When I moved to Spain from the U.K. four years ago, the people around me were full of advice. My teachers told me to practice my Spanish and my parents were insistent that I stay away from sangría, but the pearl of wisdom that cropped up repeatedly was this one: get yourself a Spanish man. It did sound like a good idea. A Spanish boyfriend would teach me the language and immerse me into the culture, and, well, the Spanish are said to be the world’s best lovers.
But once I arrived, I realized the Spanish dating scene was full of cultural differences I hadn’t expected. First, there was the language barrier. Of course I’d been prepared for a few misunderstandings, but I hadn’t realised just how much I’d manage to embarrass myself. On one memorable occasion, I tried to say “I’m hot” but actually said (to the delight of my date), “I’m horny”. A few weeks later, I asked a barman to give me a blowjob (una chupada) instead of a shot (un chupito) — this time, my date was less impressed.
In Spain, meeting your prospective soulmate (or, as the locals say, your “half orange,” which no, I don’t get either) can easily happen at 10 p.m. A text at that hour isn’t a booty call. It’s a totally reasonable time to ask someone on a dinner date. This has its perks. When a date goes well, you can drag it out for just a few hours and hold hands while watching the sun rise. It’s hard to get more romantic than that. And if things are going poorly, “it’s getting late” is a perfectly reasonable excuse to head home, even if you only met up an hour ago. A win-win if you ask me.
Back home in Britain, my usual pre-date routine was frantically texting “5 mins late, so sorry!” while I dashed around my apartment hunting for my handbag, and my other shoe, and that magic lipstick that’s just the right shade of red, none of which I could possibly leave the house without. But in Spain, if you’re five minutes late, you’re early. “On time” is a nebulous concept that covers the first 20 minutes or so of a date (and anything else).
I still love that red lipstick, but I have changed my style since moving here. Spanish beauty standards are not the same as British ones. For example, I was very surprised to find out that lots of men here shave their legs. Spaniards are also incredibly coordinated — one of my friends has prescription glasses in enough colors to match any outfit — and the line between dressy and casual is so blurred that people often go clubbing in jeans. So although I don’t dress up for first dates here, I do make sure that my hair-tie matches my shoes.
The only stumbling block I’ve found with dating in this country is the occasional flare-up of a macho culture. When I offered to split the bill with my first ever Spanish date — a sweet, mild-mannered man — he was so offended that he angrily told me to fuck off. I’ve sometimes felt men would prefer me to be more passive. I’ve politely told a couple of guys that I didn’t feel a spark on our first date, and instead of accepting it, they’ve argued with me and said that because they felt it, it must have been there. (My bad, guys. Guess I just wasn’t trying hard enough to fancy you.)
But for every man who makes you feel like you should give up and embrace a life of celibacy, there are 10 who’ll remind you why you’re on Tinder in the first place. Online dating is pretty popular in Spain, so sometimes just a few seconds of flipping through the app will net you a match, and people aren’t afraid to put a little personality into their profiles. Quirky photos are everywhere, from playfully photoshopped half-man, half-cat hybrids to burly men in banana costumes (I Liked that guy). Although bios can get a little repetitive (you can’t all love travelling, dogs, and sushi, guys) conversations are really varied. I’ve had lighthearted chats comparing Brexit to a flock of chickens and a surprisingly deep conversation about Michael Jackson’s favorite monkey.
I’ve met some wonderful people here. There was the kindly chef who taught me how to cut an apple into the shape of a swan, and the intrepid traveler who told me stories of cut-price surgery in a Russian hospital. There was the mathematician who forgave me for my inability to understand even the most basic premise of his Ph.D. There was even the rich salesperson who said he loved the feeling of putting on new socks so much that he brought 30 freshly purchased pairs with him each time he left the country (yes, this guy was for real, I promise).
I may not like hosiery quite as much that salesperson, but there are plenty more fish in the sea (or, as the Spanish say, there are plenty more days than sausages). It’s just a matter of time before I find my half orange.