One winter day a few years ago, I met a girl I really liked. I saw her at a park in Qatif. We were looking at each other, so I went up to her and said, ‘‘Hi, you look beautiful.’’ She thanked me, and I handed her a piece of paper with my number on it. ‘‘We should talk more,’’ I told her. ‘‘I’m interested in you.’’ Then I left immediately.
We started talking on the phone for hours every day. Her name was Samar. She was 18, pretty and slender, with long black hair and light brown skin. About a week later, when my parents went to Turkey for the weekend, we had a safe place to meet. She told her parents that she was going shopping. I picked her up at a mall and drove her to my house.
Dating is complicated in Saudi Arabia. You have to be careful just talking to a woman, because if someone finds out, it can be a really big problem. So it’s better not to tell anybody. If you want to go to a cafe with her, you totally can’t. The police might stop you and ask, ‘‘Who’s that?’’ If you say she is your sister, they ask for proof. If they find out she isn’t your sister, they will take you to the police station. If you are found guilty of khilwa — when a man and woman who are not family members are together alone — you can go to jail for a few months. You can also be lashed 100 times. Sometimes you’re told that you have to marry the woman. That way you might not have to go to jail.
When we arrived at my house, I gave her flowers. As a young Saudi guy, I was not used to being alone with a girl. (Before Samar, it had happened only a few times.) I didn’t know what to talk about or how to act, so I started showing her my PC and my Xbox, that kind of stuff. She wasn’t a serious gamer, but she played video games. I liked that she could speak English, and we liked the same music.
The girls I’d met before had been scared of sex. This time was different. I felt she wanted to do something because she kissed me first. We were sitting on the couch in my living room, staring at each other. She got closer to me, and that was it. After kissing for a while, I said: ‘‘I’m not comfortable here on the couch. Why don’t we go to my room?’’
Thankfully, it worked out O.K. It was the first time for me, but I knew what to do. How? Every single young Saudi guy watches porn. I’m not joking. I mean all of them. Afterward, I told her that it was my first time. She said she didn’t believe me. I didn’t want to say I learned everything from porn, but she probably guessed.
This kind of thing goes on a lot in private in my country. There are young people who have sex before marriage, drink or use drugs and don’t care about religion. I grew up with religion all around me, and I’m still Muslim, but I don’t believe that Islam is like this. Sure, we broke the law, but I didn’t feel guilty. I was actually happy, as if I could do this every day. I was like: ‘‘Screw the police. I don’t give a damn.’’ She felt the same way. She hated the police, too.
It really sucks to live in a place where it’s against the law to fall in love. We agreed that the society we lived in was wrong about this. It’s just wrong, it’s super wrong. That’s why we did whatever we liked. Many young men and women in Saudi Arabia have to live a double life.
We lay in bed for a while, and then we got really hungry. It was evening. We went to the kitchen, and she cooked steak for me. Then her father called, asking her where she was, because it was getting late. She said she was still at the mall and would come right home. She was really scared that her family had found out she was with me. I dropped her off near her home and told her to call me later to tell me what happened with her parents. But she didn’t call. I was really worried. I thought she was caught. I was like: ‘‘I’m busted, I’m so busted.’’ The next morning, she finally sent me a message saying everything was O.K. and they didn’t know.
We met a lot after that, when my parents went away on weekends, and talked a lot on the phone. She was my first real girlfriend and my first love. She said I was hers. We had that kind of conversation. She said she really loved me. We talked about marriage a few times.
About a year later, I did something really stupid. I met another girl. I just saw her once, but Samar found out when she looked at my phone. ‘‘I was wrong,’’ I told her. ‘‘It was a mistake. I’m not going to do it again.’’ But she broke up with me.
Since then, I’ve met other girls. But when I went out with them, I didn’t feel the same way. I felt good, O.K., but not as good as with Samar. I thought she was the perfect one for me. But it was too late, and she was gone.
As told to Daniel Krieger.
Hassan, 23, lives in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, and works in the tech industry. He asked for his surname to be withheld because of the risk associated with telling his story. Being alone with an unrelated woman and having premarital sex are banned in Saudi Arabia.
Article was originally published on The New York Times