What does dating in Latin America have to do with a website about learning Spanish? Well, learning Spanish has everything to do with dating there if you want to do it right!
If you want to read about it from someone who “has done it right and who has done it wrong”, than I have managed both.
Everything you’ve heard about Latin lovers may just be true. People in this part of the world are soulful, passionate individuals who love to be in love, so rest assured that things will never get stale. But depending on what your threshold for excitement is, you might find their feistiness and forwardness to be a lot to handle. Couple that with the pervasiveness of staunchly traditional attitudes towards gender roles and you may find your cross-cultural romance far more challenging than you can take.
However, shutting yourself off to finding love due to cultural differences would certainly be a shame. What we’re really saying is, don’t knock dating in Latin America until you’ve tried it. The key, as with many things, is to mentally prepare.
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It starts with a smile
My very first day in Costa Rica, I was walking around a fairly quiet part of San Jose, just taking in the local sights and becoming acclimatized when I saw a very pretty young lady walking in the opposite direction. I couldn’t help but smile at her, in a nice way, as we crossed and instead of a dirty look, she looked me up and down, smiled, said a very polite “buenos días” and carried on walking. I honestly had a hard time remembering that happening in my home country.
So, don’t be afraid to smile, it doesn’t mean you want to go to bed with them, well, maybe not, but it will not be taken as an aggressive come-on either. Equally, don’t assume a smile from them is an invitation either but it can help you start a conversation.
Latinos, or Hispanics, are warm, passionate, and friendly. Too many people from outside who obviously don’t know them, think of them as conniving con-artists. Have you ever wondered what other nationalities think of us? There’s good and bad everywhere.
I love the people of Latin America and probably, if you are reading this, you do too. When we understand them it a whole lot easier and that is part of what this site is about, so smile back.
Were you flirting?
We’ve talked before about how casual Latin Americans can be when it comes to affectionate gestures. Colleagues and business associates are not shy when it comes to doling out hugs and cheek kisses before a round of negotiation. So you can imagine that they are quite a bit more effusive outside the office, especially when it comes to a night out.
Latinos love to dance and flirt, so you won’t be left alone to nurse your drink at the bar. You’ll be pulled straight to the dance floor, where things can get very heated. In any other context, this could be taken as a clear expression of interest. In this one, not so much.
Your dance partner or new friend could simply be trying to show you a good time or make you feel at home, not to necessarily end up spending the night with you. So the next time you think you feel sparks fly, just keep in mind that the man or woman with their arm around your waist may have exchanged a few casual kisses with their work colleagues earlier in the day just as he or she did with you just now. Don’t get carried away yet but there is hope.
On the other hand, when you truly have snagged an attractive stranger, it’s a wise idea not to be overly demonstrative yourself. Latin Americans are liberal with chaste expressions of love, not necessarily a cheeky butt grab or hot and heavy make-out session in full view of everyone else. In public, be nothing less than a consummate gentleman or lady and keep anything too heated to the bedroom.
Wait, you won’t what?
Despite all this, you might have gotten lucky. Now that you’ve managed to get someone to come home with you, you’re probably gearing up for a night of passion.
Now, remember that despite the seemingly never ending parties, clubs open until five in the morning, people, especially the ladies, dressed to a level of sexiness that you never knew existed, you’re actually in a very conservative part of the world, especially outside the tourist zones, Catholicism still reigns supreme despite attitudes becoming more liberal in the past few years.
You’ll still find that there are many of its god-fearing denizens who shy away from using any kind of contraceptive or birth control. So if you’re commitment-shy and fairly laissez-faire about protection, this really may not be the environment for you.
Traditional gender roles are well and alive here. This means that that handsome stranger you met last night will be holding doors open, footing the bill and generally doing his best to be Prince Charming. That sultry beauty whom you asked out for dinner just this morning will be the very picture of femininity, letting you take the lead in most affairs.
If you err on the conservative side yourself, you might find all this utterly charming. If not, you’re clean out of luck. And expect both genders to be very adamant about keeping things exactly the way they are.
Your Latin American boyfriend often will expect you to take a backseat in decisions and cheer him from the sidelines while your girlfriend will very much be expecting you to provide for her and court her like they did her abuela back in the day.
Don’t take some of these traditions to mean that women are submissive to their male partners – far from it. As mentioned above, certain roles within a couple’s relationship are more clearly defined.
Before anyone in the USA, Canada, Australasia or northern Europe thinks that we should impose our modern day “values” on Latin Americans, maybe they should compare family strength and values first. I have experienced both, and when it comes to family, the Latin Americans “win” hands down.
This all leads me to………….
Perhaps you’ve surmounted the obvious obstacles and are well on the way to something serious with your novio/a. Then it’s about high time you met the parents. As we’ve said in other articles, family values are everything to your average Latin American. It’s a highly communal culture where people share everything they have and are intimately involved in each other’s business.
You’ll find this is especially the case in parent-child relationships, where a fully-grown adult might still be living at home and deferring to his mother’s judgment on everything from shoe size to the stock exchange. This is especially the case with women and girls, who are very much protected until a suitable young gentleman makes her his. It’s pretty much a given that parents will be a huge factor in any relationship with a Latino and you’d do well to make a favorable impression.
This brand of extreme filial loyalty is not always a horrible thing, of course. In fact, it may be one of the things you love best about your significant other, especially when you both start a family yourself. You’ll know that the man or woman you’ve married knows how to put your new family above everything else.
You’ll also know that that unwavering respect for elders is likely to be passed down to your kids as well. So resist the immediate impulse to call anyone a mama’s boy too soon. He just might become the one that got away.
Our advice on dating in Latin America
Figure out what you can live with and what you can’t. Perhaps you can tolerate a bit of masculine posturing, but can’t take the possessiveness that is a part of machismo culture. This can manifest in countless calls, voicemails and text messages demanding to know where you are, even early into your relationship. Or perhaps you can handle making the decisions for both of you but aren’t a fan of how she expects you to foot the bill.
If it’s a long-distance relationship, then that brings its own challenges, and there are many, too many to list here. I think I will make that the subject of another article. Again, been there, done that. At the time of editing this (October 2019), I have decided to write that piece very shortly.
Talking of money, whether you are in a relationship with a male or female, there will be times when something comes up in the family that requires financial assistance and they will often expect you to help out. Just make sure you don’t get taken advantage of, especially if his/her grandma has just passed away for the fifth time.
If the requests for financial assistance start early in the relationship, run a mile, or fly several thousand. Put yourself in their place; if you just met someone that you really care about and want to grow with, would you start asking for money straight away? Of course not!
Catch the signs early on and bow out if it gets too much. You aren’t required to compromise yourself for the sake of a little cultural exposure.
Whatever you intend to do, if you don’t speak and understand Spanish, it will be much more difficult. Take the time now to act.