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What I Learned About Love from Shopping in Morocco

When I lived in Southern Spain for several years in my earlier adulthood, Morocco was one of my favorite places to go and spend time. I took everyone who came to visit me to this magical land, Tangiers being just a quick ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar.  I loved visiting what felt like another world, and experiencing the astonishing smells and sounds of the Souks (the marketplaces). I could spend hours wandering through the stalls and discovering the amazing artisanship; the gorgeous Berber rugs, the endless selection of spices in all their scents and colors; the mosaics and colored glass lamps; the functional creations made from antiques… My favorite was a lamp made from an antique camel milking stand. My first few homes felt more like a tale from Arabian Nights than a visit to Pottery Barn!

One of the most crucial things to know about shopping at the Souk is the art of negotiation. Negotiation in the Souk is an expectation and even a form of respect. In fact, it’s considered an insult if you don’t bargain.  As an active codependent back then, this wasn’t so easy for me, but it was an education I’ve come back to again and again in my work as a relationship therapist.  I’ll tell you in a minute what I mean, but first, let me summarize what I learned to be the five keys to negotiating in the Souks of Morocco:. 

  1. Shop Around: Don’t stop at the first shop you meet. You become an informed shopper when you first take a look around and take note of the prices to get an idea of the range within which you can negotiate.
  2. Choose the Right Time: It’s better to negotiate at the beginning or end of the day. The first sale in the morning is actually a very good omen for Muslim traders which encourages them to be generous.
  3. Ask the Right Questions: Never announce the price you want to pay. Always let the seller set the first price. Pro tip: avoid “How much does it cost” and instead ask “How much would you suggest?” From that price, you can start negotiating. Usually, they recommend a price that is twice as much as they will take. 
  4. Set the Stage: Be aware you will be seduced in an effort to get the negotiation upper hand. You will be given delicious mint tea and likely offered a hookah to smoke if you wish.  You will sit like a Sultan as the store clerks bring out treasures for you to behold. But the storekeeper wants and expects you to have boundaries and negotiate with him, even as he is treating you as a friend. 
  5. Be Willing to Walk: Probably most importantly, if you want a good price, be willing to walk away. If a merchant is unwilling to go down to the price you hoped for, thank him for his help and tell him you’re not ready to buy the item at the price he is asking for, and walk away with your poker face on.  Almost always if you really are leaving, the seller will call you back. First, he’ll try one last time to get a higher price than yours. But in the face of you holding your boundary, he almost always will accept your price.   

All that I learned negotiating in the Souks of Morocco has not just served me in negotiations in business. It’s served me in my own love life and my work with couples. Because the bottom line is that getting our needs met in love is not so different from successful negotiation in the Souks:

  1. Shop Around: When you are shopping for a love match, don’t just settle for the first person who seems like a good fit, or to whom you are most attracted.  Always look for a partner who (most importantly) is a good communicator, flexible in their ideas, and willing to learn and grow. If each of you has those qualities, there’s almost nothing you can’t navigate through together.  
  2. Choose the Right Time: Don’t try to have big conversations when you are both exhausted or distracted, but instead during times of quiet with minimal distractions and when you know your partner will be most receptive so that a complicated conversation and negotiation has the best chance of going smoothly.
  3. Ask the Right Questions: Get a read on your partner’s feelings about an issue you want to address rather than making assumptions or jumping right into what you want. For instance, if you want more quality romantic time together, ask some questions first about what makes your partner feel the most romantic connection.  How do they feel about the current state of your connection? Are they satisfied or wanting more? Not only will you get a clear read on where your partner stands, but you may be surprised at how aligned you are. Either way, it will provide important information for you to use to contextualize your needs in a way that will most effectively land with your partner.   
  4. Set the Stage: Don’t forget to set the stage for a peaceful and loving conversation, especially if it’s a touchy subject or you are nervous about the conversation.  Choose a location where you both feel comfortable. Make some yummy snacks. Start with a hug or telling your partner how much they mean to you and clarify what is working between you, softening the space between you before getting into what you want to change.
  5. Be Willing to Walk: Of course, this does not mean that you threaten to walk away every time you meet resistance from your partner.  But it does mean that you do the work inside yourself to know that as much as you want this relationship to work, no one completes you. If you aren’t in choice in love, you are never able to truly get your needs met.  So, while you might be immensely devastated if this relationship ended, you know you would survive. And maybe you’d even be stronger than before and clearer about what you deserve in love.  When you know you can walk away if you must, you are fully in your power in love and fully able to stand for your own needs and healthy boundaries. 

So, there you go! That’s everything I learned from the Souks of Morocco about how to get your needs met in love. What do you think of this? Would you try these negotiation techniques? Let me know in the comments below as well as any other topics you’d like me to cover.  I’m here, always committed to helping you learn to love and be loved better.  

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