Why it’s harder to find a date in Seattle than in Pakistan

Courtship and dating are actually a lot simpler in South Asia, where many marriages are arranged and the path to 'love marriage' is pretty straightforward. (Photo by Srizki via Flickr) The Seattle freeze makes for a chilly Valentine’s Day for new arrivals from other cultures.

Picture this: You’re by yourself in a restaurant that serves your favorite foods. But they only give you chopsticks, and you have no idea how to use them.

To be able to order something, you need to read it off the menu and speak to a waitress. But you can’t do either — the menu is in a foreign language and the waitress doesn’t understand any English.

You’re so hungry that you could eat a horse but you end up sitting there alone for hours just staring at other people as they enjoy their food in company of people they came with.

Admittedly, this exact thing hasn’t happened to me. But since I moved to the Seattle area from Pakistan two years ago, I’ve been in a similar situation when it comes to my romantic life.

Much like that guy in that restaurant who can’t get the food he wants so badly, for that whole time I have not been able to get a date.

‘Why so?’ you ask. Seattle isn’t a town of nuns and I’m sure not a Brahmachari who lives a life of self-imposed celibacy.

There could be more than one explanation for it:

It could be what many call Seattle Freeze. People here are really nice, but at the same time many new transplants to the city feel a chill that goes with it. It’s hard to make friends with people you meet, let alone get a date with woman whom you’re interested in.

A conservative Pakistani couple out for a walk in the park in Karachi. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
A conservative Pakistani couple out for a walk in the park in Karachi. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Or it could be that I grew up in a traditional Pakistani culture where dating is as forbidden as drinking alcohol.

But surprising as it may sound, finding a girlfriend in Pakistan is not that hard. With men ubiquitous everywhere in public life, it’s oddly easy to find a beautiful bra behind a baggy burqa.

Despite the fact that we don’t have a culture of dating as such, it’s pretty straightforward for men to find girlfriends at a very early age. All one needs to do is to make the right move when a girl passes along a smile with a slanted gaze. There’s in fact a phrase in Urdu quite famous in guys of my age group: hassi tau phassi, meaning ‘if a girl smiles at you, for sure she’s interested.’

Then what follows is a never-ending series of romantic text messages and long conversations in hushed whispers over the phone after midnight when everybody is asleep.

That’s all there’s to it.

Marriages are mostly arranged, but recent years have seen a tremendous increase in what we call love marriages. I remember how older women would detest this trend, blaming Bollywood movies for ‘destroying’ their values and customs. A whole generation has grown up watching romantic musicals with stories of boys and girls dating in colleges and universities.

But the truth is that more women are getting education and feel independent to choose their own life partners than having old granny thrust a husband on them who’s twice their age.

Colleges and universities in Pakistan are generally the only places where young men and women study together under a single roof. And frankly speaking, I met most of my ex-girlfriends in the university where I studied journalism. That’s where I had my first kiss and did things that otherwise were as elusive as a couple holding hands in public.

Qazi and the crew of the Everett Community College newspaper where he worked when he first arrived in the Northwest.
Qazi and the crew of the Everett Community College newspaper where he worked when he first arrived in the Northwest.

So why can’t I find a lady here in Seattle, where women are as omnipresent as the minarets of the mosques  that dominate the skylines of Pakistani towns and villages.

Growing up in a society like Pakistan’s may put me at a disadvantage. I’ve had experiences with a few women where I thought we’d hit it off, but too many …istans in me (my home province in Pakistan is called Balochistan) seemed to scare them off. It can be hard to convince them that I enjoy a glass of beer as much as I like a juicy bacon cheeseburger.

During my early days in the US, a good looking girl at the college I attended in Everett asked if we could have coffee together. As naive as I was then, I refused. I was more of an avid chai-tea drinker then and didn’t understand that being asked for coffee really just means someone would like to go on a date with you.

Now that I’ve lived here for two years, I’ve started to learn the mechanics and the language of dating–from pick up lines to asking someone out and then taking it from there on. And I drink mostly coffee now. But there’s still a lot to learn.

If the guy in the restaurant stays longer, he’ll definitely figure out a way how to order his food eventually. Rest assured, he won’t starve to death.

And now I’ve made it one of my New Year’s resolutions to find myself a girlfriend.

I, like Jane Austen’s ‘single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’, am single and ready to mingle.

Wish me luck everyone, and enjoy your time with your valentines.

Muatasim Qazi

Muatasim Qazi is a Pakistani journalist now living in exile in the US. He is assistant editor for The Baloch Hal, an online newspaper which reports human rights violations and religious extremism in Balochistan and has been banned by Pakistani authorities. He can be reached at muatasimqazi@gmail.com.
Muatasim Qazi


  1. Great article Muatasim. I remember when you told me about this idea and it turned out wonderful. Thank you for sharing different dating cultures with us :)

  2. Thank you for the interesting description of how most marriages are still arranged and the other tidbits about dating and mating in Pakistan. So foreign to think of things as important as the decision to marry being determined that way, and yet, in some ways, so simple, so sweet. Your heritage may be scaring off women who do not yet know you for “you” yet, thinking that you may have expectations of marriage and even of a dating relationship more typical of your country’s traditions than those we have here. FYI: the Seattle Freeze is very real, but it really does not apply to dating so much as to friendships. The way “in” in Seattle for guys is if you know one of the girls’s friends, then you are “OK” and “safe” to talk to. The way the Freeze may be affecting your dating life is that many American women may need that time to actually get to know you platonically before trusting that your dating values are similar to theirs before getting involved.

    1. I think this is unfortunate–specifically, that people are unable/unwilling to take a chance on getting to know someone completely new. What’s the reason it has to come via a referral? Why not be more trusting of others?

  3. I read this article today and cannot tell you how many levels I relate to it on. I am also from Pakistan, Well my parents at least. I was born and raised in this lovely rainy city of Seattle but I have always struggled with the dating scene. It’s difficult the expectations you have from family when you live in the US but come from another background. When I was at my cousins wedding in Karachi recently, I noticed that it was almost the majority of people my age that appeared to have a much easier time dating there than I do here. I wa shocked bit really related to your article. Well written my fellow friend. :)

  4. Nice Article Although at the Age of 14 and half it was difficult to understand at some stages but even though great article I’m also from Pakistan.

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