Home Living in Spain Love, Marriage & Partnership Cross cultural dating and relationships
Last update on January 21, 2020
Written by Jeremy Holland 

Blogger Jeremy Holland recounts his swinging single days to compare the differences between dating American and Spanish women, and discusses how speaking faltering Spanish can be a double-edged sword in a relationship.

Debates over the differences between men and women have been around since biblical times. A quick search on Amazon will produce a list of books explaining the differences between the sexes.

But what happens when you throw in cultural differences on top of gender differences? Is it easier or harder to date and maintain a relationship?

Crossing the boundaries of love

I must confess I’m no expert on women. Even during my swinging single days, I wasn’t much of a Casanova. I’m also far from the idyllic husband, so I’ll avoid dishing out dating and relationship advice. But I was single long enough in Spain to notice some differences when it came to the European and Spanish women compared to their counterparts in the states.

First, however, a little disclaimer. Life in Los Angeles (LA) is not an accurate representation of the US as a whole. The city is infamous for being a particularly soulless, superficial and harsh place thanks to the allure of Hollywood. Every day beautiful people arrive from all over the world with one goal in mind: to be rich and famous. As a result, the town is full of narcissistic personality types with pretty faces. Add in the culture of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and the porn industry in the San Fernando Valley, and I think you get the picture of what it’d be like to be single there; it’s fun for a bit, but emotionally damaging after a while.

Dating differently

And maybe that’s why I was surprised at first by how few women had plastic surgery in Barcelona. Sure, there was the occasional girl with a nose job in a bar and there was Belen Esteban and her like on telebasura, but nothing like what I’d seen walking around Venice beach or lining up outside a club on Sunset Boulevard. There also seemed to be a more natural beauty to European women and an approachability to them.

But the differences were more than skin deep. Rarely did the initial banter revolve around work or open with the question, “What do you do?” The topics of conversation tended instead to be about travels, musical tastes, life in Barcelona and languages. Then again, the whole concept of work is much different in Spain. Perhaps it’s the high unemployment that sees kids living with their parents until their 30s (besides something cultural, too), but in general, having a job and your own room is good enough. You don’t also have to do something and live somewhere that impresses people.

Dating? What’s that?

I have also been told the idea of dating is a particularly American thing to do. That’s another aspect of life in Barcelona that surprised me in my first year. Many locals my age were with their high school or college sweetheart and some already had children. I hadn’t known anyone in LA like that. It was more Hollywood than Hollywood, where most of my friends and I thought of settling down only when we were at least 30. Luckily for me, not all Spanish women married their first love; I met my future wife at the ripe old age of 29.

Language barriers

Relationships are incredibly complex things, which like dark matter, I only vaguely understand. And being with a person from a different country definitely adds an element of unpredictability. First, there’s the question of which language to communicate in. The person who is dominant has the upper hand but must tolerate the other who has the ready excuse of, “I didn’t understand.” This is by no means an easy task and I still marvel how my wife did it.

But even when there’s some equality with the language, the way it’s spoken can bring about all types of problems. My wife, like many Spaniards I’ve found, likes to explain everything, at times to the minutest detail, before beginning. I, on the other hand, tend to be brief, answering questions as they pop up. At first her Spanish directness offended my polite sensibilities, but now she’s the one reminding me to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

Like any couple, we squabble from time to time. How much is due to personality differences and how much is cultural, I don’t know.

However, I have discovered a side benefit to being admonished in a language that isn’t mine: the intended impact of the words is dulled by the time my brain translates them and registers an emotional response, while at the same time, it’s also a great way to learn some Spanish expressions.