So she was relieved when Alexander Adams gravitated toward her. They were in the same age bracket, and shared a profession as well; the 27-year-old British journalist, a feature writer for Muscat Daily, was impressed that Stephanie had left her job at Forbes for the Fulbright.
“I was just happy to have a friend. I knew integrating into the culture would be a challenge, and if anyone could help, it’d be expats like Alex,” Stephanie says. She soon fell in love with Oman and appreciated the friendly way Alex helped her navigate the expat world. He showed her how to sneak into the nearby five-star hotels to use the swimming pools and how to shoo away the stray cats that would crawl up out of the desert heat into the engine of her car, and he used his rare liquor license to contribute wine when she hosted an American-style Thanksgiving dinner for Omani and expat guests. And it helped to have a male companion to go out with, as young women walking alone were rare.
“We have a shared love of the Middle East. We just have long, engaging debates back and forth,” Stephanie says. Alex wondered if they could be more than friends but knew she had a boyfriend in the States. But the distance wasn’t working out; when Stephanie returned to Oman after a Christmas break, she was single.
Their long walks through the city of Muscat and the local beaches seemed to take on a different meaning after that. Alex’s feelings were growing stronger, and he knew Stephanie would be leaving in a few months, when her fellowship ended. So in February, he took a risk and asked her on a proper date. “I figured, I better go for it,” he says. “It was something I wanted to do to try and make it official in a way.”
Stephanie was hesitant. She, too, had felt their bond growing stronger but was wary of jumping into another relationship and afraid of ruining their friendship. “But I knew Alex enough to know he was kind and thoughtful,” she says. “I was like, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ ”
He shaved and put on his best shirt before picking her up; she traded her usual modest garb for a knee-length dress. Alex’s job as a feature writer didn’t have him “rolling in the rials,” as he puts it, but he wanted to take her somewhere special. They went to dinner at a pricey beach-side restaurant at a hotel popular with Westerners, where it would be okay for her lower legs to show and for them to hold hands without causing a stir.
Things were oddly stiff and formal — having declared it an “official date” had added a level of pressure and expectation that neither was prepared to address. Finally, Alex broke the ice: “Are you as nervous as I am?” he asked.