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The Impact of Displacement on Dating

Displaced people can struggle to project an attractive persona.

Key points

  • Zero-gen daters struggle to present an attractive persona to prospective partners because they have a rupture in their personal history.
  • They are misunderstood and lost within the differences in culture.
  • They exist in two different places while simultaneously belonging to neither of them.

Mohammed is a pseudonym of a real character through whom I will tell the collective stories of zero-gen daters, immigrants or refugees who must navigate unfamiliar cultures.

When Mohammed met Gabby, he was both excited and afraid. Since they were living in different states, he had to travel to meet her. The wait made him nervous as he sat alone on the bench for several minutes. At first, she was worried about being lost, until they finally caught sight of each other. Gabby stumbled and then ran towards ‎Mohammed.

He panicked, intimidated by the mere thought of shaking ‎hands at this first encounter. She was going in for a hug. Mohammed had never hugged a woman. Was he willing to hug Gabby?

As she approached him, his mind was engulfed by the clash of cultures. Gabby’s love language was physical touch, so she threw herself all over him, which at once stimulated and unnerved Mohammed. He was struggling with a pattern of dating anxiety.

Gabby was the first of several girls Mohammed would date who shared a common denominator—they were categorically unpatriotic, never shying away from voicing their discontent with America. Perhaps because the amalgam of Mohammed’s foreign identities is antithetical to all things American, these women appear to have been attracted to what he sees as his biggest flaw—his lack of Americanness.

His foreign accent, which is often perceived as a linguistic impediment or a sign of slow-wittedness, becomes a source of delight for these women. When he stumbles over a word, they complete his sentences. They always celebrate the fact that he speaks two languages. Since he immigrated, Mohammed has worn many identities—and acutely observed how people react to his persona projections. This process of reimagining self negatively impacted Mohammed's self-confidence.

After the date, they headed to her room. This would be the ‎first time Mohammed would be alone with a woman in a ‎room.

That thought ‎terrified him because he did not know how events would unfold. He wondered about when would they kiss and touch. He was clueless about consent, as he was raised without ever being alone in a bedroom with a woman—and was taught never to do so unless she was his wife. He had no cultural frame of reference to navigate this stimulating experience.

Gabby was confused by Mohammed’s unnatural reactions. His mind struggled with cultural clashes and machinations, all of which were transmitted through his body language. He felt tired, lay on her bed, and pretended to sleep. She started working on her computer.

Despite the proximity, they barely spoke. The more he thought about the morality of his choices, the less eager he was to take some action. He pretended to sleep, but his anguish kept him awake. As he began to calm down, Gabby jumped on the bed and tapped him on the shoulder. The rest was history.

As time went on, however, Mohammed could not successfully navigate his relationship with Gabby. It all ended prematurely. Reflecting on his time with Gabby, Mohammed realized that he did not have a coherent autobiographical story within which to understand his journey in the world because he relocated from one part of the world to another. This displacement caused a rupture in his personal story, thereby complicating his basic ability to navigate peer relationships. He was at the midpoint of the cross-pollination of ideas, identities, and civilizations.


I argue that Mohammed’s story is representative of zero-gen daters in general, who often struggle to present an attractive persona to prospective partners because they have a rupture in their personal history. Since confidence is an attractive trait in daters, many zero-gen daters are overlooked because they project an unstable, incoherent, and inconsistent narrative. From Mohammed’s story, we can identify three challenges.

First, he was clueless about the social script of romance, and that took a toll on him. “Scripts help people make sense of life and connect with others,” argues Lisa Hoplock. “According to the life script theory, celebrations often happen when life and event scripts are followed, but social repercussions happen when they’re not followed.”

Second, his displacement forced him to project an incoherent persona that confused Gabby. Attraction often happens in an atmosphere of trust, understanding, and connection. However, displaced people are both misunderstood and lost within the differences in culture. They have not cracked their internal code yet, and they have many codes to crack. They exist in two different places while simultaneously belonging to neither of them.

Third, Mohammed was going against his religion, which prohibits premarital affairs. Therefore, he was struggling with a sense of guilt for violating his values. This creates a hesitant persona that is often misunderstood by partners as a lack of confidence. The self-reinforcing cycle traps displaced zero-gen daters in a dating life abundant in failures and scarce in successes.

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