How to Date in America

In America, dating can feel more like a job interview. (Photo: Hugo Philpott/PA Wire)

If your expat game plan includes finding love then you’ll need to wrap your brain around romancing the American way. On the surface, U.S.-style dating looks a lot like it does elsewhere: find someone you don’t hate on sight and who you strongly suspect isn’t a serial killer, then arrange to meet for some kind of shared food or beverage experience. If all goes well, schedule a second date. If not, don’t. But according to my singleton sources in the U.S., within this skeleton format there are certain cultural etiquette differences that you need to know if you’re a Brit trying to snaffle an American partner on their turf.

Here, people tend to take a business-like approach to finding a mate. It’s like a job or house hunt, which means investigating more than one prospect at a time. While early days juggling of potential partners is considered normal in the U.S., try to limit yourself to one per evening and refrain from discussing your other dates with the person trying to delicately chew burrito opposite you. Agreeing to “be exclusive” is a discussion you’ll have at some stage if things are progressing well. If it’s not been mentioned yet, best assume your date is currently pretending to laugh at a couple of other people’s jokes too.

This candid communication style might not sit well with awkward, bumbling Brits — especially men — who tend to recoil from conversations about their feelings. So, whereas back home you might find yourselves pootling along, and even up the aisle, having never bothered with the am-I-the-only-person-you’re-dating? talk, here it’s expected. Looking out for subtle exclusivity cues, like him introducing you as “my girlfriend” or being invited to meet the parents, is no substitute.

Naturally, I’m generalizing, but American women seem more upfront, assertive and opportunistic than their British counterparts. I’ve watched girls in coffee shops and bars, not only surveying man candy from afar but, like lionesses eyeing a fat antelope with a dodgy knee, zoning in and making their intentions known. The gents, meanwhile, lean toward traditionalism. American men, so I’m told, are more likely to offer to pay for dates and bat away a woman’s wallet.

Early discussions about what you’re looking for, be it a husband or casual hook-up, are also commonplace here. So, unless it’s the second meeting and your date presents you with the wedding “mood board” she’s been working on since she was seven, try not to recoil at her forthrightness. At least this way you’ll quickly identify whether you want the same things. I know of one British couple who left the baby talk until years after the wedding. When he eventually confessed to wanting to sire a football team, his wife announced that she was getting her tubes tied. So, while an early, frank discussion may seem odd and intense to a Brit, it could stave off a relationship catastrophe later on.

What other dating tips do you have? Tell us below:

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • Big Daddy G

    I’m not sure where you get your information. I’m American, and I think somebody who’s going to date multiple girls at the same time needs a come to Jesus meeting. But I’m from the south, and my momma raised me right.

  • expatmum

    Although I never dated in the USA, I was shocked to discover the multiple dating scene here. Many of my then single girlfriends would see one guy on a Monday night and another on Thursday (for example). The whole dating thing here seems to have a lot less commitment at the beginning, which might not be a bad thing. There’s nothing worse than becoming someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend after a few dates, when you already know it’s doomed.

  • Sandra

    I’m Canadian and not sure where you got your info from. I date only one man at a time and yes I expect him to pay but I will pay also I expect a complete gentleman. I have been with a Brit and he went to the extreme of expecting me to pay and do everything for him … Relationships should be 50/50.

    • anon

      Wow, thats kind of harsh isn’t it? You think relationships should be 50/50, but you expect the guy to pay right from the beginning? That doesn’t sound fair to me.

  • jennifer Field

    We Brits go on a date, if it works we will continue and that person will be a girlfriend or a boyfriend. If it doesn’t work then we stop going out and they are an ex, if it does work they become a steady boyfriend. No dating stuff. I ran a foul when I was first over here and couldn’t understand what I thought was my boyfriends behaviour I was asked “havent you ever dated?” I had no clue about this grey area. That never went on more than one or two dates in England.

  • Caitlyn J

    As a Yank, I completely agree with this article. I have been badly burned in my early dating years by making assumptions about exclusivity. I prefer dating British men because they are less likely to use you just for sex. Overall, they have better manners, as well.

  • MeganB

    She’s right about not making assumptions of exclusivity. It does depend on the person.

  • Sara

    First of all, most American women find British guys extremely hot, so they will have no problem finding dates over here. 😉 Also, most people just date one person at a time, unless they live in a big a city with lots of prospects and are extremely outgoing.

  • Vivian

    A fair warning: I would say there is a perception among American women that British men are all intelligent, chivalrous, and a secret member of nobility or something.

  • gn

    In the US, dates aren’t a big deal. Agreeing to go to dinner/a movie/whatever with someone is literally nothing more than that — there is no necessary expectation that something more intimate will follow.

    In the UK (at least when I was there in the 90s), agreeing to “go out” with someone seemed like a bigger step — definitely hinting at the possibility of a romantic charge on both sides. Hence requests for dates were more likely to be refused.

  • Jayson

    I’m American (but currently residing in Britian) and I get what you mean about ” the dating multiple guys ” thing. For Americans, I’ll clarify, going on a “date” in England is a lot more like a seady girlfriend in the U.S. I’ll admit I learned this the hard way.