16 October 2007

Dating in Jordan, Part 2: The Stunning Conclusion

Two posts ago, I started talking about how dating in Jordan is a lot like being in a closeted gay relationship in southern Kentucky. Here's the rest of what I intended to post that day.

Here's a situation you don't find yourself in very often Stateside: someone introduces himself to you, as happens a lot to John and I. We're easy to spot; there are only four white students at Yarmouk after all. You and your SO return introductions, and the guy asks if you're siblings. "La, nakhnu sadiqiyoon," you reply. "No, we're friends." And in your head you're thinking to yourself, yeah, right, because that's how I show affection for all my friends: with tongue. But there isn't even a standard word in the Arabic language for "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." You can use "friend" or "loved one" or something, but nothing translates directly. There was a guy who decided he was really into me (because I was "innocent", by which he seemed to mean "not a criminal") whom I had to let down by telling him I had a boyfriend already. It took ten minutes to describe American dating to him, and he was still asking me at the end whether I was engaged. The concept does not translate.

And then you start planning travel throughout the Middle East and you find yourself in the suq in Amman pricing cheap wedding rings in order to pass for a real couple.*

Then there are the jagoffs who yell things, or just stare at us. Sometimes they stare because we're weird and foeign and pale. And sometimes they can't tear their eyes away from my breasts, as if this is normal, polite interpersonal interaction between peers. It pisses me off and makes me very uncomfortable. I just dyed my hair again, partly on the Kass Headgear Principle: if you intentionally look funny, you know exactly what people are staring at. That hasn't stopped John or I from working on a good Arabic translation for "I will tear out your rib cage and wear it as a hat," however. For his part, John hates that I have to deal with this shit and acts as my wingman as much as possible. At the same time, he's in the unusual position of dating apparently the most desirable woman in Jordan.

In our flats or with Andrew and Tony, our fellow American students, it's a normal American straight relationhip.** We try not to PDA, but I can ruffle John's hair or whatever and it's no big deal. But when we go out, it's as if we're not dating at all. We walk together, but we don't touch. I am a very touchy-feely person when I've got someone to touch and feel, and this drives me insane. The smallest physical contact gains layers of meaning: brushing hands while walking, touching elbows during class, etc. I used to scoff at Victorian novels for their obsession with relatively uninteresting pieces of anatomy, like ankles and wrists and elbows. Damn, I thought, get a life. Now I find myself fully understanding the plight of all those Heathcliffs and Catherines. When you can't touch your boyfriend, all touch is significant.

John is trying to arrange a semester in Russia immediately following Jordan, and if that works out then we will break up because neither of us wants a long-distance relationship. However, if we end up back in the States together and are still dating, do not be surprised if our relationship seems to be one long PDA.

*This is a surreal place to be in a relationship, let me tell you. I think we're married at the local pharmacy, too, because I wasn't willing to say that John was my relative. We've been dating for a month tomorrow, for the gods' sakes.

**Well, as close to that as we can get, it being us. There's a lot more talk of gender theory and foreign policy, a lot more lighting things on fire, and more blanket forts than most straight American relationships can probably boast of. We're both sort of like sixteen-year-old boys.

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