Secret relationships in times of the coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis has put more constraints on the love lives of many Lebanese young people, especially those who are in interreligious or gay relationships.

al-monitor A couple walk in Sidon, Lebanon, Sept. 8, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Ali Hashisho.
Wael Taleb

Wael Taleb

@waeltaleb23

Topics covered

Coronavirus

Apr 24, 2020

Rita, a 23-year-old psychology student, found herself locked down at home with her parents after Lebanon declared a full lockdown due to the coronavirus. She could only communicate with her boyfriend of three years in secret since her Christian parents would never approve of a Muslim boyfriend.

Rita usually met with her boyfriend at least once a week. But like many couples around the world, the pandemic has forced them to deal with the struggles of separation. Rita also has to deal with extra pressure due to the secrecy of her interreligious love life.

“The worst part is that in this hard time we are living, I can’t tell my parents that I miss him or tell them about all the good things he does for me to make me feel better about the situation,” Rita said. “We also don’t have the privilege other couples have, which is to talk on the phone or video call each other, so it leaves us with texting, which causes unnecessary misunderstandings, making an already hard situation worse,” she added.

On March 15, Lebanon declared a general mobilization that includes shutting down all nonessential institutions, including Beirut’s international airport, as well as putting in place nightly curfews and a host of other measures to encourage people to stay home in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite Beirut’s reputation for being the party capital of the Middle East, Lebanon is still in many ways a conservative country. This includes interreligious marriages that are poorly viewed in the country, adding pressure to most interreligious relationships in Lebanon.

There is a great deal of agreement between the Christian and Muslim communities in Lebanon regarding many social issues. Both communities — and especially their religious leaders — are opposed to legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon. As such, these marriages are mostly not recognized inside of Lebanon. But many others, particularly young people, protest the ban on civil marriages as an impediment to interfaith marriage.

“I can’t imagine us ending up together, although we have been together for three years and we really love each other,” Rita said, adding, “It’s like knowing it is not going to work but trying anyway.”

Layla, 19, would have definitely chosen to move in with her boyfriend if she had the chance during this lockdown. Instead, they are each spending the lockdown at their respective parents’ homes. Layla has been with her boyfriend for a year and a half. She said that although they are not the “biggest fans” of social media and texting, they had to get out of their comfort zones and use the internet as their main tool of communication.

The Lebanese economy has been deteriorating for years, with low paying jobs and an unemployment rate for people under 25 standing at 37% in late 2019, according to former Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara. Amid these circumstances, young people can’t afford to live independently from their parents, leaving people like Layla at their parents’ mercy.

“My parents are remotely religious and would stick with the traditions, so sadly, moving in with my boyfriend and having their approval is only a possibility if we get married,” she said

Hasan, 22, used to work in a gaming lounge. He is now jobless due to the lockdown and has to spend most of his time around his parents. He has not come out to them as gay.

“I just wait for my parents to fall asleep, then I go to the bathroom just to be extra cautious to be able to send my partner a voice message,” he said, adding, “We make up for not being able to communicate well by watching the same movies and reading the same books.”

Hasan and other members of Lebanon’s LGBT community face difficulties not felt by non-LGBT residents, and even though they are considerably freer than in other parts of the Middle East, society is still largely traditional when it comes to gay rights. Many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Lebanon have to find ways to keep their love lives secret in their households.

“It makes me sad that my parents will never meet my partner,” Hasan said, adding, “In fact, the other day my father was talking about how he and his coworkers made fun of a guy because he was gay, so telling him is not the best idea.”

The coronavirus crisis has certainly put more constraints on the romantic lives of certain social groups in Lebanon, particularly among women and the LGBT community. These constraints are not ending anytime soon, as the social distancing measures are expected to remain worldwide until 2022, according to a Harvard study. With the increasing number of domestic abuse cases in Lebanon due to home quarantine, and having to spend most of their time at home in the months to come, individuals such as Hasan are not eager to have any discussion about their love lives with their parents.

“I hope the day will come where I can be open about who I really am to my parents, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” Hasan said.

Names have been changed due to the sensitive information.

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