title. Mediated Mate Selection and Courtship: The Lived Experience of Muslim American Women
author. Annisa Rochadiat ()
Recently divorced and faced with the looming challenge of finding a new compatible love interest, I took a leap of faith and created my first online dating profile on a mainstream (i.e., not niche or catering to members of a particular faith) online dating website many moons ago. As it turns out, I was not the only single marriageable Muslim to have gone this route. Many Muslim American women have trekked this path before—few have even gone the extra mile (and risk) of going on potentially “scandalous” platforms like Tinder and even Craigslist to find that romantic connection. Piqued by various anecdotes I’ve heard left and right of the challenges young Muslim Americans face in finding and communicating with other single Muslim Americans, I decided to launch a qualitative investigation examining how online dating technology affects the experience of mate selection and courtship practices of a segment of Muslim American women.
My analyses of sixteen interviews found that these women intricately balance the perceived advantages of online dating, such as increased control and flexibility in initiating romantic relationships and greater confidentiality and privacy in the process, with their desire to maintain conservative cultural and religious courtship practices. In fact, one of the most interesting strategies of doing so involves exploiting mediated communication technologies’ affordance of social distance to strategically control the pace and intensity of relational communication with potential mates. The perceived increased control in managing intimacy levels has even led some participants to question the role of a third-party chaperone in their interactions with unrelated members of the opposite sex, which is actually one of the cornerstone customs shaping gender interactions in Muslim circles.
With Muslim Americans residing in and constantly moving through geographically dispersed locations across the United States, the options to meet fellow Muslims can be limiting. What’s more, certain restrictions such as gender segregation observed at mosques and social gatherings is still observed in certain conservative circles. It is no wonder that access is perhaps one of the main push factors for younger Muslims to engage niche online dating technology—some of which have increasingly been modeled on popular location-based dating websites and mobile apps like Tinder—to increase their fortune in romance. Minder, SalaamSwipe, and Ishqr (for the more “hipster” crowd) come to mind.
Interestingly, Muslim users aren’t necessarily pegged as users of online dating websites and mobile apps. Some of the more “seasoned” users of online dating technology I interviewed have admitted to using Match.com, eHarmony, OkCupid and even Tinder to meet romantic partners who may not be Muslim. A few have further claimed that they have become more open to the idea of meeting men simply for friendship and not necessarily with the intention of finding a partner for marriage.
For these women, “going online” is not without its challenges. Some of the complexities identified include fighting off perceived social stigma of being “desperate” and the difficult balance of learning to assert individual decision making control on one hand, while keeping their families involved in the courtship picture on the other. This particular snapshot of the Muslim American experience highlights the variations in individual understandings and practices of religion, culture, mate selection, courtship, and technology use among Muslim women and how these individuals have found ways to integrate the new with the familiar. At the very least, these findings demonstrate how the “duality” of the Internet can create unique advantages and disadvantages that transform the contemporary courtship/dating experience of Muslim American women while simultaneously complicating other aspects of the respondents’ lives.
To read more about this study, you can download it here. This paper was based on Annisa's MA thesis conducted at Wayne State University. It was recently published in New Media & Society.