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Iran’s youth find their unconventional way to romance amid strict dating laws

In Iran, the limitations on social networking are enforced, with most social media platforms being banned in the Middle Eastern country. The country has a lot of traditional rules and regulations in place, and it can be a challenge (to say the least) for citizens to find their way around these rules and regulations. In Iran, the dating culture is something that is entirely foreign to western societies. This is a country whose dating rules are quite traditional, and the essence of those rules is that young men are not allowed to have girlfriends. The population of Iran – the second-largest country in the Middle East – boasts 81 million inhabitants, and so having such tight restrictions on something as wonderful as romantic relationships can be a challenge to enforce. The youth of Iran have more of an inclination towards technological advancement than ever before. Because of this inclination, young Iranians are finding their own ways around the limitations set upon their shoulders

Dating culture in Iran is complicated, and even though now the mindsets of people are beginning to shift, there is a certain realisation that young people dating is still very much frowned upon – especially by traditional and religious families. In the streets, young men and the women they walk the streets with can be stopped at any minute (no matter the time of day) and asked of their relationship with their companion by the Moral Authorities or even the Police. Iran is largely considered to be the world’s most internet-censored nation, and as such people would be forgiven for assuming that dating apps and even just social apps are not accessible here. While it is true that these types of websites and apps are typically banned in Iran, people have increasingly found ways around these government-enforced restrictions – including the use of VPNs (virtual private networks), which allow individuals a cloak of invisibility under which to freely communicate with others.

These strict rules, whether they are considered literal law or lax but nonetheless enforced regulations these days, still carry quite the impression, and this lasting impressing has resulted in an underground dating culture that is spurred onward by their use of VPNs to feel free and confident in their use social dating apps like the globally-renowned Tinder, or even just Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram (to name a few). Thanks to 3G-connected devices and VPN technology, young Iranians are using social media applications like Tinder to discover and explore dating on their own terms, entirely free of their nation’s strict regulations. This digital cloak of invisibility provides Iranian youth with the opportunity and the means to take control of their personal lives in ways that, before this technology, were not possible. The introduction of this underground dating culture is fuelled by newfound freedom, and also restricted by the reality that, free as they may be online, they are still largely – if not completely – forbidden to date or be seen together in public before marriage.

These days, it is generally accepted that Iranians – especially young Iranians – have two separate lives…the inside, private life, and an outside, public life. This separation of personal lives from the public lives has been the direct result of strict rules and laws that restrict an individual’s control of their own lives – especially their romantic relationships. There are countless Iranian stories of forbidden loves being cast out, and even some stories of understanding and love around what is often a difficult situation in Iran. Stolen moments and forbidden loves are instances that are still walking the delicate balance between entitled freedom and cultural appropriation, and it is a balance that will take quite a long time even now before it can be pulled definitively in either direction. Here in Iran, this is the reality of romantic relationships. Marriages are arranged, loves are chosen, families are put in charge of the merging of two families. And yet, Iranians are continuously going against the grain, opting instead to take as much control as possible of their own love life, to create their own love story.

Iran is known for its strict traditional views and rules on some aspects of life. One of these aspects of life that is tied to traditional values and points of view is that of relationships before marriage, especially those between young men and women. In Iran, these relationships are frowned upon, and any suspicious couple seen walking in public together may be questioned about their relationship by the Moral Authorities, or even the police. The forbidden nature of dating has not lessened the desire of young Iranians to forge their own relationships on their own terms, and underground dating culture has emerged, tinged with dating app matches and VPN usage, effectively allowing them access to forbidden gateways, undesirable relationships. While Iran is slowly shifting its mindset as a collective, there is still a long way to go, and until happy resolution is found, the underground dating culture in Iran will continue to flourish.

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