Does absence makes the heart grow fonder?
The start of freshman year always sees a significant handful of loyal souls clinging to the relationships that have defined their teenage years. As the year progresses, however, many of these relationships fall by the wayside.
Leaving a ‘significant other’ back home is not an easy trick to pull off. The social/drunken/hormonal atmosphere of university means the relationship will be severely tested and even if the one drunken slip doesn’t zap it, the mileage probably will. There is also the undeniably irritating, but also undeniably true, parental dictum – ‘too serious, too young’.
College is after all a time to get out there and try new things – so don’t tie yourself down or you might end up resenting that one true love. This is not to say that long-distance relationships don’t work. After all, America has some pretty bizarre dating rituals, and some people just feel more comfortable sticking to what they know.
But it pays to consider the options before you swear eternal devotion and get on that plane. And if you do decide to stay together, for goodness sake invest in an international calling card and a beneficial air miles deal!
How Do You Define Dating?
Remember those high-school movies? The ugly ducking turns into a swan, the jock discovers his heart, the whole thing comes together in one great romantic climax on prom night? American fact or Hollywood fiction? Either way, one truth stands out – dating in the United States is a whole new experience.
Of course, as in England, it is difficult to generalize about relationships across the range of universities. Students who head for one of the more relaxed, less academic schools will discover dating scenarios that are totally different from the insanely introspective and esoteric relationships that define some of the Ivy Leagues. Think Road Trip versus Love Story.
But there are some crucial elements to American romance that seem to apply across the board.
First of all, there is the definition of the word ‘dating'. In Britain its meaning is clear: you’re going out. But in America you can quite easily be routinely seeing the same person, yet have absolutely no idea what the dating status of your relationship actually is. Let alone if it even has one!
There comes a point when casual dating evolves into monogamous dating and it still isn’t quite a relationship, but doesn’t allow relationships with anyone else, but… well, you get the idea. Americans seem to be born with an embedded cultural chip enabling them to understand all this stuff, but Brits are frequently left bemused.
Second, the date itself is a somewhat different experience. This may be due to the alcohol restrictions in the US. In England, pubs, bars and clubs lend themselves to drunken encounters which sometimes develop into something more memorable. In America, however, the most used phrase is ‘Let’s have coffee.’ It makes no difference if neither of you actually like coffee – the formalities have to be preserved. No wonder Starbucks is so popular!
Even getting to the coffee stage is something to be proud of. One Swarthmore male observes "students ar either about to get married or hardly together...the lifestyle and lack of privacy are not conducive to steady 'going out'". Forget about any rules of relationships you may have learnt at home.
Do not expect to go on dates alone – everyone continues to travel as a pack.
Do not expect a call on day three. Americans tend to be far more assertive than your average Brit. (Although if you are the kind of person who has a little Old World reticence, rest assured it could work to your advantage!) And if you get stuck – for goodness sake, ask an American, not an international student, for advice.
The Dating Game if You're Interested in Men...
Perhaps the whole debacle can be best summed up in the words of a frustrated friend who studied in America (capitals her own):
‘The “dating” KILLED ME. What I really like about European guys is they tend to tell you whether they like you or not. Then I came to North Carolina and went on a date with this guy. The movie ended and he drove me home. Nothing happened. Then he didn’t call again for about a week. Then we went out to dinner and to the beach. Then he drove me home. STILL nothing happened.
Then he didn’t call for a few days. Then we went out again… AND THIS WENT ON FOR A MONTH OR TWO… I didn’t know how to deal with the whole situation any longer so I got him drunk and ONLY THEN something happened… and all the other girls from America were telling me not to stress as nothing seemed wrong!!!
But HOW CAN SOMEONE KIND OF BE YOUR BOYFRIEND?! HE IS EITHER YOUR BOYFRIEND OR HE IS NOT YOUR BOYFRIEND.’
With the introduction of countless dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, this situation is (unfortunately for Brits) far from abnormal and will continue to be. But as American men mature, their games disappear and you can end up walking along the Brooklyn Bridge hand in hand, content to know you're at least on the way to relationship road.
The Dating Game if You're Interested in Women...
American women have, for the most part, been brought up to believe that it pays to take a more assertive attitude towards dating. Women are not backward about coming forward on college campuses (probably because they have to make a stand just to cut through the American boy’s deeply relaxed attitude).
Our Swarthmore man: ‘The author’s right about the direct nature of American women – they single you out and tell you that they like you – but I also think this applies to American guys as well. I have another friend who’s an international student at Swarthmore, and when we’re at parties we sometimes like to just observe the American kids interacting – we both agree that they are about as subtle as a bull in a china shop. Sometimes, it feels like you’re 12 again, because the inter-sex (or same-sex, to be fair) interactions are just devoid of any conversational finesse (for kids who are so smart) and seem to be fuelled by loud music and alcohol. By contrast, interactions between English men and women at college age really can be very subtle. I’ve got mates who have gone for months at a time trying to get with a girl they like without letting the girl figure it out. The American way saves a lot of confusion, but just doesn’t seem as satisfying. However, I am biased!’
The straightforward nature of the American girl can be great. You know that she likes you, she singles you out, it’s good for your ego. At the same time, many English gentlemen begin to feel they are losing control. After all, they have been taught it is polite to hold open doors and pay for meals.
Ultimately, however, these differences seem to work themselves out – and the long tradition of young American girls falling in love with distinguished English gents suggests you may well be in with a chance of enjoying a functional relationship on the other side of the Atlantic!
Your Secret Weapon
British students have one secret weapon in their mission to conquer Americans – their accent. It is undeniably true that when Brits open their mouths, Americans swoon.
It may have something to do with Prince Harry or Emma Watson, but the average Yankee will initially seem more than receptive to your suave British charm. So all of your dreams about the sun-kissed, liberated American, schooled in the arts of high-school seduction and just waiting for their happy ending, may very well come true.
(Note: just don't utter a resounding cry of "You're SO fit!" as a compliment here – no one will have any idea what you’re talking about.)