The American Way of Dating

Photo by Brandon Warren

With the (mostly) shared language, it's easy to for people from the UK to think that America is basically like Britain, apart from the funny accents. I had a little of that attitude when I moved here, but rapidly learned how wrong I was. With Valentine's coming up, I was reminded of one of the best examples of the alienness lurking under the surface; dating. As Kira Cochrane amusingly chronicled in The Guardian, the British standard is "go to a party, down some drinks, make eye contact with a person you fancy, proceed to kissing and often much more, wake up the next morning to find that you have magically become one half of a couple". It seems like the goal was to avoid any unambiguous declarations of interest, so that at any point either person can end the process without the other losing face.

This isn't how it usually works in the US, at least in the mainstream. The formality and rituals surrounding courtship feel like something out of a Noh play. The very idea of actually asking a near-stranger for a date, explicitly and with no particular preamble, in the full knowledge that you may be turned down, seems nothing short of revolutionary compared to the system I grew up with.

Kira ended up avoiding the rules when she was over here, but even she acknowledges there's a need they're filling. Maybe it's because American culture is so varied that the system has to be so explicit about intentions, since people growing up with radically different backgrounds will never be able to communicate using the subtle signs that the British rely on. There's also something refreshingly honest about the whole procedure. A friend was telling me about her travels in Ireland, and being romanced by a hopeful local man. She discovered he was married, with kids, so she asked if it was an open relationship? "Don't be disgusting, woman!" was the reply.

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