Learn how to navigate the world of dating in Spain with our guide to understanding Spanish men and women and the local dating culture.
Contrary to popular belief, not all Spanish men are mighty Latin lovers who will recite poetry and serenade you on a guitar. Neither are all Spanish women fiery temptresses who know how to dance flamenco. As amusing as these cultural stereotypes are, it’s always wise to take them with a pinch of salt. That said, there are certain traits that you are likely to stumble upon when dating in Spain.
Understanding these traits and the mindset of Spanish men and women is key to having a successful love life; not to mention avoiding any awkward misunderstandings during your quest for love. With this in mind, this guide is here to help by providing the following information:
- An overview of dating in Spain
- How to meet people in Spain
- Dating etiquette in Spain
- Dating behavior in Spain
- Moving into a relationship
- The role of the family in dating
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An overview of dating in Spain
When dating in Spain, there are several major cultural factors that are important to know as an expat. Here are some key things to be aware of when navigating the local dating scene.
Learn to wear your heart on your sleeve
In Spain, wearing your heart on your sleeve and expressing your feelings is not seen as a weakness; but rather something that is generally expected of men and women. Some other cultures might view this as being ‘too forward’ or a sign of desperation. However, the Spanish consider it the best approach. At least the upside of this is that you will always know where you stand with your chica or chico.
Get used to the PDA
Another factor to be aware of is that in Spain, people don’t believe in restraining their affections. As a result, acts of chivalry, romantic gestures, and public displays of affection are very much alive. Now, if you come from a more reserved culture, the idea of holding hands, whispering sweet nothings, and kissing your partner in public might make you cringe. But if you cherish having the freedom to express yourself and love to be showered with affection, you’ll feel right at home in this romantic country.
Try to be patient
That’s not to say that dating in Spain is all sunshine and roses. Indeed, there are certain cultural factors that can take a little getting used to as an expat. For one, if you’re looking to shack up and settle down soon, don’t hold your breath. After all, a whopping 80% of Spaniards (mainly men) typically still live at home until well into their 30s. This is largely due to the high rate of youth unemployment which is currently around 33% and the fact that most young adults can’t afford to buy their own properties.
On top of this, Spaniards generally tend to take a long time to commit to a serious relationship. As a result, they generally wait a lot longer than in other European countries to get married in Spain. In fact, the average age at first marriage in Spain is 38 years for men and 35 years for women. But hey, at least you’ll have plenty of time to save up for your dream wedding, right?
This might all sound like a lot to take in as an expat, but if you can learn to be patient and let go of the reins in your love life, you’ll be off to a flying start.
How to meet people in Spain
There are several common ways to meet people in Spain, however, these tend to differ from other European countries. Nightclubs and bars, for instance, are not generally seen as typical places to pick up men and women; be it for casual hookups or serious relationships. On the contrary, many people go to these venues purely to enjoy the music and be with their friends. Meeting potential love interests, therefore, tends to happen by other means.
Dating within social circles
It is very common for Spanish men and women to end up in relationships with people they have met within their social circles. This might include those they went to school with or who live in the same neighborhood. It could also include relatives of their friends. This is particularly the case with people who grew up in smaller towns with tighter communities. While most expats reside in the large cities in Spain, those living in more rural areas might find this a challenge.
Dating apps and websites
Like in many European countries, dating apps and websites are extremely popular in Spain. Meetic.es, Parship.es, and eDarling.es are among the most used dating sites, and these all charge a subscription fee; meaning they are good places for men and for women who are serious about meeting someone.
Interestingly, while Tinder and Badoo remain popular dating apps in Spain, the way people use them is different from other countries. In many places, for example, they are primarily used for hookups and casual dating. However, in Spain, many people use them to develop friendships and will usually make this clear when chatting with other users. Then, of course, there are those looking for relationships.
Meetups and expat groups
Joining local Meetups and Spanish expat groups is a popular way to meet like-minded individuals in many countries around the world, and Spain is no exception. This is especially the case in larger cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia where the majority of expats live. These groups provide a fun and safe way to meet new people. And because there are numerous ones designed for those interested in dating and relationships, you are likely to meet other singles, too. Many expats also meet through local Facebook groups which cater to various interests and hobbies, including singles looking to date.
Many bars and cafés in Spain offer Intercambio (language exchange) evenings. The idea is for locals and expats to meet and participate in fun activities while practicing their respective languages. These events provide a great opportunity to meet new people and improve your Spanish. And while they aren’t designed specifically for dating, you never know who you might meet; your Spanish partner could end up becoming your romantic partner too!
Dating etiquette in Spain
When it comes to dating etiquette, Spain can differ greatly from its European neighbors, which is important to know as an expat.
Making the first move
In Spain, it is becoming increasingly common for both men and women to ask each other out. In fact, a study by dating website Badoo found that Spanish women are more likely to make the first move than any other nation. The same study also found that Spanish women are the world’s biggest flirts! This is good news for female expats who like to take the lead in their love lives.
Spanish men can also be rather assertive and it’s not unusual for them to call, text, and email someone they like a lot in the early stages of dating. While this might come across as being full-on or desperate in some countries, in Spain, it just means that they are interested.
A typical dating scenario in Spain
In Spain, dates usually involve going out for drinks or tapas, or to the cinema, park, or beach. It is also common for people to invite their date to join them and their friends on a night out. After all, having your partner be accepted by your inner circle is very important in this sociable society.
It is also useful to know that receiving a late-night invite to meet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a booty call. After all, Spain runs by its own clock; having dinner and going out happens much later than in other countries. Therefore, don’t assume that a spontaneous invite to meet a man or woman at 23:00 means they only have one thing on their mind.
Dating behavior in Spain
While it might be unfair to stereotype a whole nation, there are certain behavioral traits that you are likely to come across when dating in Spain.
Being late for a date
First things first, it is important to be aware that Spain is extraordinarily loose when it comes to time-keeping. In fact, it is acceptable and common to be 30 minutes late for social meetings in southern Spain and 15 minutes in northern Spain. So try not to get angry when your Spanish partner turns up late on several occasions. And don’t be disappointed if they’re not keen on making fixed plans days in advance, either. For your own sanity, it’s better to just go with the flow. Essentially, patience is a virtue you will definitely need when dating in Spain.
Dressing to impress
Perhaps unsurprisingly, appearance is extremely important to Spaniards, no matter where they are. Generally speaking, people present themselves with care and self-expression; so you can expect your partner to scrub up nicely for a date. Men and women tend to dress elegantly and tastefully, even for casual occasions. Shoes are considered the most important element of an outfit; women usually wear heels or nice sandals, while men opt for loafers, leather shoes, or nice sneakers. Looking presentable is also seen as showing confidence, which is important in Spanish culture. So as long as you don’t rock up wearing ripped jeans and shabby shoes, you’re sure to make a good impression.
Flirting and affection
The Spanish are known to be one of the most affectionate nations, so get ready for some serious PDA! Sitting on the same side of the booth and making physical contact during conversation is common in Spain; even on a first date. And although Spanish women are known to be the most flirtatious, Spanish men certainly won’t hold back from showcasing how much they appreciate their partner, either. So you can expect lots of hand-holding, prolonged eye contact, and hugs and kisses during your dates. To a newly-arrived expat, this behavior might come across as stifling or possessive. But in Spain, it is considered completely normal.
Understanding body language
Fortunately, the age-old stereotype of men behaving in a macho and chauvinistic way towards women (known as machismo) has changed drastically over the years. Nowadays, men are more likely to act respectfully toward women and demonstrate gentlemanlike behavior. They will likely kiss a woman when greeting her, rather than shake her hand. Another thing to bear in mind is that Spanish people tend to stand very close to each other when talking. Therefore, try not to see this as an invasion of your personal space or a sign that they are coming on too strong. Finally, be prepared for a rather animated discussion once the conversation gets going, as the Spanish tend to speak a lot with their hands.
Picking up the check
Despite Spanish men and women being equally as bold and flirtatious, the man will usually pick up the check at the end of a meal. This will even be the case if he is still living with his mom and earns less money than his date. That said, every couple is different and some might prefer to split the check.
Moving into a relationship
How a relationship might typically progress in Spain is really down to the individuals involved. That said, there are certain cultural factors that come into play and these can seem rather contradictory. For instance, even though a couple might form a relationship at lightning speed, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will progress to the next level anytime soon; in terms of living together or tying the knot.
Despite being a Catholic country, the Spanish are not shy about matters of sexuality and will likely make their intentions clear from the start. Just like they are comfortable showing their affection in public, they are not timid when it comes to discussing when to get intimate; this goes for men and women. If you come from a more conservative country, this might take a little getting used to. But on the flip side, it could feel quite liberating. Because the Spanish have a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards sexuality, they are particularly progressive in their attitudes towards LGBT rights.
Meeting the family
Given that Spanish men and women are very upfront and vocal when it comes to their feelings and intentions, it might not be long before they are declaring their love and inviting you to meet their family. If they really like someone, they will waste no time when it comes to romance. And given that most men live at home well into their 30s, you can expect to meet your partner’s parents fairly early.
Living together and getting married
In urban areas of Spain, couples often live together for years before getting married, while some choose not to marry at all. In fact, figures from online portal Statista show that the marriage rate in Spain has been slowly declining in the last few years; from 203,000 in 2006 to just 163,000 in 2018. Furthermore, Spain’s age at first marriage is one of the highest in Europe, with a national average of 38 years for men and 35 years for women.
Interestingly, marriage doesn’t seem to be a priority for same-sex couples either. In fact, since same-sex marriage (matrimonio igualitario) was legalized in 2005, the number of marriages has remained significantly lower than that of opposite-sex couples; there were approximately 4,600 nuptials in 2018.
The role of the family in dating
Spain is a very family-oriented society and people tend to rely heavily on their relatives for support throughout their entire lives. This was the case during the financial crisis in 2008 when many people lost their jobs and had to move back in with their parents after years of independent living.
Today, many people still live with their parents until they meet a long-term partner and move into their own place. When people do eventually move out of their family home, they generally choose to live in close proximity to their parents and siblings and meet up regularly. Therefore, as the partner of a Spanish man or woman, you can expect to spend a significant amount of time with your in-laws.
Raising children in Spain
When it comes to parenting, the Spanish take a very laid-back approach. Children are encouraged to be sociable and fit in with their parents’ social lives; which is great news if you are an outgoing expat. As a result of this, they rarely have set bedtimes and are usually allowed to stay up late past 22:00 when they are out with their parents and family friends. They are also encouraged to play with other children while their parents mingle.
Gender roles in the family home
Despite men and women being on an equal playing field when it comes to dating, Spain remains fairly old-fashioned in terms of gender roles. This is particularly true in more rural areas where men are considered the primary income earners; while women are responsible for raising children and taking care of the home.
This is not helped by the fact that so many men are pampered by their mothers well into adulthood. As a result, the expectation to do the lion’s share of the housework and tidy up after them often falls to their wives or girlfriends. A woman may even be judged by her Spanish in-laws on her domestic abilities such as cooking and cleaning. This might be a lot to tolerate as an expat coming from a more progressive country.
Despite these sexist undertones, times are slowly changing. Nowadays, the majority of Spanish women are in the workforce and balancing their own careers with family life. Fortunately, it’s also becoming more common for couples to share domestic roles; especially in the larger cities where the majority of expats live.