'Tis the season for Lebanese women to catch a man

by AFP/Jocelyne Zablit, Jan 3, 2009 | Destinations: Lebanon

Beirut, December 23, 2008 - As hordes of bachelors return home to Lebanon for the holiday season, young women who far outnumber their male counterparts in this tradition-bound country are angling for the perfect partner.

"This is the time when many young men come back for the holidays and the women want to find that catch," said Samir Khalaf, professor of sociology and head of the Centre for Behavioral Research at the American University of Beirut.

"We really have a lopsided demographic problem," he said.

Throughout Lebanon's history young men have tended to emigrate in search of economic prosperity, but the phenomenon became acute during the country's 1975-1990 civil war and subsequent economic downturn and accelerated again after the July-August 2006 war between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah.

Estimates are that for every eligible man there are five women available in this small country of four million people.

That makes for tough competition among women as they try to find their Prince Charming.

This year the rivalry is especially pronounced with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha falling close to the Christian holiday of Christmas, and making for an even larger number of expatriate men than usual returning home.

"The competition among the women is not on how to outwit each other but how to find that catch, or lakta as you say in Arabic," Khalaf said. "And that lakta is a guy who has studied and works abroad, has a good career and is unmarried."

Alaa Manasski, 27, is one such candidate.

Manasski is a businessman in Qatar and recently came back to Beirut to spend the holidays with his family.

"There are no boys here anymore so you can pick and choose," Manasski said as he surveyed the scene at a trendy nightclub in Beirut's downtown area one recent evening.

-- There's pressure on women to marry before 30 --

"The problem is that first they (the women) want a serious relationship and then a month later they want to get married especially if they know that you live in a Persian Gulf country," he said.

"I meet many young women and I tell them that I'm not in a hurry to get married, I'm still young. But when I'm ready she'll definitely be Lebanese."

Solange Sraih, who runs a matchmaking company called Pom D'Amour, said business has been brisk this season as time-strapped bachelors seek to meet their mate during their brief visit home.

"I've been very busy and since I set up the company at the end of 2006 I've had four couples marry and two more are planning to wed next year," Sraih said.

"But the problem in Lebanon is that if a woman is not married by age 32, the men think she has a problem or can't have children anymore.

"So there is a lot of pressure on women to marry before they reach 30."

Youmna, 27, who is studying to be a teacher in Beirut, said she is finding it increasingly difficult to fend off pressure from her parents and grandmother to settle down.

"I come from a village in the northern region of Akkar where they think that a woman is an old maid if she's not married by age 23 or 24," said Youmna who asked that her last name not be used.

"Sometimes I think that maybe I should go ahead and settle down but when I see people around me divorcing I wonder if it's worth it."

Hala Nemer, who is 40 and single, said she finds the dating scene very difficult especially when one is competing with younger women who dress provocatively and resort to plastic surgery to hook a man.

"The competition is fierce especially when you look at the way they dress and act," said Nemer, sitting at a Beirut nightclub with three of her married girlfriends. "And the men figure that since there are so many women around, why should they get married."

Khalaf said that in addition to being expected to conform with tradition and marry at a young age, Lebanese women now face the added pressure of having to join the work force.

"They live in a culture where they are supposed to be educated, to work and be pretty," Khalaf said.

"They have to be sexually attractive but not sexually active and they will do anything to grab a guy's attention.

"What you have now during the holidays is a period of the sacred and the profane and it becomes very important which one will prevail."

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