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I may not have gone on a first date in over a decade but this much I know: dating in Britain happens at night. There’s alcohol involved. And if you don’t end the night with a snog and cursory fumble then it’s safe to assume that one or possibly both parties was more turned on by the cutlery you used at dinner than the person sitting opposite. Here in the U.S., different rules apply.
Prepare to juggle multiple potential partners
In the U.S., serial dating is as common as eating cereal for breakfast. There’s not a one in, one out policy. Furthermore it’s okay—expected even—for you to mention that you’re also seeing other people. But this is not—I repeat NOT—code for “I am having sex with everyone I’m dating.”
Dating is like a hobby here
Americans approach romance like it’s a recreational activity. The word “dating” is a U.S. invention designed to sanitize the process of mate selection and make it seem less murky, awkward and heart-rending than it actually is. And so Americans discuss dating like they might talk about being on a bowling team. Brits traditionally take a more bumbling, less formal approach.
Don’t assume someone’s into you just because they agree to go on a date
As mentioned above, Americans are dating hobbyists, so you might find people prepared to go out with you just to keep their hand in, so to speak. They may not actually fancy you even a tiny bit. On an American date, it’s perfectly acceptable to turn up with platonic intentions, admit this early on and still have quite a nice time.
Daytime dates are a thing here
If they can avoid it, Brits don’t do scary stuff by daylight. Americans are bolder beasts and think nothing of meeting for a romantic midday coffee or an afternoon stroll in a scenic graveyard, which is how one of my expat friends spent her first date with her current American squeeze.
Furthermore, Americans date sober
I can picture some Brits reading the last point and thinking, “No problem. I’d just order a beer or take a bottle to the graveyard.” Let me quickly scupper that particular master plan. This will likely guarantee your exclusion from most second dates with an American. They don’t tend to be huge drinkers so Dutch courage in the daytime isn’t usually a socially acceptable option.
You might feel like you’re being interviewed
Americans on a daytime date can look like they’re having a business meeting—or a job interview. It’s not unusual, according to my expat singleton friends, to begin a date where the couple has never met before with a firm handshake. Then, the eligibility checklists come out: Where did you go to college? How much do you earn? Where do you see yourself in five years?
You don’t have to have sex
Based entirely on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence, I’m concluding that Brits have sex in relationships sooner than Americans. Hopping into the sack after an initial encounter isn’t at all unusual back home. Here, it happens, but it’s much less common, and reasonable people meeting for the first—or second or third—time don’t expect it. Possibly this has something to do with the fact that so many Americans do the serial dating thing. Understandably, fragile singles often want to be sure they’re the one and only before removing any underwear.
You will need to discuss—not assume—exclusivity
Brits tend to “see” one person at a time, so if the relationship progresses to a second or third date, the boyfriend/girlfriend tag emerges without a conversation actually taking place. And you’d be appalled if you discovered that your new significant other was dating multiple partners. In America, however, until you’ve had the exclusivity talk, you’ll want to presume that the guy or girl sucking up spaghetti seductively across from you is also slurping noodles with other people.
Join @MindTheGap_BBCA tomorrow (Wednesday, January 22) at 2 pm ET on Twitter to discuss British vs. American dating rituals. Our guest co-host will be author and blogger Meagan Adele Lopez (@meagan). Tweet your questions using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win a complete collection of Gavin & Stacey episodes on DVD.
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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.