Unsplash photo by Akshar Dave
First and foremost a big ole disclaimer is important here as everyone's experience is different! This post was written from a cisgender, straight perspective so please don't take this as the end-all and be all - but rather as a quick glimpse into my personal experience & the takeaways I have because of it.
With that out of the way, why on earth would I be talking about dating, right now? I mean, haven't we all been cooped up, social distancing for practically all of 2020? Well, to be honest - this topic has been on the agenda for some years now and after a stroll down memory lane, I realized how confusing dating was for me back in my single days. Confusing, you ask? Yes, confusing.
If you've ever dated abroad or interculturally you know what I'm talking about here. Dating norms exist everywhere and are greatly influenced by the overall cultural norms and structure. So, it's no surprise that some of the dating cultures differ from the U.S. as the U.S. is infamous for its individualistic culture and Chile leans more on the collectivistic side. Throw in some overall differences in behavioral norms and trust me - things can easily get misinterpreted!
Let's jump right in! Here are my gringa confessions on dating in the U.S. vs dating in Chile...
1: A guideline to understanding the confusing levels of liking someone in Spanish
A Gringa friend once said to me that “Chilean guys have no game”. What she meant was that they do not play games, which I actually find very refreshing compared to the typical American guy who thinks it’s “uncool” to tell you that he likes you. Chilean guys are kind of anomalies, they can be very indirect and passive, but if they like you - they will not hide it and tell you they like you straight away. Confusing, right?
Why am I even talking about this? How is this information important? Well, if you’re used to interpreting signals from American guys who think they’ll turn you off by telling a girl they are into them right away - and all of a sudden a Chilean guy is gushing about how much he likes you within the first week - it can be all too tempting to overly read into this and take it as a sign he seriously wants to date you.
Now, I can’t speak for all gringos nor all Chilenos - but in my experience, Chilean guys do not attach a weight, shame, or “uncool factor” in telling a girl they like them. In Spanish, there are levels of liking and even loving someone. In English, there is just like and love and maybe this is part of the struggle guys & girls feel in expressing their like to someone new.
Okay, getting back to the confusing pyramid of Spanish romantic emotions. We have the following levels:
Level 0: “Me cae bien” = I like you (in a platonic way, 0 because this is a friend-level like)
Level 1:Me gustas = I like you (in a romantic way)
Level 2: Me encantas = I really like you (extra emphasis on the really)
Level 3: Te quiero = To be honest, I’m still confused about Te quiero. I’ve had some Chileans tell me it just means I care about you a lot, but others say it means I love you. My personal definition is an I love you - but not a Te amo love you, more like a really strong I care about you I love you but not extremely intimate I love you. Confused? Ugh, welcome to the club!
Level 4: Te amo = I love you. But in a really deep, serious & committed way. Most people usually just say this to their romantic partners & family. In relationships, people say Te quiero first and after a while, they say Te amo. The time in between Te quiero and Te amo really depends on each person but there is definitely a difference, and Te quiero is always said first as like an entry-level I love you.
A Chilean guy might like you right away (me gustas), but this is not a serious or deep emotion and can go away as quickly as it came. It can be hard to slow down a Chilean guy's pace as in my experience they can be pretty intense, but remember - you’re not Chilean so if it’s going too fast for you - speak up! Go slower, and if he doesn't respect your speed then it's time to say, Chao Chao.
2: U.S. Hookup Culture vs. Chilean Traditional Dating Culture
I understand this was MY experience so take it with a grain of salt but back in the U.S. I always felt like 90% of guys were definitely more interested in the “hookup culture” of dating. If this term is new to you, hookup culture is a millennial thing, where “hooking up” (casual physical hookups - whatever that may mean to you) is more common and preferred over “traditional dating” aka courting, dating, monogamous dating.
Now, don’t get me wrong, hookup culture for sure exists in Chile as well - it just feels like there is a better balance between traditional dating and hookup culture within the dating pool. Now, I’m no expert, I haven’t been a part of a formalized study on dating in Chile but I am a Woman who although is not single now - for the first 2.5 years in Chile was, and so were my single girlfriends. In between our dates, sometimes blind, sometimes tinder, natural encounters, lots of the times epic fails as dating goes everywhere - and wine nights spent laughing or crying over the experiences I’ve picked up on a few things.
These are my findings (again - personal opinion here so take it with another grain of salt):
It’s not uncommon for young 20-somethings (think 20/21) to be in a serious long-term relationship in Chile vs. in the U.S. young 20-somethings are most likely not looking for something serious as they feel they have their whole life ahead of them to “settle down” and don’t want to get “held back” and miss out on opportunities because of a serious relationship.
The Chilean hookup culture mixes the social norms of the U.S. dating culture - which can be confusing for the recently arrived Gringa. In the U.S. the hookup culture is more direct, and they only see each other when they ahem, want to you know, hookup. In Chile, although it can be like that - most of the time a “hookup” or a “possible relationship” starts off looking the same way…. Confusing much?!
In Chile, the men are more indirect. In the U.S., they can be indirect as well but not as much as in Chile. I’m a pretty direct person and so I missed a lot of social cues that X guy was interested in me because to me - it was too indirect for me to even notice.
Lastly, divorce was legalized in Chile in 2004. You read that right, 2004. Divorce was legalized in the U.S. in 1969. I’m going to put on my social scientist hat and make a leap here: this makes a HUGE influence on the dating culture, norms, taboos, etc. What’s my point? Although casual dating “hookup culture” happens - young people are strongly encouraged to settle down and have a steady partner whereas in the U.S. this social pressure exists - but much later in life cue late 20s early 30s when we’re supposed to “settle down and have a family”. Cue eye roll.
So basically, the whole hookup culture is more common and according to this girl, more accepted back in the U.S. Don't get me wrong - it most definitely exists, it's just not as blunt as it is in the U.S. - which in turn creates a lot of room to read into things too much. Learn from a few of my early mistakes, and when in doubt take it slow!
3: Family & Dating in Chile vs. Family & Dating in the U.S.
Years ago I saw the epic indie flic, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, not knowing that I would be in a somewhat similar circumstance later in life. If you’ve never seen it, stop reading and go watch and come back! If you have - well let me just tell you that Chileans are a bit like Greeks as in when you date a Chilean - you date their entire family as well.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that some U.S. families (especially depending on the ethnicity/culture) are like this as well - it’s just not as common as it is in Chile.
Once the relationship is formalized and you’re full-on pololeando (Chilean for a serious committed relationship) there will be MANY family get-togethers, and it will feel like it’s their cousins/uncles/sisters-partners-friend's-friend birthday every weekend.
At this point, if you’re Chilean you might be like yeah, what’s the problem with that?! Again, this is just my little gringa opinion, but the thing is that in the U.S. we don’t spend as much time with family and especially with extended family so all of the long family lunches, long visits, and primo/tío/etc birthday can feel a bit overwhelming at first.
Intercultural dating is all about bringing two cultural backgrounds together and hopefully finding common grounds while respecting and honoring differences. So think of this as more of an area of learning that requires lots of open communication.
Expect the following things to occur when you are "pololeando" with a Chilean:
When you date a Chilean, you have immediately integrated into their family's lives as well. In the U.S., couples can date for months until they are even introduced to the family.
Your social calendar will fill up overnight with many “compromisos” (social obligations) such as birthdays, family lunches, going away parties, etc. You will go to lots of these events, but don’t do a complete 180! Think of it as more of a 100 degree turn aka don’t let go of the hobbies, friendships, & general lifestyle you had before you met your Chilean sweetheart. It's all about give and take, right!?
Although Chileans can be very passive and indirect, they are surprisingly very direct about commenting openly about your weight & general appearance (things that are huge social no-nos in the U.S.). Don't take these comments personally. Easier said than done, I know! Chileans are known for giving people nicknames based on their appearance, hence the common nicknames "Gordo/a" and "Flaco/a". Sometimes these are just nicknames and do not correlate with the person's weight and sometimes they do. Am I confusing you again? Welcome back to the club!
Chile is arguably the most Americanized country in Latin-America, so living in Santiago can at times not feel that different from living in the U.S. The thing is, the U.S. is an individualistic culture (individual-based) and Chile is a collectivistic culture (group-based). When it comes to family dynamics, this is HUGE, and the dynamics can at times be opposites. If this is the case, open communication with your Chilean boo is KEY. Remember, to them, this is all normal. You have to communicate how you’re feeling, what’s new and different to you, and compromise (the holy grail of relationships everywhere) often for it to work.
Understanding the Confusing Levels of Liking Someone in Spanish
It's simple, but it's not. In English, there are two words: like and love. In Spanish, there are so many different levels of expressing like and even love for someone! The breakdown in this post is worth going through if you're new to dating in a Spanish-speaking country or with a Spanish-speaking partner.
U.S. Hookup culture vs. Chilean Traditional Dating Culture
In the U.S. - "hookup culture" aka extremely casual dating is more common than traditional dating in Chile. Societal & family expectations that young people should settle down are stronger in Chile (although they exist in the U.S.).
Family & Dating in Chile vs. Family & Dating in the U.S.
When you date a Chilean, you date their entire family. In Chile, you meet your significant other's family early on, whereas in the U.S. some couples even wait months before they introduce their partner to their family. This difference can quickly become overwhelming if you don't communicate clearly & make compromises when necessary.
Whew! That was a long one, you guys! I want to hear from YOU! Drop a comment below and let us know what you think about intercultural dating or dating abroad to continue the conversation!