Learn how to navigate the world of dating in the Netherlands with our guide to understanding Dutch men and women and the local dating culture.
Contrary to popular belief, not all Dutch men are towering blondies who will make you ‘go Dutch’ and split the bill; or send you a Tikkie for the extra bitterballen you scoffed down during a date. Similarly, not all Dutch women are ball-busting supermodels. However, while it’s always wise to take such cultural stereotypes with a pinch of salt and not generalize an entire nation, no one can deny there are certain traits you are likely to come across when dating in the Netherlands.
Understanding these traits and the mindset of Dutch men and women is key to navigating the local dating pool with ease; especially as an expat. It will also help you avoid any misunderstandings further down the line when you are in a relationship. Luckily, this guide is here to help by providing the following information:
- An overview of dating in the Netherlands
- How to meet people in the Netherlands
- Dating etiquette in the Netherlands
- Dating behavior in the Netherlands
- Moving into a relationship in the Netherlands
- The role of the family in dating
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An overview of dating in the Netherlands
When it comes to dating, the Dutch like to keep things casual and let things progress naturally. And just like anything else in life, they prefer to approach their romantic pursuits with a sense of practicality. This laid-back approach to dating doesn’t mean that Dutch men and women don’t take love and relationships seriously. Far from it. It is more down to the fact that the Dutch can be cautious with letting newcomers in; whether this is a friendship or a romantic partnership. This is an important thing to remember if you are an expat looking to date a local man or woman.
Breaking through the cultural barriers
Many expats claim that the Dutch avoid making real connections with foreigners; making it difficult to get past the first dating hurdle and meet a suitable match. Some also say that once they do make the breakthrough, reaching a serious relationship level can take time. Again, this is not necessarily personal but rather a result of typical Dutch personality traits. As an expat, it is possible to find love with a local, and many foreigners report happy relationships and marriages with Dutch nationals.
Freedom and choice in relationships
Couples living in the Netherlands have more choice than most when it comes to official types of living arrangements. Depending on a couple’s preferences, they can get married (huwelijk) or enter into a registered partnership (geregistreerd partnerschap). They can also sign a cohabitation agreement or live together without signing any formal agreement at all. Fortunately, LGBTQI+ couples living in the Netherlands have the same options as their heterosexual counterparts.
This modern and progressive way of living perhaps accounts for the substantial decline in marriages in recent years. According to figures from Statistics Netherlands (CBS), 64,400 couples tied the knot in 2017, compared with around 85,000 couples 20 years ago. Registered partnerships are also becoming more popular in the Netherlands. In fact, they now account for 18% of all unions in the country. In 2017 alone, 17,900 couples entered a partnership; a significant increase of 11,000 over the last decade.
How to meet people in the Netherlands
Fortunately, the casual nature of Dutch society means that meeting potential partners is relatively easy. Dating practices are also similar to other European countries. Teenagers generally begin to socialize with peers at school, within their neighborhood, or through social activities and local clubs. Young adults, meanwhile, tend to meet at bars and clubs, through social groups and activities, and via dating apps and websites.
Like many other cultures, the Dutch like to meet potential new partners through trusted friendship circles. That way, they can gradually get to know someone before developing a romantic relationship. Whether this means heading to a house party or a casual borrel with friends, there are plenty of opportunities to meet like-minded singles.
Also similar to other cultures, dating apps and websites are becoming the norm in the Netherlands; particularly among expat communities in the larger cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Rotterdam. According to a survey by Statista, the most popular dating app in the Netherlands in 2019 was Tinder; used by roughly 60% of Dutch singles seeking a relationship. Badoo and Happn are also popular options for casual dating.
Dating etiquette in the Netherlands
You might say that the Netherlands has less of a dating etiquette than other countries like the US or UK. For starters, there are fewer ‘rules’ about when to call back, kiss, or spend the night. Actions are based more on instinct rather than a set of arbitrary guidelines. And because Dutch men and women value honesty and efficiency, playing hard-to-get and silly games have little value in the Netherlands. Instead, people prefer to put their cards on the table so you don’t have to assume anything.
Confidence and being to-the-point also rank high, which means being successful in dating can require a level of assertiveness; if you want something, just do it. Of course, you might get a flat-out rejection but at least you won’t waste your time where it’s not appreciated. The importance of honesty also means that Dutch men and women are unlikely to mislead someone. This is good news if you are seeking a meaningful relationship.
A typical dating scenario in the Netherlands
The Dutch are renowned for being straight-forward, straight-talking, and down-to-earth, and this transcends to the world of dating. Fancy dinners at swanky restaurants are likely to be replaced by a cold pint and a Dutch snack at a cozy (gezellig) café or bar. Furthermore, the Dutch love for the great outdoors might also mean that some dates involve having a picnic in a park, cycling to the beach, or visiting other popular nature spots in the Netherlands. Whatever you end up doing, it will almost certainly be casual.
Unlike some cultures, where the man traditionally initiates the first date, it is not uncommon for women to make the first move in the Netherlands. After all, gender equality is strong in this progressive country. And because the Dutch are known to be open and blunt, there is no shame in discussing whether you are dating other people or want to be exclusive. You will likely receive an honest answer – even if it’s not the one you were hoping for.
Dating behavior in the Netherlands
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 the Netherlands. Furthermore, these can differ significantly from other European cultures.
For starters, the Dutch aren’t exactly known for dressing to the hilt. Part of this has to do with the prevalent bike culture. After all, trying to bike in high heels and a cute little dress in the rain is not an appealing prospect. This also comes down to the laid-back attitude of the Dutch, which tends to extend to clothes – and makeup. Therefore, you may want to take it down a notch if you’re used to getting glammed up for a date. And don’t take it personally if your date shows up in a pair of sneakers or arrives at a nice restaurant wearing jeans.
Dutch women and men’s body language
Neither Dutch men nor Dutch women are renowned for being touchy-feely on a first date. Other than the customary greeting, which is to kiss three times on the cheek when first meeting, physical contact is kept to a minimum. Direct eye contact, on the other hand, is the norm during these early encounters. Therefore, don’t feel too discouraged or intimidated if your date stares at you during your conversation.
Flirting and flattery
It is also worth noting that the Dutch love for efficiency and directness leaves little room for flirting. In fact, coy behavior such as hair-twirling or little ‘accidental’ touches might be totally lost on your man – or woman. Furthermore, compliments are not given nor received easily in the Netherlands; outlandish attempts at flattery might even be perceived as fake. Therefore, being down-to-earth and direct will earn you a lot more points with a Dutch man or woman.
No time for small talk
During your date, you will soon discover that the Dutch tend to value deeper discussions with a purpose far more than pointless small talk. Their straight-forward approach to dating also means they might ask you personal questions or your opinions on tricky subject matters. But don’t be put off. This may appear rude or slightly invasive to the untrained dater. However, in the Netherlands, there is little social negativity attached to it. Your date simply wants to know your opinion on these subjects to evaluate if you are compatible. Makes total sense, right? Some people actually find this level of honesty refreshing when dating in the Netherlands.
Going Dutch: splitting the bill and chivalry
The value of gender equality seeps into many interactions in Dutch dating, which means that customs such as splitting the bill is not uncommon. Some might see this as unromantic, but Dutch relationships pride themselves on equality between partners. Plus, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise considering you are in the country that gave name to the phrase ‘going Dutch’ (splitting a bill). An alternative might be for one person to pay for, say, drinks and the other for movie tickets.
Other acts of chivalry, such as opening doors for women or carrying their heavy bags, should not be expected either. In Dutch culture, such actions aren’t seen as an affront to ladies but rather as a sign that Dutch men see them as equals. Similarly, a woman should be prepared that a date with a Dutch man is not always going to be free ride; nor will free drinks in bars be that forthcoming from local men.
Moving into a relationship in the Netherlands
When it comes to building relationships, the Dutch like to take things slow and move with caution. As a result, it might take several weeks or months of dating before two people officially call themselves a couple. And once they do develop a serious relationship, marriage isn’t necessarily on the cards.
With so many types of living arrangements on offer, couples have the freedom to choose how they define their relationships; be it marriage, a registered partnership, a cohabitation agreement, or simply living together. Interestingly, many couples in the Netherlands live together for years before they get married. Figures from CBS also show that people are choosing to tie the knot later in life. In fact, the average age of people getting hitched for the first time in the period between 1997 and 2017 rose from 30 to 34 years for men and from 28 to 31.5 years for women.
Figures also show that more and more couples are choosing not to get married at all. In 2017, 27.9% of 35-year-old men lived together unmarried with their partner, compared to only 12.8% in 1997. During the same period, the percentage of 35-year-old women rose from 10.3% to 26%.
Aside from the popularity of registered partnerships in the Netherlands, one possible reason for the decline in marriages is the desire to save up to buy a house together. Many couples see this as a higher priority and save the option of getting married for further down the line, if at all.
The role of the family in dating
Like in many European cultures, family is fundamentally important to the Dutch and the foundation of the social structure. For both men and women, their immediate family usually remains important to them throughout their adult life. This means that if you are in a relationship with a Dutch man or woman, you can expect to spend a fair amount of time with your in-laws.
Gender roles within the family home
Spending time with relatives is intrinsic to Dutch daily life. So when it comes to having children in the Netherlands, the ability to be more available to them throughout the entire day is seen as a top priority. As a result, a smaller proportion of Dutch women choose to work full-time; compared to many other cultures. It is also becoming increasingly common for men to choose part-time employment; so they can take turns tending to the household and children while their partner works.
In the Netherlands, gender is less of an important factor when it comes to determining a person’s role and duties in the family home. Men and women tend to share their responsibilities equally in terms of doing household chores and raising their children. Furthermore, women often have the freedom to choose how they contribute to the household dynamic.
Living situations and family forms
The Netherlands is a progressive nation and increasingly accepting of many different living situations and family forms. For instance, it is common to see single-parent families, couples without children, and same-sex couples with children. The Dutch are encouraged to be independent as they grow up and usually leave home at the age of 18. That said, housing shortages and increasing university fees mean that many continue to live with their parents until they get married.