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!
Braving the new
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. Forget 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 the man to call on day three. American men are used to more aggressive women. (Although if you are the kind of girl 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.
"I Could Have Killed Him"
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.’
And for the boys…
British boys have one secret weapon in their mission to conquer the fair daughters of America – their accent. It is undeniably true that when English men open their mouths, American girls swoon. (Girls, you can also work your ‘cute’ accent to your advantage but don’t expect quite the same effect.)
It may have something to do with Prince William, but the average Yankee girl will initially seem more than receptive to your suave English charm. So all of your dreams about the liberated American woman, sun-kissed, schooled in the arts of high-school seduction and just waiting for her own personal Prince Charming, may very well come true.
Certainly, Brits who visit US college campuses can be heard uttering resounding cries of ‘American girls are SO fit!’ (Note: Don’t offer this as a compliment here – no one will have any idea what you’re talking about.)
I Am Woman
However, it is only fair to point out that many British boys have noted a downside to this liberated American female. She has, for the most part, been brought up to believe that it pays to take a more aggressive 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).
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!