Free Thoughts on Iran
Front Page | About FToI | Authors | Archives | Comment Policy | Disclaimer

bra.gif Where are we going to? | Main | Ebadi Aims for Re-educating True Islam ket.gif

April 16, 2004

She is just a classmate!
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

penguin.JPG Culture changes! Rather rapidly. I have been lucky enough to see how it happens in my immediate environment.

A. "Do you know Mitra has a boyfriend?"
B. "No kidding, Mitra?"
A. "Yep. Isn't that cool?"
B. "How do you know?"
A. "She introduced him to me at the Northeastern PSA's Norouz party."
B. "Was he a fun guy?"
A. "I didn't get a chance to interact with him, but it looked as if Mitra really likes him."

This is a conversation that might take place now between two Iranian students in the area. If it had taken place five years ago, it would have been:

A. "Did you notice Mitra was standing by Reza entire the event?"
B. "Yep, do you think he is her boyfriend?"
A. "How would I know?"
B. "Well, don’t you go to the gym with Mitra every other day?"
A. "You know; she is very secretive. She wouldn’t tell me."
B. "Why is she so secretive?"
A. "Well, I guess she doesn’t like people to gossip about her."

What has changed is not the gossiping part, because once you have a community, you have the gossip, too. What has changed is the way relationships are perceived by the community and also the perception of people in the relationships about how the community perceives them.

Five years ago, dating and having a boyfriend or girlfriend was acceptable on a personal level among the people I knew, but it was not an established norm in the community. That means that in one-to-one interactions, people didn't have any problem with it, but once you had more than five people together the pattern of their interaction would change. It was very common to see a guy and a girl at an event spending a lot of time exclusively together without it being clear to the rest of people at the event how those two were connected. It was very rare to hear someone introduce his girlfriend as a girlfriend! People who would start dating often would separate from the community, or if they would come to the events, they would present themselves as two separate people who met the day before. The community was not very open to non-Iranians neither. People who had a non-Iranian boyfriend or girl-friend often would leave their partner at home before going to the event.

This is changing. More and more people discover that being in a relationship is nothing to be embarrassed about. Just because people might be curious to know whether their friend dating doesn't mean they are making a judgement.

Iranians come from a fairly different culture in regard to the interaction between women and men. When they come to the West, they have to make re-adjustments. The solutions that they come up with are not unique and fairly diverse. There isn’t much right and wrong about these personal solutions. The situation for each person is unique, and he or she has to come up with his/her own solution. However, this doesn’t mean that we can not discuss the issues on the community level.

A year ago, my friend, Hazhir, set up a great workshop on relationships. About twenty people met on a Saturday afternoon to discuss relationships. There were singles, married people, people in relationships, religious, and non-religious Iranians. It was a good mix. Hazhir solicited different scenarios and questions and put them together in a handout. I encourage you to take a look at the handout. During the workshop, it was clear that many of us were dealing with questions and dilemmas that many others in our community deal with, and that discussing them helps to resolve them.

It was kind of nice to see how the community that I was part of changed to become more receptive of new types of relationships and lifestyles. I think the change happened because some of the clichés have been challenged intellectually among the Iranians either through discussions among friends or in writing, for example in websites such as Change also came because of the individuals who courageously opted for new ways of life without breaking away from their own community and as a result succeeded in changing the norms of their local environment.

How is your local community?

Arash Jalali at April 17, 2004 05:45 PM [permalink]:

It has been more than a day since you posted this article Mehdi, and no one has posted any comments. I suppose that should give us all some idea about the overall situation as regards Iranians' attitude towards the issue of relationships. I think this lack of interest in discussing relationships partly stems from the fact that the term "relationship" connotes some sort of sexual, in addition to emotional, intimacy; and I don't suppose any one would dispute my postulation that Eastern cultures in general, and the Iranian culture in particular, are quite censorial (if not hypocritical) when it comes to sex-related issues.

I cannot think of any benefit the ability to openly discuss relationships might have for a community of Iranian students living abroad, except maybe to break the ice and help them more quickly find a mate among themselves, but I think it could be of immense benefit to today's Iran's young population. My brother was just telling me this afternoon about how the "family planning" course (which did not used to be in the undergraduate curriculum back at the time I was an undergrad) has been turned into just another time waster covering merely some statistics about the population growth in different parts of the world, simply because "the community" still considers the word condom a taboo.

I think any attempt aimed at removing the cultural inhibitions against discussing relationships could pave the way to a more open and public treatment of far more pressing and serious issues such as safe sex, AIDS prevention, and birth control.

Lea at April 17, 2004 11:30 PM [permalink]:

I agree that more open communication would be of benefit regarding relationships and sexuality. But I have to mention a couple of stereotypical weaknessess that prevent this from hapenning, and some examples of awkward and stupid relationships.

Why do Iranian girls think that older men are the answer to their dreams? When a woman is around 18-23 or so, or sometimes even older, a difference in age of 5 years is very significant in terms of social skills, cunning, sophistication, the ability to manipulate others, intellecuality, university degrees and professional skills, work experience, comfort with oneself and ability to handle others. Why oh why do Iranian women consistently choose partners that have all these advantages on them, that compound that problem of the sexism that exists, not just in Iran obviously, but everywhere in the west too? Why would you disadvantage yourself by choosing someone with more power than yourself? This is the first and foremost flaw in beginning a relationship and is the root cause of many breakups. Men who choose women, generally 5 years or so younger or more, to be generous, for young people, essentially want a doll that they can carry around with themselves, show off to other people, and satisfy their own personal needs - whatever they may be.

I have witnessed more than one relatinship fall apart because of the above problem, but they only ended beacause of the peer pressure from some other more objective people that their relationships were extremely objectionable. With the age difference and sexism to boot, the guy almost invariably made stupid demands and while the girl acquiesced for the duration of the relationship some supportive people allowed her end it before anything more serious happenned - i.e. engagement or violence.

I would venture to say that age difference in relationships is one of the prime reasons why there isn't more openness for discussion of sexual matters simply because there is a lack of equality. Obviously, the age difference problem only applies to those in such situations, but the power issue applies to all relationships - they are all balances of power acts. This is one issue that I have yet to see discussed, and by making it an issue, it would help towards openness - re relationships.

Grand Vizier at April 18, 2004 01:04 PM [permalink]:

Ok, all of my non-Iranian single or semi-single friends are crazy about Iranian girls, that they came to know, despite the fact that they were all treated very brutally by them.

Agree or Disagree: "Sexual repression in the Iranian society is reaching a critical stage"?

Babak S at April 18, 2004 02:04 PM [permalink]:


The age difference as a root cause of problems is an intriguing idea you offer. It's certainly an issue deserving a lot of contemplation. I should have more to say on that later though. For now, I just wanted to express my strong agreement with your last hint: power balance. It's indeed a very important factor when considering the dynamics of a single relationship as well as the collective of them.

Lea at April 18, 2004 11:29 PM [permalink]:

G Vizier,

When you say 'brutal', do you mean that the Iranian women more or less ignored the non-Iranian men that they were dating? Or did I get the meaning mixed up as to who was treating who brutally...

Ghazal at April 19, 2004 12:57 PM [permalink]:

What I always find frustrating is that some people are very afraid of being judged by others or others gossip about them. I believe people mustn’t be ashamed of what they think is a right thing to do. I could imagine there might be sometimes good reasons for people to hide their relation but my observation is that most of the time they are just making a big deal out of it and make it much more complicated for themselves than needed. They think it is as important for other people as it is for them. I know some of my friends whose relation had got so serious, like they had moved in together or were just about to marry but they were still afraid and were hiding it! I have been several times in very awkward situations just because I had no idea there is something going on between people and they had just assumed I would have known by myself or someone had already told me.
Dear friends if you tell me someone is your friend then I would assume she or he is just your friend unless you say so and if you feel like it is a right thing to do, to hide your relation it is up to you but I think most of your friends even those who might judge you will be deep in heart very happy to know you are happy and they wont probably harm you.

Vahid at April 19, 2004 09:01 PM [permalink]:

Ghazal, I very much agree with your about Iranian's being so affraid of gossip. It is probably true that we gossip about one-another too much. But I think non-iranian's do as well. I think the problem is more giving too much value to your social picture. We have even an important word for it in Farsi, Aberoo, that I don't know of a good English equivalent for it. So maybe we should pay less attention about how people think about us, and try to be the way, that we would like ourselves to be.
Back in Iran, I was always frustrated by arguments like "We should not do this, since our "Aberoo" would be compromized".

Grand Vizier at April 21, 2004 11:36 AM [permalink]:

No Lea; they were not ignored. Brutality was in the treatment and the attitude.

SG at April 21, 2004 12:40 PM [permalink]:

First of all, I should say that I admire Hazhir's efforts, such as setting up a workshop about the relationships for Iranians. His approach to social issues is always systematic. I also admire Mehdi for writing on a controversial issue. :-)

Secondly, Ghazal's comment is astonishing, given that the writer is an Iranian girl herself. The reason why Iranians who are not married, but live together, are afraid (and I believe that is the right word to use here) to let others know about their personal life is, I think, the future of the girl is at stake. What if the relationship ends in disaster and the girl changes her mind and decides to marry traditional style (perhaps to a guy 5 years or more her senior!)?

See, even marriages (that are supposed to last forever) collapse, let alone relationships that are meant, if we assume that both parties involved have been honest about their feelings (a less than likely case among Iranians, I find), to serve as nothing but a trial period; not just to have temporary fun, but to find out if a girl and a guy have enough compatibility to sustain a long term (a life-long?) relationship under one roof.

This is of course not the whole reason why people hide stuff from their personal life. For example, Tara Bahrampour's father advises his daughter not to tell (Iranian?) people about her sex life and her financial situation, if I recall correctly from Bahrampour's book. Which makes sense. you don't want people to know how much money you make and what you do with your money. Why, I wonder, shouldn't the same go with relationships? Huh?

Ghazal at April 21, 2004 03:43 PM [permalink]:

SG, I was talking about those who are afraid of being judged by others or others gossip about them. I don’t believe at all that any of my friends (male or female) are afraid because they might someday want to hide their past from their future long term partner.
And this issue is in no way the same as hiding how much money one owns. It is one thing to hide your casual date with someone or your traditional marriage proposal to someone waiting for the answer and quite another thing to feel embarrassed of your serious relationship or always being afraid of people knowing about it. As I said it just complicates everything more than necessary and is also a disrespect to the person you love.

PepsiMax at April 30, 2004 10:50 AM [permalink]:

Let me be streight to the point: Comparing to Europeans and generally westerners, Iranian girls are not independant, they are not brought up to be independent, they were never told that they could be independent and have their own say, will and decision. The level of this fact varies from family to family, and based on their level of education, but a typical Iranian girl is over-protected by the family as she grows, and virtually jumps from the arms of the family to the arms of her new family (aka husband).

Deciding about starting a relationship still is a big challenge for the typical Iranian girl. Having grown in an over-protective environment, and having been bombarded by the traditional ideas of her family, part of her feelings and her ability to understand and react to those feelings have been supressed. She has rarely or never been able to practice decision-making based on herself and her own feelings and ideals. She may be a good cook or a kind mother, but that's after she has passed through this complicated phase of starting a relationship. Still at the present time, most Iranian girls are brought up with the practice and idea that they should prepare to live like a perfect wife, for a life time, or "serve" as a perfect wife, for a life time.

That's why she is confused in western societies, especially in the beginning. First of all she should get in peace with the idea that having a relationship with a guy will not violate all her morals, will not make her look like a whore, or will not send her directly to hell. Secondly, she should understand that no relationship is 100% garranteed to last forever, and unless she is prepared to give it a try, she would have to wait like a virgin and get married through traditional channels or by chance. Thirdly, she should understand that she is not going to choose a partner/boyfriend only to show off to friends, but she's starting a relationship for the sake of her own feelings, whatever they are: love, loneliness, support, lust, money, etc., and that she's not going to live based on what people say behind or before her.

The fact that a lot of Iranian women go abroad to study is very important. They gain new experiences and their mind and vision is expanded. Hopefull girls in the generation of our children will be mode independent, more aware and demanding of their own rights, and thus stronger and more influential.

(Many of the above apply to Iranian boys too, apart from the fact that they are more independent and more daring to try things).

Stuart Hughes at May 10, 2004 06:29 PM [permalink]:

Beyond Northern Iqaq page. Welcome.

lipitor at May 23, 2004 06:32 PM [permalink]:

We fight only when there is no other choice. We prefer the ways of
peaceful contact.
-- Kirk, "Spectre of the Gun", stardate 4385.3

abbas karimpour at November 5, 2004 08:03 AM [permalink]:

salam be hameye hamkelasiyam