Dating in IranPosted: November 1, 2012
My first long-term relationship was with an Iranian woman I met shortly after arriving for duty in Tehran as a draftee in the U.S. Army. I was 24. Though technically not a virgin, I was pretty inexperienced with the opposite sex.
In college I was too busy for dating. There was a war underway. A lottery for the draft assigned me the unlucky number of 29. Any free time I had as a student at Kent State was spent manning anti-war literature tables, helping to organize and participate in demonstrations.
When I arrived at the bachelor quarters in Tehran, Iran I was instantly lonely. How was I going to meet anyone?
The answer came quickly. Apparently, dating a US soldier was something to be coveted by modern Tehrani women. Though the phone number of the bachelor quarters was unlisted, we got phone calls all the time from Iranian girls wanting to meet G.I.s. Though the Shah’s Iran was quite liberal, it was still a more traditional culture than the US. The women who called the bachelor quarters were breaking strong taboos, but these were not loose women. They just wanted to talk to, meet and get to know American men.
When I found myself standing in front of the International Hotel on Shemran waiting for the blind date I’d arranged through such a phone call, I was immensely relieved to see the lovely young woman with bouncy bangs, large Persian eyes and an even bigger smile heading straight for me. Her name was Farzaneh. I called her Fari for short. After exchanging greetings, neither of us speaking the other’s language, there was an awkward moment of what to do next. She suggested we go to the park not far from the hotel. Upon finding a suitable bench, we sat next to each other and held hands, smiling a lot while we people watched.
There must have been at least four more dates like this. The time for each meeting was determined by a phone call from Fari. I didn’t dare call her and assumed that these times were chosen according to when she could safely sneak out of the house to meet me. This was a real problem for us as the relationship now felt serious, even though we’d only kissed, hugged and held hands.
Circumstances soon intervened in our favor. Her cousin was getting married to an American G.I. who worked at an electronic listening post in north Tehran. I had never met this fellow, but Fari and her cousin told her relatives that he and I were close Army buddies and that he wanted me at his wedding.
So, a couple of weeks later, wearing my Army dress uniform and hat, I rang the buzzer at Fari’s home, heart pounding. I’d been taking Farsi lessons at the U.S. Embassy and had at the ready some stock phrases to use on her family.
The Persian wedding ceremony gave me my first real exposure to anything Islamic and it was quite positive. When the couple kneeled together before a Qur’an propped up behind a mirror and opened to Sura 55, Al-Rahman (The Most Gracious), I learned that this symbolized “the influence of divine providence on the mirror of fate.” This resonated with me deeply as I often pondered why I was sent to Iran instead of Vietnam, and why my feelings of being alone in a foreign land were so quickly resolved by meeting Fari. These were profound blessings that I could not deny.
After the wedding, I was formally introduced to Fari. I tried out my faltering Farsi on all the family members, which was met with smiles and charmed laughter. Bottom line: Fari and I were now official – no more sneaking around!
The relationship quickly moved beyond kissing hugging and hand-holding, though it would still be several months until I discovered that Fari was a virgin. In spite of being officially sanctioned by her family, we still had to be creative as to where our amorous adventures took place. Mostly it was the back seat of the Chevy station wagon I was assigned to drive, sometimes standing in the shadows of the tree outside her house, and, eventually, at the bachelor quarters.
I’m 65 now and though it would never have occurred to me as a young man, today I appreciate the cultural hurdles that were put in our path. Every parent has an obligation to make sure their children establish love relationships that are healthy and above board. And get this: the lovebirds involved want that too!
Doug Roberts is the author of a romantic suspense novel set in Iran, The Man Who Fooled SAVAK.