From scammers to 'creeps': Dubai residents trying to find love on dating apps say struggle is real

One of the biggest grievances on the platforms centred around people being unsophisticated — or downright crass


Elizabeth Gonzales

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Image used for illustrative purposes. File photo.
Image used for illustrative purposes. File photo.

Published: Sun 9 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 11 Jun 2024, 4:31 PM

You would think dating in a bustling city like Dubai — home to millions of people from every corner of the world — would make it that much easier to bump into someone and have that perfect 'meet-cute' moment. And with dating apps that allow you to simply swipe right and skip the awkwardness of trying to chat up a stranger, what could go wrong? According to residents, plenty.

As one jaded expat put it, only half-jokingly, "Dating today is so hard, it should qualify as an extreme sport." Khaleej Times spoke to a cross-section of residents* seeking love amid the challenges of the modern-day dating game — and the responses were illuminating and appalling in equal measure.

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Lack of honesty

Dating in Dubai has been difficult for 35-year-old Matt because of "catfishers" — a term used to describe those who pretend to be someone they're not on social media in order to appear more appealing or attractive. According to the Italian designer, he gets disappointed when women look better in their profiles than they do in real life. "I went out on a few dates with women who looked nothing like their pictures," he said. "Perhaps, some of those pictures were old and they didn't bother updating them — but they left me feeling deceived."

For her part, 23-year-old Indian writer M. D. said she's amused when men on the apps lie about their height and age. "I think it's just weird — because when we eventually meet, it's not as if I won't be able to tell that he's not six feet tall. Also, why would anybody lie about such a basic thing? It matters more to be honest than to be tall."

Gymnastics coach Sarah Dale has been living in Dubai for six months and has been actively dating for about four months. The 'catfishing' she's experienced is not physical, but emotional. "Very few people are honest about what they're looking for," the 46-year-old British expat said. "For example, on their profile, they'll say they're looking for a long-term relationship, but then actually only want a hookup. It's fine if that's what they want, but why lie about it?"

Sarah Dale
Sarah Dale

The 'long con'

Then, of course, there are the actual scammers — the ones for whom the 'catfishing' term was originally coined and who create fake social media profiles to con the unwitting out of money.

For S. Proctor, this is why his experience of dating in Dubai over the last two years has been 'more miss than hit'. "The apps are dominated by scammers, so it takes ages to find a 'real' person," opined the 42-year-old British tech professional.

S. Proctor
S. Proctor

Mohamed A. S., a Jordanian sales manager, has had the same unfortunate experience with scam profiles. The 26-year-old said, "Most of the women who tried to match with me turned out to be scammers. Now, I no longer use the apps. I'll just let the universe decide. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, then I'll live alone and adopt cats."

Andeng, an admin staff at a private firm, shared how one guy she matched with on a dating app tried to ask her for money almost immediately. "Not even one hour into the conversation, he already asked me for cash," she laughed. "I must admit, I'm a little flattered that he thinks I have money," the 26-year-old Filipino added.

Where is the finesse?

One of the biggest grievances of trying to find love on the apps centred around people being unsophisticated — or downright crass. Forget courtship or patience, residents said. Too often, total strangers are inappropriate right from the first message, even before they say hello.

Social media editor N.R., a 26-year-old Indian expat living in Dubai, recounted how someone she matched with once didn't bother with greetings. His first message just said, 'Let's cut to the chase: your place or mine?' "I was disappointed but not shocked," she said. "It just made me want to leave the apps all over again. I unmatched him immediately, since I didn't want to waste my time."

People hiding behind their screens think that they can say whatever they want, say residents. They take advantage of the perceived anonymity provided by the apps and think it absolves them of accountability.

N.E., a 23-year-old lawyer, has been living in Dubai for 13 years now, and started exploring the dating apps scene in Dubai recently. "It's a very superficial experience," said the disappointed African-American expat. "Once, while trying to get to know a guy, I asked him what he does for a living and his response was, 'Is that a gold digger question?' I didn't know why he was being weird; I just wanted to know what he did."

Meanwhile, Ivan A., an engineer who's been living in Dubai for four years now, struggles to find someone he can connect with at an emotional level. The 38-year-old Ukranian stated, "The people I met with were not at the same level of emotional intelligence. Most of them just want to have fun, and don't want to be vulnerable."

It doesn't help that, in the modern dating culture, most people "just want the relationship benefits without the responsibility and commitment that go with it". Danabelle Gutierrez, a 39-year-old Filipino author living in Dubai, said: "There's a transient state of mind most people have that translates to how they deal in dating — as if to say, we're dating just for now, just here, just until..." She added that it's hard to meet someone who wants to commit to anything long-term because "most of them just want to go with the flow".

Danabelle Gutierrez
Danabelle Gutierrez

Blame the algorithm

Dating apps have long redefined how people meet and fall in love, but there's also an increasing awareness of how commercialised they've become in recent years — capitalising on the desperation of the lonely to stay profitable.

H. Ismail, a 30-year-old Egyptian health coach said that the algorithm only shows her profiles of people that she has nothing in common with. "It's so annoying when they do this. It's as if they are showing me those profiles on purpose so I'll be forced to pay for subscription," she exclaimed. "Well, I did pay for a premium. And won't you know it, the algorithm showed me better profiles."

Adam, an HR manager for a private firm, echoes the same sentiment. The 32-year-old Indian said that he used to be on the dating apps, but not anymore. "The apps push you towards subscribing and paying with minimal results. Now, I meet people at community events and if we vibe, we vibe."

Great expectations

Residents have also noted that, when all is said and done, there still remains the issue of compatibility — and the expectations that change with age and seasons of life.

Hashem A. is looking for "someone that has plans for the future and knows what they want". The 20-year-old Emirati student also mentioned, "I stopped dating for now because it can be so expensive. Some of of my dates wanted to go to places that are too high-end for students."

Chinese expat Pei-Wen is looking for someone that she can build a family with. The 35-year-old executive assistant said: "I'm at a point in my life where I wish I could just skip the dating part and go straight to getting married. I'm ready to settle down, so I'm dating with the intention to get married. It's quite sad that most men my age aren't ready yet."

One 48-year-old Taiwanese expat (who wished to remain anonymous) said she's looking for something casual as she'd just gotten out of a divorce. "I want to date to enjoy someone's company without the pressure and commitment of a relationship. But I don't get a lot of likes or matches on the apps. Because I'm older, my dating options are limited. It also seems like most men prefer to date women much younger than women their own age," she added.

A silver lining

While the scene looks bleak, all isn't doom and gloom. Some Dubai couples have spoken of how they met on dating apps and went on to build happy, committed relationships with each other.

Sev and Laura met on a dating app seven years ago. A 34-year-old standup comedian, Sev was based in Al Ain when he met his now-wife, an Argentinian singer. As she was based in Dubai, he used to commute two to three times a week to see her. Dating in Dubai wasn't as difficult for him because he hit the jackpot on the first try, the American resident said. "She was my first and only date in Dubai."

Laura Rudchenco and Sev Rasmusson
Laura Rudchenco and Sev Rasmusson

American couple Leah and Luke — yes, just like in Star Wars — met on a dating app 10 years ago. Leah was working as a telesales agent for a real estate company in Dubai when she matched with Luke who was still in the US then. The couple, who are both 36 years old, has been married for seven years. They now live in the US with their two cats.

Luke H. and Leah H.
Luke H. and Leah H.

Jesm, a 31-year-old Filipino operations manager met her husband on the app, as well. They have been together for nine years now, married for four, and live in Dubai with their three cats and one dog. However, before meeting Luke, a 31-year-old British expat who works in publishing, Jesm said the process was very trying. "All the other guys I connected with through the apps turned out to be creeps. I'd make sure to pay my own bills each time, so they'd have nothing to hang over my head."

Luke S. and Jesm S.
Luke S. and Jesm S.

(*Some full names have been withheld on request to protect identities.)


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