– By: Caroline Emile
Saturday October 1, 2016
Caption: Gerard van Honthorst, The Match-Maker (1625)
I finally arrived in Cairo after an absence of four years. I was really looking forward to an exciting Christmas/New Year holiday, where I could hang out with friends at the latest hip and trendy venues that had sprung up across the city since I’d last visited, and just generally have a good break from London and the dreary English winter.
One small matter though that I expected would interfere with my plans for a carefree holiday: the ‘blind dates’ that I knew I was going to eventually have to face.
By not visiting my homeland in years, I’d somehow developed a queue of relatives and family friends (all female of course!), who were very eager to introduce me to a variety of men. I was after all, 29 years and 2 months old, and … wait for it … STILL SINGLE! Obviously that was license enough for my nearest and dearest (and even not so nearest and dearest) to decide to take matters into their own hands to try to help me out of my ‘predicament’.
And predicament it sure seemed to be in my part of the world. As long as two years earlier – when I was still to turn 27 – I was told by a priest at my church in London that I “still had time”, although “forasek bet’ell” (your chances are decreasing) and “we should try to do something”. It had sounded to me like I was suffering from a terminal disease and the doctor was reminding me that my clock was ticking away! And what exactly was it that “we” should have done to help me find Mr. Right in the first place?
So now the volunteer matchmakers finally had me in Cairo, and on top of their list was Mr. A. I was told he was 33 or 34, from “a very good family”, and was in the Foreign Service. Fair enough. Not much to go on, but it seemed that this was enough cause for us to meet.
Never mind that he lived in Cyprus and only visited Cairo for holidays just like me. I wondered if chemistry developed between us if he’d be the one to hop onto a plane to London every few weeks to spend time with me, or if it would be me who’d jet off to Cyprus. Or would we both fly to Cairo? Yes, I knew I was getting way ahead of myself there, but one has to be practical about these things.
Nevertheless, I agreed to go ahead with meeting him. I would say I’m a fairly social kind of person. I enjoy meeting new people, broadening my horizons etc. I figured I wouldn’t really have anything to lose by meeting him. My main objection, though, was to the formality of the occasion: it had been decided by the matchmaker – a common friend between our two families – that she would come along to our home and bring him and his family. Talk about a bit too many people for a first date!
But the arrangements had been agreed long before I’d landed in Cairo, and I had been merely informed of the way things were going to be. If I could have had it my way, I would have much preferred to meet him with a group of my and/or his friends in a café or something. We were in the twenty first century and I wondered why we needed all these chaperones! I also worried that if we didn’t hit it off, how would I be able to end the meeting? I could hardly walk out on him and his family from my own home! And it would have been very rude to excuse myself to the bathroom to never emerge again for the rest of the evening.
So anyhow, D-Day arrived. I wasn’t nervous, but just eager to get the whole thing over and done with. It wasn’t at all my cup of tea. I was just doing it to humour my relatives. Ok – and on the off chance that he may actually be the guy of my dreams.
However those dreams sure were short-lived. I know you shouldn’t judge a person on first impressions and all that, but the fact of the matter is we all do whether we will admit to it or not. Appearance wise he really wasn’t the sort of person I’d normally get attracted to. His style was just far too old for me, like he was already middle-aged. And following a few snippets of conversation, I really didn’t get the feeling that we had anything in common or of interest to even discuss. We were literally from different walks of life. I had left Egypt when just 6 years old and had lived abroad for the remaining 23 years of my life, whereas he’d lived in Egypt all of his life with the exception of the previous two years.
Furthermore, it seemed we were from different generations. We didn’t go to the same restaurants and clubs – in fact he’d never heard of most of my favourite venues in Egypt before. And the biggest red light was he rarely used the Internet – he only checked his email every few days and used the net primarily to read the newspapers. Righttttt … on the other hand I was logged on practically 24/7 through broadband, zapping emails to friends all over the world every hour literally, or catching up with them through instant messaging.
It’s incredible how slowly time seems to pass when you’re bored! I kept glancing up at the clock on the mantelpiece thinking that an eternity had passed, only to realize it had just been five minutes or so.
Matters didn’t improve when my grandma went and dug out some family photos, ranging from my graduation, to a party I had thrown in London to celebrate it, to some totally random pictures of myself and my family. I was being put on show for the “arees” (suitor) and his family!
If that weren’t enough, at one point his mum whipped out her mobile phone, pointed it at me, and took a photo of me herself! How odd was that I wondered. Maybe she needed her own copy to take away, perhaps to catalogue against the other potential brides they were considering.
I don’t know how exactly I endured that two hour visit. But eventually maybe he got the hint that there really was no “x factor”, or maybe he didn’t, but thankfully he finally brought the visit to an end by getting up to leave. I literally jumped up to show him and his family out of the door! My job was finally done. I had humored the matchmakers and had granted them their wish. I just wanted to get back to enjoying my holiday!
Wishful thinking I suppose. I’d probably only be allowed a brief interlude until it was the turn of the next mystery man on their list. I wished they’d just do a bit more research on their short-listed beaus rather than surprise me with totally unsuitable candidates again.