When Arab American Hania Masri (not her real name, which I’ll explain later) wanted to meet and settle down with someone from a similar cultural background, she turned to an online matchmaking service for help. One husband and two children later, she’s glad she did.
Hania — outgoing, attractive and personable, with an advanced degree from a prestigious university — was in her mid-twenties when she went looking for a mate online. Although she had no problem attracting attention from the opposite sex in her everyday life, she hadn’t been able to find what she was looking for in the men she met.
“I was interested in meeting someone who was Arab and Muslim,” Hania said. “I was having a difficult time meeting Arab Muslims out in the community and was looking for another way to meet new people.”
Hania, who does not wear a head scarf, was also looking for someone open-minded and liberal.
Across the country, Zaid Abadi (also not his real name) encountered similar obstacles when it came to meeting a suitable partner. When he took his search online, the first person he connected with was Hania, who ultimately became his wife.
“I don’t think I would have met this woman that I married any other way,” he said.
They ‘met’ through ArabLounge, a matchmaking site with more than 1.3 million registered members, most of whom are in the United States. About 600,000 of those people are active, according to Darren Romeo, the COO of World Singles, which runs Arab Lounge.
“We help people meet,” Romeo said. “We’re living more online and wherever humans live, they will date and explore. This is just another place, like the grocery store or Starbucks, to meet different people.”
The Arab American and Muslim communities aren’t alone when it comes to looking for love online. World Singles hosts more than 100 sites aimed at various ethnic and religious groups, including IranianPersonals, PakistaniLounge, EthiopianPersonals, EligibleGreeks and VietVibe.
“Our bread and butter is in these different communities,” Romeo said. “What we found is that, among certain people, usually first or second generation, it is not uncommon for the parents or the family group to want for their son or daughter to meet someone from a similar religious or ethnic group, primarily for cultural affiliation [and] language.”
ArabLounge, currently available in English, Arabic, French and German, is World Singles’ largest site. The company says 65 percent of its members identify as Muslim, while about 20 percent are Arab Christians. The most active subscribers are in their early to mid thirties. The vast majority of women on ArabLounge do not wear a head scarf in their profile photos, although many do.
“It runs the gamut from folks in hijab to others who look like they’re at a club with a drink in their hand,” Romeo said. “What we see typically is more of a focus on marriage; the greater density of people are looking for marriage or serious relationships. They’re all looking for love.”
The company has no comprehensive data on how many of its matches result in marriage, as Hania and Zaid’s did. And although both are thrilled with the results of their online matchmaking experience, they rarely share the true story of how they met.
“I think that some people judge you or your relationship when they find out you met through an online service,” said Hania, who asked us not to use the couple’s real names for this story. “I think there is a negative stigma that comes from meeting someone online. Some people assume that if you use online services that you are desperate.”
Although they keep the story of how they met private, the couple would definitely recommend online matchmaking to single people looking for love among a particular ethnic or religious group.
“It gives them the opportunity to meet like-minded people,” Zaid said. “You are given the opportunity to find someone who has qualities and values that you desire in a life partner.”