- In 2020, I moved to Spain and started dating men and women.
- Sex is expected on first dates and the bill is always shared equally, I was surprised.
- I was also surprised at how easy it is to be sharper in Spain.
As a 31-year-old woman, I’ve been on most dating apps and been on more dates than I can remember. During the pandemic, I even went on a “first date” with someone where we ordered each other food and FaceTimed. He cut out paper hearts and taped them to the wall behind him.
In 2020, I did another crazy thing: I moved to Spain to teach English. I don’t know if moving to another continent during the height of the pandemic was the craziest or the craziest thing I’ve ever done, but it certainly gave me a lot of new perspectives on life – especially on dating.
When I moved to Spain, I entered the world of gaming to see how it compared to going to the US. I went on dates with men and women over the course of three years — and I found great cultural differences.
On most of my dates in Spain, we split the bill evenly
When it came to dating men in Europe, I was surprised to find out that I was expected to pay my half of the bill. Not that I blame the idea that men should pick up the bill, but it was a definite change going from American culture where men are sometimes expected to pay to Spanish culture where that is never the assumption.
More surprisingly, one of the few dates that offered to cover the entire bill was a woman. The only time a Spanish man paid, he used it as “peacocking” a chance to show how much money he had.
Based on my experience, sex is expected on the first or second date in Spain
From the people I dated, I got the feeling that Spaniards see sex like they see wine – part of everyday life and easily accessible. Just as the Spanish norm of having a few glasses of wine at lunch might raise some eyebrows in the US, the casual approach to sex is also a bit more liberal.
Although it was not impossible, I did not come across many people who wanted to wait for a few dates before getting to know each other.
In Spain, I learned that most people could date for years without a formal commitment
In the United States, it is common to go on a few dates before the “define the relationship” conversation – or at least try to find out where the other person stands in terms of commitment.
And while this may be true in Spain, too, I have met many couples who have dated for years without getting married. One couple I met dated for seven years and then broke up, and it wasn’t the kind of break up that destroyed their life – it was just a casual end to a relationship.
I noticed that for the Spanish, they make a promise to each other, but that promise could have a time stamp rather than a wedding ring.
I also learned that most people don’t get married in their 20s in Spain
Back home in the US, it is quite common for people to date so they can find their ideal partner and get married. That means I know many Americans who married not only in their 20s, but also those who got divorced before the age of 30.
When I talk about American friends in their 20s going through divorce, my Spanish friends are surprised that I even know people who are married in their 20s. To them, it’s crazy that we jump into committed relationships so quickly.
I was surprised to learn that couples in parts of Spain were just as accepted and celebrated as heterosexual couples.
I regularly saw same-sex couples walking down the streets of Spain, which is not common across the US. The Pride festival brought the entire capital to a standstill, drawing everyone out to party. There was no fear, nor any church group with “Burn in hell” signs.
This environment helped me to let my guard down and be more open to meeting new people. It was a great experience to go on a date with a girl and know that we weren’t going to get dirty looks or be treated differently from the straight couple at the table next to us.
Another big difference I found in Spain is that there is less overall pressure as a queer person to accept a label or identity
In the United States, many people choose a letter from the LGBTQ+ acronym that defines them. Even when I was coming out, many times people would ask, “So, are you lesbian, or bi…?”
But in Spain, most people are more open-minded and don’t always identify as gay, bi or lesbian. Sometimes I didn’t even know that someone was queer until they told me outright – and not because they wanted to hide it, but because they are not expressed mainly through the filter of queerness.
In many ways, I understand that in the United States it is much easier to tell when someone is queer because it makes flirting on the streets or queer friends much easier. But for a lesbian kid like me, it was refreshing in Spain to relieve the pressure I often feel in the United States when I have to “prove” how queer I am. Self-acceptance was much easier when everyone accepted me as I was.
Almost three years of living in Spain revealed a whole new world of dating, love and magic. While there are always waves of homophobia no matter where you are, my time in Europe gave me a glimpse into a world of true equality — whether you’re splitting the bill on the first date or a 20-something divorced lesbian.