But the couple was, in fact, being watched by the religious police. She says it later emerged that he had been having affairs with a number of women and drinking regularly.“They wanted him, but they used me to get to him,” she says.Long forbidden, dating has arrived in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom with some Saudis meeting and marrying without the help of relatives.
Lulwa, 27, bridles at a deep-seated sexism in Saudi society that she says reduces women to their reproductive functions, even among some members of her liberal circle in which the genders mix and alcohol is sometimes served at parties.
“You were born to give birth — that’s your mission in life,” she says.
Secrecy is the norm, particularly when it comes to sex.
“The elephant in the room is that everybody engages in it, but nobody talks about it,” says Lulwa, an aspiring filmmaker who wears bright red lipstick and lets her headscarf slip off when she thinks she can get away with it.
While most restaurants still separate men and women into sections for men and “families,” young couples are increasingly appearing in public together in a handful of cafes and other eateries.
“Two years back we wouldn’t even be able to sit together — people would get the wrong idea,” says Waleed, a 27-year-old software engineer with the square jaw of a model.
Girls and boys are educated separately, and workplaces that employ women are nominally segregated.
So meeting, dating and getting married can be a treacherous obstacle course.
Since her experience, the religious police have been stripped of much of their power.
And thanks to government efforts at increasing Saudi Arabia's employment rate, more and more women are working and studying near if not alongside men, providing a plethora of romantic possibilities. 24 when the powerful crown prince declared that the country would return to “moderate” Islam and “eradicate” extremism.
She gained an honors degree in accounting and now has a good career.