someone the traditional way. So I decided to go with it, after all, I had nothing to lose.

I spent that afternoon having a meltdown on the phone to my girlfriends, labouring over what to wear and what to talk about. Was wearing heels too much? Is a short dress too spicy for my mom? I never had to navigate flirting with a stranger in my own home in front of my mother.

Hours of deliberation later, I settled for a long floaty dress and flats, just enough flesh to keep it family-friendly. The gentleman, on the other hand, turned up in a pair of freshly pressed formal trousers, a fully starched shirt and a pair of immaculately polished dress shoes, with a lemon tart in hand. I knew at that moment, that we had a good deal of ice to break. I wondered if he realised he was coming to meet my mother’s offspring and if he was disappointed that it wasn’t a romantic dinner for two (the two of them).

What then ensued was the most strained few hours I’ve had to endure.

How the date went

We started by having a drink and getting all the niceties out of the way, or so I thought. We went through the basics, you know, the nauseating small talk about where we went to school and what we did for work. I couldn’t wait to move onto other juicy topics, but everything was too awkward, you could cut the tension with a knife.

At what point do you move onto flirting? Is it even appropriate to go there while your parent is in the same space? How do you direct the conversation towards a more personal subject at a meeting like this? All my friends had advised me to keep it surface level at home, and so I did, secretly hoping he would get equally bored of the small talk and open up a little.

The three of us moved to the dinner table and the universe was even more generous with the awkward silences. Between stressing over whether the wine was cold enough or if the food was warm enough, we had exhausted all small talk avenues.

We went over the rants about the petrol crisis, why the dollar keeps rising, and whether we should emigrate to the first world. We established mutual connections and common friends, we talked about whether they were married, how many children they now had and what part of the world they had all moved to. We fervently discussed the proliferation of Lionfish in the mediterranean and its threat to the ocean’s ecosystem, and the dangers of commercial fishing boats. By then, I had started to lose the will to live.

All the while my dog Pepper was locked in the kitchen so she wouldn’t bother our visitor, we weren’t sure if he liked dogs so we didn’t take the risk. We don’t normally do this you see, we never keep Pep away from people, she’s a social butterfly! We were just too focused on showcasing our picture perfect selves to the new suitor.

So after dinner, I asked him if he liked dogs, in case he wanted a post-prandial cuddle from my furry friend. When he said he did, I let her out to lighten the mood. But even Pepper was hell bent on making this date a disaster. She took a shit right in front of him! Let me get this clear, this dog has been house trained, she hadn’t soiled our house in over a year. Needless to say, I was mortified. There’s no recovering from this.

We cleaned the floor, sent Pepper back to the kitchen, scrubbed our hands and came back for desert. By then my mom had “disappeared” unannounced, which added more awkwardness to the situation. As we wolfed down our lemon tart slices, I casually asked him “You know this was a set-up, right?” in the hope to start moving onto more personal topics. He said “Matchmaking? Oh yes, I knew it was a set-up”. I was part relieved to know that I was the target of his visit, but also consumed with dread over how poorly this is all going.

No amount of wine, self-deprecating jokes or dog shit was able to turn the mood around, and sadly, even after “going there” to discuss our “set-up”, the inertia of this date was insurmountable. We mechanically exchanged numbers as if it were yet another thing people did at these dates, but nothing really came out of it. To say the evening was a disaster is an understatement.

Was it worth it?

Was he a bad date? Of course not, he’s as gentlemanly and proper as it gets. In Lebanese terms he’s a “shabb très bien”, slang for a polite eligible bachelor. He had the courage to make the monumental effort to turn up on his own to our home to meet me, a day after meeting my mom. But these encounters are way too awkward for a first time. Everyone is too focused on performing and keeping that perfect mask on. The juggling required to balance being nice to my mom, tackling neutral topics and figuring out whether I was a good potential mate is no mean feat.

Are arranged dates a bad strategy? The principle of matchmaking isn’t a bad one, it puts people from the same background, upbringing and social circles together, and this takes care of many variables that make a relationship work. Although it seems like an antiquated concept, it still is a normal occurrence in Lebanese culture and it does work for many people. In my experience, having potential mates meet in the presence of family members puts unnecessary pressure on the whole situation. Meeting alone initially is a way better gauge for compatibility than having to make small talk with family.

Would I do this again? Hell-to-the-no. I would meet him on my own at a bar. I wouldn’t choose the headache of opening my home, stressing over having everything perfectly presented, timed, cooled and heated, to figure out whether a person would be a good potential partner. Hell I would even make the first move and invite him out if I had to, but I would never be found in this situation again.

Would I see him again? When we’ve both had a chance to live this down, yes I’d see this guy again. But I won’t hold my breath, nor mark my spot for that matter.

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For more about Lebanon, checkout more articles in my Lebanon Chronicles category.

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