In summer I always notice how many young couples there are in all the parks in Bishkek. These young women and men sit or walk next to each other, sometimes hold hands, but only very rarely kiss. This probably strikes me because parks in the Netherlands and Germany don’t have that many people who are clearly dating. Maybe our dating takes place elsewhere. Young people in Kyrgyzstan often have little money and walking in the park is free. Many also live at home so meeting there isn’t possible. Kyrgyzstan is also a young country so there’s comparatively more young people of dating age.
On the surface, dating among young Kyrgyzstani people seems to work more or less like it did in Europe in the 1950’s. The man always has to take the initiative, has to pay for everything and sex before marriage is taboo. Under the surface people use dating apps and hymen reconstruction surgery is popular.
On Valentine’s day men are forced by expectations to buy presents for their girlfriends and wives, just like in the West. For some of my students this is especially annoying because they have no money to pay for them.
Dating is a serious business in Kyrgyzstan because people are expected to get married in their early twenties. If they fail to find a partner themselves, families get involved. For some people this works out well, like for a friend who worked in the Kumtor Gold mine and was still unmarried at 28. He then asked his family to find him a wife. He met with a few girls, found one he liked and is now happily married.
Yet for progressive women the attempts by their families to find them good matches can get annoying quickly. My friend once sabotaged a family arranged date. The man picked her up by car and took her to a restaurant. In Kyrgyzstan, women are expected to pour the tea and so the waiter placed it in front of her. But she refused to serve him, even after he told her to do so. He finally gave in to his thirst and poured tea himself.
“We’re from two different pieces of dough,” were his last words when he dropped her off.
She was lucky to have the freedom to act this way. Bride kidnapping does happen in Kyrgyzstan and not just in the countryside. Even without direct kidnapping many families pressure their children into marrying people they consider suitable.
Oppressive moral norms limit the possibilities for young people to date. It’s not considered suitable for women to have too many boyfriends before getting married. They might get lose their image of being “good girls.” People talk a lot in Kyrgyzstan and their favourite topic are other people.
A friend once explained why this makes foreigners popular dates. “If you have something with someone from here, he can talk about it afterwards or people can find out. But we know you foreigners are going to leave soon anyway. So the idea is ‘Fuck that foreigner while he’s here!'”