By Nadia El Dasher
Psychologist Najla Nagib on Love in the Internet Age
There’s a paradox when it comes to having choices. Which shampoo to buy at the store, where to order takeout from tonight, the destination of your next trip – and more recently, which dating apps to use.
One could argue that Internet dating is a revolution in matchmaking, taking out the awkward middleman and replacing it with an impartial machine.
However, that middleman, be it the parents, an aunt or uncle, is one of the concerned parties when it comes to the current trend in online dating. And rightfully so, says Najla Nagib, a Cairo-based psychologist at the recently-opened Inside-Out Counseling Center. Cairo East Magazine sat down with Nagib at her Madinat Nasr space to talk about finding love in modern times.
CEM: How would you describe the dating scene in Egypt at the moment?
NN: It’s a crowded world now – we have all of these options and ways to reach out to everyone. Some people chose not to get into all of this and live a quiet, simple, happy life where they meet partners like we’ve done for generations.
How are different age groups approaching online dating?
When I raised the question of Internet dating with a group of 14-17 year olds I teach, they immediately said, “No way!” Even if they were dating online they would hide it. For older groups in their 30s, it’s different – they know what they want, they are more mature and have the ability to see what the person in front of them wants. There’s also pressure from society to get married so they are more likely to seek something serious.
What are some of the pros and cons of Internet dating?
The young people I deal with are sometimes very shy and going online is a way for them to express themselves, so it’s a good way for shy people to meet others. You also have the time to express yourself and show the real you (through creating a profile and talking in a more relaxed setting). And lastly, it saves you time. On the downside people can lie easily about anything, one of the partners might feel too open so would show more than what they can provide and, of course, there’s the danger of meeting any stranger.
Internationally, online dating has a reputation for attracting people who are not looking to commit. Do you feel that this is applicable in Egypt as well?
The nature of young Egyptian people is to sit around cafés in groups, with their friends and boyfriends/girlfriends openly displaying their commitment to one another. When they’re not together they’ll be on WhatsApp or Snapchat detailing their time apart. This all goes back to the sense of community within these groups of friends – maintaining connections with each other and commitments to their boyfriends/girlfriends. In fact, they’re actually using the Internet to prove their commitment, not run away from it.
How has courtship in Egypt changed over the past few years as we move into a more online-driven world?
In Egypt, it hasn’t changed because of the Internet – it changed because boys and girls are now meeting each other as they transition to co-ed schools. Young boys are meeting and dating in school and going out in groups. The initiation of online dating in young people is not yet done except in certain social classes where boys do not get to meet girls face to face. Generally we’re a community-oriented society – if people don’t meet in school, it’ll be a sporting club or football team.
Technology is faster than culture. Culture is very slow and discrepancies between the paces of both are problematic. There’s a huge gap between social media and the way the culture is moving.
What benefits come from increased channels of communication before marriage, allowing people to get to know each other’s beliefs and attitudes before committing?
You have the chance to compare and understand different types of people. It gives you the time to find out what it is you really want and what to expect in a relationship.
In a way online dating sites are like modern day matchmakers, how is matchmaking evolving as a whole in Egypt?
Meeting someone on an online dating site is similar to gawaz sallonaat (the milder version of an arranged marriage whereby two groups bring a couple together). Nowadays there are a lot of groups on Facebook and WhatsApp that reflect certain interests or hobbies. Fitness groups are growing in Cairo so people who wouldn’t cross paths normally are getting to meet in an informal group environment – for starters, it’s safer.
Safety is a major concern for online dating newcomers, what are the best ways to reduce risks?
Frankly speaking, it’s difficult to control and avoid risks. People believe everything they read on the Internet so they need to verify that the person they’re talking to is who he says he is and meet in person before things progress. That said, they can’t reduce their risks completely. There’s no censorship, no protection- parents don’t know and you can’t follow what your kids are doing on the Internet. There’s no communication between the children and parents.
Is online dating the way forward to finding love, as life becomes busier? It’s no longer for 20 year olds, it seems to be popular with the older age groups as well.
It can give a chance for people who want serious relationships to pursue it in an upfront way. However, humans are humans and technology is technology – we can’t just rely on technology for emotional support.
What advice would you give to anyone using online resources to strike up relationships?
Don’t jump into a relationship because the person looks good or speaks in a meticulous way. Love is a click – it’s something that happens when people are not focusing on it.
In a world that is better connected than ever, human relationships and interactions are being examined at a minute level. On one hand, it could be viewed as a form of capitalism on love, using a raw, instinctual feeling and twisting it to your advantage. On the other, it is inevitably connecting people who might never have the opportunity to find each other otherwise. >>
With a growing demand in the region, online dating sites continue to expand at a promising rate. Regardless of cultural views on the matter, Internet dating is here to stay – will you get on the bandwagon?
The Tinder panda strikes
After her parents got divorced, Sarah wanted to help her 65 year-old father get back into the dating scene. She encouraged him to start a Tinder profile but he only agreed after she created one herself – albeit with a bogus name and the photo of a panda. After aggressively looking for a soul mate on Tinder, Sarah’s father gave up when he did not successfully match with anyone while his panda daughter got hundreds of matches every day.
The damsel in disguise
Over a boring summer in Cairo, Ahmed decided to entertain himself by creating a female Tinder profile and messing around over the long, hot days. Enter German-Moroccan Julia, an exotic (fictional) personality who within two hours had 700 matches while sitting on a sofa in Rehab. Julia was not only getting matched to people who Ahmed knew but also his married male friends. It got creepy fast and he realized, “how horrible it is to be a girl trying to date online in Egypt.”
The swipe addict
For some, browsing is the beauty of Tinder – similar to the autonomous scrolling up and down of Facebook and Instagram. Noha explains that swiping right and left on the app (right if you’re interested, left if not) is the real addiction here, far more interesting than actually communicating with the guys.
Najla Nagib is a Cairo-based counseling psychologist whose work includes Psychology and Sociology teaching for O-level and A-level IGCSE students.
Ph.D., Environmental Psychology and MA Counseling Psychology American University in Cairo.
BA Social Sciences (Political Science, Psychology and Sociology), American University in Cairo.