I wasn’t sure what to expect when I swiped right on a picture of pancakes.
Most women from Saudi Arabia don’t use headshots for anything on social media because it is either seen as taboo or they don’t want to be recognised – especially not for women seeking women.
Still, I could tell it was a real pic and I’m a foodie so I took a chance.
From the get-go, Amal* was funny, down-to-earth, sweet, caring and very smart. We spoke about life, what had got us both on the dating app and some common interests such as travel.
Something just clicked for me. I somehow knew this person wasn’t going to let me down like the other girls had, I felt safe for once.
I am from London, Amal is from Saudi Arabia and I was working in Switzerland when we matched, but it was exhilarating to discover we would both be in Oman at the same time – I was flying out for a holiday, as well as a job interview in Abu Dhabi and Amal was headed there on a trip with her friends. It had taken her months to arrange, as she had to be accompanied by family members.
When we finally met in November 2019, we had no idea it would also be the last time we’d see each other.
It is illegal to be homosexual in the Middle East – in the UAE, it is punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment. Using dating apps is particularly dangerous: I’ve heard of men posing as women or actively seek out homosexuals to report them to the authorities.
In spite of the risk, Amal and I secretly navigated our way to spending our first night in Oman at her hotel. We couldn’t help but feel paranoid the whole time, worried someone might notice how we looked at each other – or that we both checked in separately and then ended up in the same room the next morning.
It didn’t matter to us that we would not be able to show our affection openly when we met up – we simply wanted to enjoy moments like any couple, whether that was spending time together in coffee shops or secretly in hotel rooms
I was looking for love and fortunately, so was Amal. She spoke in such an honest, authentic way, and she seemed like a good, honourable person.
That night led to five days of hanging out as friends, but also as lovers. I obviously couldn’t be introduced to her family but I spent time with her friends who were amazed that we had met online, coming from totally different worlds, but had both followed through with the meet.
We could have left it as a holiday romance, but by the end of the trip we both knew we wanted to continue diving into our feelings for one another.
Amal returned back to reality in Saudi and I got the job in Abu Dhabi. I was looking forward to being a short three-hour plane ride away from her.
It didn’t matter to us that we would not be able to show our affection openly when we met up – we simply wanted to enjoy moments like any couple, whether that was spending time together in coffee shops or secretly in hotel rooms.
Within weeks of landing, however, the pandemic hit and I was sent back to London without a job. Amal was told to work from home. All our plans to build our relationship in person were instantly erased.
Instead, we have both had to take a huge leap of faith. We’ve had to do all the foundation work of really getting to know each other without being clouded by difficulties we face.
I understand how scary it is for Amal to live with fear, in doubt of your identity, not knowing if you’re capable of living the life you want and what kind of future you will have
It is hard not being able to see each other when we want, go on dates or have intimacy; we can’t have kisses, hugs or sexy time, so there has been a lot of calls, messages and FaceTime instead.
We have had to build up trust from a distance, dig deep into who we are and peel our outer layers. We’ve had to become more open and say exactly what we think, while bringing down the walls we’ve had. As two women from very different backgrounds – Amal is Saudi and Muslim, I am Persian/English and Catholic – this has meant accepting the other’s differences.
Amal prays five times a day but I would describe myself as spiritual, despite being brought up by nuns. Amal only just started driving as it had been banned for women and can only travel with a member of her family, whereas I’ve been driving and independently travelling since my teenage years.
Luckily we speak each other’s ‘love languages’. We both use words of affirmation; we both listen and respect each other even if we don’t agree. I always have a morning text or voice note waiting for me and she Uber Eats me food to satisfy my sweet tooth.
This November marks mine and Amal’s first anniversary – it doesn’t matter to us that we have only met once. Saudi flights are grounded until January 2021, which is the earliest we might be able to see each other again.
Until then we will ride the wave. I know our relationship is strong enough: in the space of a year, we’ve gone through some of the major life changing events you’d expect from a long established relationship: loss of a job, financial changes, family deaths, exes reappearing – all against the backdrop of a pandemic whilst thousands of miles apart.
What’s more, Amal lives with fear, in doubt of her identity, not knowing if she will be capable of living the life she wants. She presents femme and looks straight, so therefore isn’t as targeted as some by the authorities, but at the same time, she lives in a world where she can’t even tell her friends who she chooses to be in a relationship with.
It leaves me with an immense feeling of sadness, but an overwhelming sense of pride in how strong Middle Eastern women are. As a queer woman, I was lucky enough to have been brought up in a society in London that is much more accepting, tolerant and open to love, whether it’s interracial, same sex or different faiths.
I find it hard to contend with just how many countries around the world won’t accept love and commitment, regardless of gender. Why can’t the world live and let live?
I have never truly felt what real love is like until now; selfless, thoughtful and kind. It’s easy to get so used to toxic people loving us, and mistake that for love when it isn’t. We are all enough and the right person will naturally help you become the best version of yourself. That is what Amal does for me, despite being across an ocean.
*Names have been changed
Last week in Love, Or Something Like It: My mum has been pressuring me to get married since I was 16 – it’s not that easy
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Love, Or Something Like It is a regular series for Metro.co.uk, covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, to find out what love is and how to find it in the present day. If you have a love story to share, email [email protected]
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