Before I jump right into things, I’d just like to pre-emptively avoid any possible confusion and stress that when it comes to dating or any type of relationship, it is best not to generalize. Yes, I have been dating a Spanish man for three years, and yes I know many other American girls who are also dating Spanish men. And while there are some similarities, that’s not to say that all Spanish men are the same. That’d be as silly as saying all relationships are the same. That being stated, I’ll do my best to share some aspects of Spanish culture that influence my relationship.
1. Family Matters
I think it’s safe to say the first and most important part of dating a Spaniard is when you meet their family. Meeting the family is a big deal in most cultures, but even more so here, and it can happen pretty soon into the relationship. Three weeks into dating my boyfriend, I still remember when he timidly asked me if I would like to meet his niece and sister. My first reaction was, “Wow, that was fast,” especially as they live in Sevilla and it meant taking a trip out there just for the occasion. But for him it wasn’t too soon. Family is more important here than it can be in the US. Weekly dinners, or even daily lunches, where the whole family comes together are really common. So when you meet the family, it’s a big deal and it means a lot to them. But once you meet them, you’re immediately a new member of their circle and they’re thrilled to have you. So be prepared to possibly join in on those weekly dinners. Or in my case, heading to Sevilla on one of our road trips. Also, it can sometimes be the case where they have nights set aside to eat with their family alone. So don’t be offended if their Monday or Tuesday night is always booked for family dinners and they can’t hang out with you.
On a somewhat related note, most Spanish guys still live at home, especially now with the economic crisis. It’s completely normal for them to be at home until they’re married or in a serious relationship. My boyfriend lives on his own, but from what I understand from my other friends it doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue. If you have your own apartment, chances are you’ll just spend more time at your place than his. It’s just a matter of getting used to the idea of a 28 plus year old still living with his parents. But it’s just another one of those cultural differences.
2. The Language Issue
So here’s where things can get sticky because this really depends on your level of Spanish and your boyfriend’s level of English. I was lucky to have a solid base of Spanish when I came to Spain, but I’ve got friends who started their relationships with zero Spanish and their boyfriends have zero English, and they’ve made it work. My boyfriend actually has quite a good base of English, but we’ve maybe spoken a total of twenty words in English during our entire relationship (that’s a whole other issue that has to do more with him not liking to be corrected, but I also think it’s a general Spanish attitude when it comes to English. They really, really don’t like learning English here).
Now, being realistic, things can get complicated when it comes to those inevitable arguments. I’ve more or less always been able to communicate how I’m feeling to my partner, and understood his sentiments as well. But I’ve also learned that it’s OK to say that you don’t understand and ask them to re-phrase what they’re saying, and that’s especially the case when you’re arguing because misunderstandings can lead to an even bigger blow-up. When it comes to arguments patience is always key, but even more so when you don’t share the same native language.
Do I miss dating someone who speaks English? Once in a blue moon, when my brain is tired from working so hard to talk, yes. But I think that’s normal. My big concern was that my boyfriend wouldn’t really get a sense of who I am because I feel like I express myself differently in English than in Spanish. There are phrases and vernacular that we use that I don’t know how to translate into Spanish. This feeling comes and goes, but I think with time, and through your actions most of all, your partner understands who you are as you become comfortable with each other. The important thing is to try not to be self-conscious. And your partner should be able to understand that and be patient with you. After all, you’re learning a new language!
3. Plans are non-existent
I’ve written about this many times before, and I keep repeating it, because to this day I have yet to meet a Spaniard, guy or girl, who plans more than a few days in advance. Plans do not exist here. The Spanish are a go with the flow kind of people. They like to see where life takes them; they do not limit what could happen on any given day by making strict plans.
So, how does this apply to a relationship? Well, in mine in particular it was a bit difficult for us to overcome this huge difference between us at first. I’m a compulsive planner, coming from a city where you have to schedule a coffee date with someone at least two days in advance. And my boyfriend is carpe diem to the max. As you can imagine, it led to quite a few arguments, especially when it came to planning trips. I was ready to lay out the dates and reserve rooms weeks in advance and he complained that it was way too soon. With time, however, we struck a balance. I eventually adapted to the Spanish lifestyle and became less uptight about planning and he understood that for bigger trips we had to make reservations and do all of those things in advance. But when we’re on those trips, other than restaurant reservations, plans don’t happen. We wander, we explore, and we enjoy. The same thing happened for those dates in the beginning of our relationship, when we were still getting to know each other. He’d message me the day of or the day before to tell me about some event or ask me to grab a drink, we’d settle on a time, meet, and then see where our feet took us. It took a lot of the pressure off those first few weeks. There were no rules, limitations, expectations. It was just about enjoying each other’s company.
Spanish men have a reputation for being incredibly romantic. I actually think part of that comes from confusion with Latin American men who I’ve found are actually much more romantic than the Spanish.
I can’t speak to this with any type of specifics because I think this aspect of a relationship really depends on the person, and I haven’t found a general similarity amongst my boyfriend and those of my friends. I personally haven’t seen or heard of Spanish men randomly buying flowers or chocolates for their girlfriends. All of those scenes in movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona with the hot-blooded Spanish man flirting with all those women and wooing them with walks in the park or brazenly approaching them at first lust-filled sight…yea that’s just a movie, folks.
In fact, I’ve found Spanish men quite shy and not at all forward when it comes to talking to girls. My boyfriend was an absolute gentleman to the point where I wasn’t sure if he was interested, and I was the one who actually made the first move! Another friend of mine said she thought her boyfriend was mean at first because he barely spoke to her and it turns out he was just incredibly shy. And when you meet people at parties, well the guys almost always wait for you to strike up the conversation with them. So, if you see a guy you want to talk to, don’t expect them to approach you. It’s better if you make the first move. Otherwise, you could be waiting for quite a while.
5. Labels and “Playing the Game”
Again, I haven’t found any similarities across the board here. When it came to these things for my boyfriend and I, things were never forced. We liked each other, we knew we liked each other, and we were adults about it. There was no game playing. No “Well, I can’t call, it’s too soon,” or “It’s his turn to call me.” We talked to each other when we wanted to talk to each other, and saw each other whenever we wanted to see each other. It was the most liberating and relaxed starting periods of dating a guy that I’ve ever had. We also didn’t put any labels at all, and never spoke about using those labels. The first time he called me his novia was randomly when he was explaining something about talking me up to his friends. Of course I got all girly and was happy to hear it come out of his mouth, but really, that was it. We understand that we love each other and we’re together. No need for labels.
Another friend of mine said that labels never came up with her boyfriend either, it was just understood after a certain period of time. Nor was any sort of game played there. But on the other hand I’ve heard stories about Spanish guys who’ve strung girls along. So, they’re still out there…
That’s dating Spanish men in a nutshell. There are so many other aspects to dating and relationships, but again, it’s hard to get into specifics or give examples because each person is so unique. In fact, when I told my boyfriend I was writing this, he was adamant in saying that he is too one of a kind to generalize about. While that definitely is the case, these are the few cultural similarities I’ve found.
Read about the journey of our relationship, from breaking up when I moved back to NY to coming back to Spain, here.
Are you dating a Spanish man? Are you dating someone whose culture is different from yours? What have you found in your inter-cultural relationship?