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In Jordan, opportunities for flirting are growing.
The shift has been several decades in the making, said Husein Al-Mahadeen, a sociology professor at Mu'tah University in Karak, Jordan.
Beginning with the oil boom in the 1970s, many Arab families became increasingly fragmented as people moved to the Gulf for lucrative jobs. Today the trend continues, as people move to cities or abroad for work. Away from the gaze of their families, many young people begin to push the romantic boundaries.
In addition, women are entering the workforce in greater numbers here, creating more opportunities for gender-mixing. In Jordan, the number of female workers has more than doubled in recent decades, from 6.7 percent of the workforce in 1979 to 14.7 in 2007.
Meanwhile, technology has made it easier for young people to connect. The Internet and cell phones have provided young people with the means to privately communicate. All the while, western media has flooded the Middle East, exposing people to more liberal lifestyles.
“We’re moving from a conservative society to a more open society,” Al-Mahadeen said. “It is expected that people’s personal freedoms will continue to grow still wider.”
In the corner of a noisy bar on a Thursday night, Sheila, a Jordanian who asked only to use her first name, snuggled with her boyfriend and chatted with two friends. Unlike years past, she said, young couples like her and her boyfriend can now spend time alone together. Many of her friends have taken advantage of this shift and are now sexually active.
How far young people take their relationship “depends on how you were raised and how open your parents are,” Sheila said.
Additionally, the growing number of liberal hangouts afford couples and singles the opportunity to flirt and mingle without the possibility of running into someone who might report back to their family, said Khalil “KK” Hareb, who works at La Calle.
“Dating, in general, has changed," Hareb said. "People are going out more, it’s very open, and now you can walk down the street in certain places [in Amman] and no one will bother you."
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