This morning one of the Tunisian English teachers asked me, “as a father to his daughter,” about whether I think pre-marital dating is acceptable. He was the second person to ask me that in these two weeks, though I should say that the first person who asked truly was curious about American culture and interested in my answer. This teacher, however, interrupted me before I was done answering to say that really it is not good to have serious relationships before marriage, and absolutely unacceptable to have sexual relations outside of marriage. This is a subject I thought a lot about even in the U.S. because a very close friend of mine at my university is from Pakistan and also does not believe in romantic relationships outside of marriage. I don’t disagree that it’s not a good idea to date very casually, or to go through many relationships without being fully committed to them. I do think it’s important to be serious in any relationship, romantic or not. But what I have trouble explaining to people who don’t believe in dating is that in my culture, and in the culture of the majority of Americans, there simply is no way to get married if you do not date. If I decided right now that I do not want to have any more relationships before marriage…well, I would never get married! I have not yet found a way to diplomatically explain this cultural difference.
When you do get married, don’t forget to purchase some honeymoon underwears!
I still feel as though I don’t entirely understand exactly how finding a spouse works outside of my own culture. Several people in Tunisia have told me that they married a cousin, a childhood friend, a neighbor, or the son or daughter of a parent’s friend. I have heard about arranged marriages set up by parents or marriage counselors. One Tunisian man told me that he almost married a girl from the nearby city of Monastir, but she broke the engagement because she thought the culture in Sfax would be too foreign to her; he instead married his cousin. I want to ask more people how this works; but first I’ll need to think of a better way to explain the American version of dating for when the question is turned back to me!