I like dating. I don’t get nervous before first dates, I’ve gone through the ups and downs of a relationship, and I can analyze a date over brunch with my friends as well as anyone who grew up watching Sex and the City. And recently, I was hired as a matchmaker at Tawkify, a dating service, so you could even say that dating is one of my areas of professional expertise. When I moved to Paris in January for a semester abroad, I assumed that I’d return home with a few sweet anecdotes about a French boyfriend named Guillaume or Pierre. You know, about that time we ate foie gras and read Sartre together on the banks of the Seine while a nearby musician played “Moonlight River” or something.
Four months later, let me break the obvious news to you: that didn’t happen.
Paris may be the City of Love, but that totally threw me off when I first arrived. America and France have completely different philosophies and rituals when it comes to dating. The differences are so pronounced that my school held a dating workshop a few days after we arrived to prep us for culture shock. In our crash course on dating in France, we learned:
The French don’t worry too much about labels. You’re simply together until you’re not.
A French person might take a kiss on the lips to mean you’re now a couple.
French men, in particular, are incredibly persistent. When they like you, they’ll make sure you know it.
I felt like everything I knew about dating was flipped on its head. So for my first few weeks in Paris, I avoided the subject. I was having a blast exploring the city, meeting new friends, and traveling. A few weeks into the semester, my friend brought me along to her Parisian boyfriend’s party. We were immediately welcomed with chocolate cake and champagne, and I was steered into an open chair next to a blonde guy.
“This is my friend Adrien,” my friend’s boyfriend whispered. “He is single!”
Adrien and I chatted for awhile that night, alternating between my halting French and his thickly-accented English. He was sweet. He told me stories about his travels and complained about President Hollande tanking the economy.
But while Adrien was friendly, there wasn’t much chemistry. I ran into Adrien a few more times at parties, and when he invited me out for drinks one-on-one, I said yes. Even if the date flopped, it would be an awesome opportunity to practice my French.
We went to a chic cocktail lounge in my neighborhood and chatted for two hours. It was a mentally exhausting date. He spoke quickly in French and the bar was noisy, and it was hard for me to keep up. He told a story about working at either a preschool, a night club, or a preschool for the children of night club employees. I nodded and smiled a lot. I repeated “Oui, je comprends!” (“Yes, I understand!”) most emphatically when, in fact, I hadn’t understood anything at all.
The next day, he sent me a few messages at 11 a.m. And then a few more at 6 p.m. And then a few more the following morning. He asked to see me that Saturday, but I told him I was traveling that weekend. He repeated that he’d really like to see me, and then checked in twice over the weekend to ask how my trip was going. When I came back, he asked if I had plans that night. When I didn’t respond right away, he asked if he could see me the next day. And the next day… and the day after that. He had this habit of adding smiley faces to the end of every sentence that him look like a pre-teen girl who just discovered emojis.
Finally, I agreed to meet him for drinks just to quell the incessant stream of messages. The date was kind of meh – not terrible, but not great, either. When we parted on the Metro, I leaned down to give him a quick peck on the lips before heading home.
I didn’t realize my mistake until I went to my friend’s boyfriend’s party the next week and ran into Adrien.
“Ooooh!” one of the guys squealed when I walked in. “I know what you and Adrien did!”
“What?” I asked. I replayed our date in my head and couldn’t come up with any gossip-worthy scandals.
“You kissed!” he crowed, as if he had discovered the scoop of the century.
Ugh. I didn’t want to see Adrien anymore. After all, there was Hugo, the disgustingly handsome guy who worked for Louis Vuitton, Jean-Michel, an investment banker who invited me out for margaritas, and Sébastien, a friend of a friend who twirled me around a dance floor one night. But Adrien’s messages kept coming. They got to the point where I’d purposely sign off Facebook chat to avoid him. There was no spark – why couldn’t he see that? Eventually, I told him I was busy studying for finals, and wasn’t able to see him before I left Paris.
So, my French fling didn’t go exactly as I had planned. But I’m glad I met my fair share of French guys. Between my own experiences and hearing about a few of my friends’ relationships with French men, I’ve learned a lot. The City of Love taught me a few lessons I want to bring home with me to the States.
1. Keep it simple.
Even if college isn’t exactly a popular breeding ground for serious relationships, you can still apply a dozen different labels to what goes on between co-eds: Facebook official, long-term relationship, hooking up, friends with benefits, booty call, one-night stand, and the vague “just hanging out.” In France, it seems, you’re either dating or you’re not. It’s gloriously simple. Whether you just met last night or have been seeing each other for months, the French aren’t likely to worry about making it Facebook official or having the “What are we?” talk. If you spend time together, you’re together, and that’s all that matters.
2. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
Although Adrien and I didn’t click, I appreciated how honest and bold he was. In America, it can sometimes be hard to tell if someone likes you or not. But in France, I found that people tend to come right out with their feelings, and the change was refreshing. Next time you feel strongly about someone, let them know! It clears up confusion and allows you to spend more time enjoying each other’s company.
3. Amp up the romance.
The French pride themselves on being romantic, and for good reason. I’ve heard stories of guys showering their girls with delicious, home-cooked meals, whisking them away for romantic get-aways to the countryside, and declaring their love within days or weeks of meeting. Even if you prefer to be more level-headed when it comes to dating, you can still take inspiration from the French concept of amour for special occasions, like anniversaries, birthdays, and Valentine’s Day.
Does the romantic, old-fashioned French philosophy of dating appeal to you? Why or why not?