Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

We spoke to Pakistani locals to ask why dating is a complex journey and how the stigmas, culture, and expectations impact relationships.

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

"My father once beat me as I begged for mercy"

In Pakistan, a country deeply rooted in tradition and cultural values, dating can often be a formidable challenge.

From societal expectations to cultural norms, individuals seeking love and companionship often find themselves grappling with numerous obstacles.

DESIblitz interviewed different people in Pakistan to talk about the difficulties they face in dating and relationships.

We will delve into the complexities of dating in the country, shedding light on the struggles faced by the locals.


Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

Pakistan is a country where family and societal values hold immense importance.

Traditional expectations surrounding marriage and relationships heavily influence the dating landscape.

Many families still adhere to arranged marriages, where parents play a central role in selecting a life partner for their children.

Moreover, some families don’t agree to out-of-family or out-of-sect marriages.

Mahira*, a visual artist from Islamabad told us:

“My ex and I dated for three years and in the end, he said his parents aren’t agreeing to our marriage because they don’t do out-of-caste marriages.”

Ahmed*, a software engineer relates:

“My girlfriend blocked me after saying that her parents have arranged her marriage to her cousin.

“Because they are Pashtun, they don’t do out-of-family marriages.”

We also got the thoughts of Sumaira*, who hails from Hunza:

“After dating me for two years, he told me that his parents didn’t want him to marry a Sunni girl. And he said he can not go against his parents.”

These cultural practices can limit the freedom of individuals to choose their partners.

This poses a challenge for those who wish to explore romantic relationships outside the bounds of traditional arrangements.

Dating is Taboo

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

In Pakistan, dating is often considered taboo, particularly in more conservative communities.

Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and couples may face judgment and even social ostracisation for openly expressing love.

As a result, many individuals resort to keeping their relationships discreet, making it difficult to openly embrace their connections.

This secrecy can lead to feeling constant fear of being discovered.

Mansoor*, a resident of Islamabad explained:

“Her parents were super strict, so I sometimes waited hours outside her house just to catch a peek of her laying out the laundry to dry.

“We could only talk on texts because she was not allowed to talk to any males, even her cousins.”

Tanzila*, a college student relates:

“Once, my parents found out that I was talking to a guy who was also my boyfriend at the time.

“As they are strict, they took away my phone. We didn’t speak to each other for eight months because of that.

“Even after all that time passed they still kept a check on me and we only spoke at night after that to avoid suspicion.”

Esha*, a University graduate added:

“My father once beat me as I begged for mercy. All because I was talking to a guy online.”

Not only Pakistani families but there is strictness in the society as well. Saim*, an Islamabad resident tells us:

“I once took my girlfriend on a date. We were both in tenth grade back then.

“The school came to know about it and I was expelled mid-year. My girlfriend got detention.”

Kainat*, an art student also stated:

“My teacher called my parents because I went on a date and then came back inside.

“She humiliated them in front of the whole college.”

We also chatted with software engineer, Faisal*, who expressed:

“I was sitting in the car with my girlfriend and a police officer came.

“He took 1500 from me after grabbing my wallet and harassed my girlfriend, scaring her sh*tless by asking for her father’s contact.”

Gender Bias

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

Gender bias and societal expectations have a poignant impact on the dating landscape in Pakistan.

Traditional gender norms often dictate that men take the lead in initiating and pursuing relationships.

Women are expected to be modest and reserved.

This can create a power imbalance and place undue pressure on individuals, particularly women, to conform to societal expectations.

Umaima*, a philosophy student says:

“I had a crush on a guy in my university but I never admitted my feelings because what would he think of me?

“I am a girl and I’m approaching him first.”

Sara*, a housewife, relates:

“I met my husband on X, I interacted with him by liking and commenting on his posts.

“I really liked him and wanted to talk to him but I feared he would think I was too bold for a woman.

“He texted me but I still wonder…what if he hadn’t? I would have never met him.”

Besides that, gender also comes into play when we talk about strictness in terms of dating and relationships.

Maria*, a psychology major stated:

“I once saw a girl get questioned at a shisha cafe by someone who asked her what she was doing here in uniform.

“I didn’t see anyone questioning the boy even though he was clearly in college uniform as well.”

Sadia*, a student of NUML Islamabad tells us:

“In my university, males can go out whenever they want. Females are not allowed to leave the university before 11 am.

“If they do, they need permission, and often, their families get called to inform them that they have left.

“There are always double standards when it comes to females.”

“Even when we go outside our homes, we can not do as we please.”

It’s easily seen that breaking free from these constraints and striving for equality within relationships can be a constant struggle.

The Digital Age and Modern Challenges

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

With the advent of technology and the rise of social media, dating in Pakistan has transformed.

Online dating platforms provide an avenue for individuals to connect and explore relationships outside of traditional settings.

However, these apps or websites also come with their own set of challenges.

Privacy concerns, catfishing, and the risk of harassment are issues that individuals face when seeking love in the digital realm.

The rise of online dating platforms has brought both opportunities and risks.

Catfishing, the act of creating a false online identity, is a prevalent issue.

Individuals may encounter fake profiles and deceptive personas, leading to emotional manipulation and heartbreak.

Wajahat*, a student of BU says:

“I was talking to a girl who looked extremely good in pictures. When I met her in real life, she didn’t look like that at all!”

Alishba*, a social media activist tells us:

“I was talking to a guy on X and found out he was using pictures of a model.”

Aslam*, a freelance writer says:

“The girl I used to date showed me some other girl’s pictures.

“Not only that, she had a whole profile set up with that girl’s pictures just to fool people.”

The anonymity provided by online platforms can make it challenging to discern genuine intentions.

Monetary Exploitation

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

Dating in Pakistan can sometimes involve individuals taking advantage of others for monetary gain.

Some individuals may enter into relationships to exploit their partners financially.

This can manifest in various ways, such as seeking financial favours, extracting money, or expecting lavish gifts and financial support.

All of this, without genuine emotional commitment. Hamza, a business owner stated:

“I was talking to this girl online. She would often tell me about her money problems and I would offer to send her money.

“Initially, she refused but pretty soon she was asking for money herself.

“We talked on calls and I found out it was a man all along.”

“He was just extorting money from me.”

Ahad*, a biology major, tells us:

“This girl I used to talk to back in my college days made me buy a phone for her. When I refused to buy her a DSLR, she left.”

Javeria*, now a mother of two, says:

“My ex-boyfriend used to frequently ask me for money and I later found out that he bought alcohol from it and used most of it to play snooker.

“He was never even serious and was using me all along.

“I even paid his tuition fee when he spent the fee money his parents gave him.”

Prevalence of Casual Hook-ups

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

While dating in Pakistan is often associated with marriage-oriented intentions, casual hook-ups have become more common, especially in urban areas.

Maida*, a social media influencer expressed:

“It’s terrible. Everyone is looking for casual hook-ups. They just want sex without any commitment!”

Hajra*, a Master in Urdu Literature revealed:

“Pakistanis are literally using Tinder for hooking up.

“They immediately think, oh this girl must be bold if she is here on Tinder or any other dating app.

“They immediately turn the conversation to a sexual nature.”

Farhan*, a film student added:

“People are using each other to vent their frustrations. Never thought meaningless connections would be so common in Pakistan.”

Cheating & Blackmail

Dating and Relationship Struggles in Pakistan

Like in any dating culture, cheating and infidelity are unfortunate realities that can undermine trust and cause emotional distress.

The fear of betrayal can make individuals wary and hesitant to fully invest emotionally in relationships.

With Pakistan having such a strict society, everything is done secretly. One can not openly admit to being in a relationship without marriage.

People have to resort to long-distance and even talk online mostly instead of meeting up a lot. This makes cheating even more common.

In the digital age, online presence is everything. With premarital relationships being kept a secret, no one posts about their romantic life.

This leads to a state of mistrust and never knowing if people are being cheated on. A fashion designer, Farheen* tells us:

“A man way older than me was pursuing me. I met him at our workplace.

“Thank god I rejected him. I came to know that he was seeing another co-worker whilst he was pursuing me as well.”

Anoushay*, a nurse, relates:

“I was in a relationship with someone for six years.

“Due to my strict family, we rarely met and most of our interaction was online. I found some random girls in his friends.

“Upon texting him I found that he was involved with them as well. Pakistani men just want to have a good time.”

Rashid*, a copywriter, said:

“My ex-girlfriend was in the same class as I was. She wanted no one to find out, so we kept it a secret.

“She was also quite frank with another guy in our group. I was suspicious so I asked him and found out she was seeing him as well.”

Furthermore, Pakistanis are not immune to the risks of online blackmail.

Fraudsters may exploit personal information shared during the dating process to manipulate and blackmail individuals.

This often includes threatening to expose private details or intimate photos.

Engineering student, Warisha* said:

“My ex-boyfriend used to pressure me into sending nudes.

“He threatened to expose me if I didn’t meet him whenever he wanted.

“I wanted to leave him but I couldn’t because he had those pictures of me.

“My father and brothers would beat me to death if they ever came to know about it.”

Laiba*, a social media manager, explained:

“My ex recorded us whenever we were intimate, which was super weird to me but I was so dumb.

“Later on, he blackmailed me into sending him money or he would leak those videos everywhere because they didn’t include his face.”

Hania*, a student, relates:

“I broke up with my boyfriend due to constant manipulation.

“He threatened to come to my house and show my chats to my parents.

“I finally know why women in our society are so scared to date anyone.”

Dating in Pakistan presents a myriad of challenges, from strict family expectations to many other risks.

However, despite these obstacles, it is crucial to remember that change is possible. 

One key aspect of overcoming these struggles is fostering open-mindedness among parents and society members.

Encouraging parents to have a more accepting attitude towards dating can create an environment where individuals feel comfortable seeking love.

Society as a whole can contribute by embracing diverse relationship models and challenging stigmas associated with non-traditional partnerships.

Additionally, exercising online precautions is essential in the modern world.

Being mindful of the risks of catfishing, scams, and blackmail can help individuals protect themselves and their personal information.

Practice online safety measures, such as verifying identities, using secure platforms, and being cautious with sharing personal details.

This can help mitigate risks and ensure a safer dating experience.

Ultimately, overcoming the struggles of dating in Pakistan requires a collective effort.

Embracing change and challenging societal norms can pave the way for a healthier and more fulfilling dating culture in Pakistan.

Ayesha is a film and drama student who adores music, arts and fashion. Being highly ambitious, her motto for life is, "Even the Impossible spells I'm Possible"

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

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