Waleed is an outlier in Saudi Arabia, where many marriages are still set up by families and where couples sometimes don’t meet in person before getting engaged.While there have been noticeable social changes recently, men and women who are not closely related still traditionally don't mix, and some avoid even looking at an unrelated person of the opposite sex.She spent years studying abroad and has an American boyfriend whom she says she would “never” introduce to her family.But the relationship has no future unless Lulwa leaves her country, or he proposes marriage and converts to Islam. Finding and maintaining a relationship is a challenge even for those who haven’t fallen for a foreigner.The pair finally met in person in Egypt, where gender mixing is more accepted than in Saudi Arabia, long dominated by a puritanical form of Islam that has been challenged recently by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's push toward a more moderate interpretation of the religion.“Our culture here, they make love a sin,” Waleed said.Because sex and romantic love remain highly controversial subjects in the kingdom, interviewees spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, and pseudonyms have been used.The news that King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a royal decree finally giving women in the conservative Kingdom the right to drive was met with celebration both inside the country and across the globe.
While there has been promise of several reforms for female citizens so far just a handful of the important decisions a woman in Saudi Arabia still cannot make for herself include: Permission to marry must be granted by your wali, or guardian.
While most restaurants still separate men and women into sections for men and “families,” young couples are increasingly appearing in public together in a handful of cafes and other eateries.“Two years back we wouldn’t even be able to sit together — people would get the wrong idea,” says Waleed, a 27-year-old software engineer with the square jaw of a model.
“Change has come to Saudi Arabia.”Much of Waleed’s "love relationship" with his girlfriend has taken place online.
Fadila, 29, an accountant, has been looking for love in all the wrong places since she was a teenager.
Early on, her beguiling smile had boys asking for her telephone number.
Conversations and time spent with men who are not family members is limited.