Last update on May 26, 2020
Sophie Pettit Written by Sophie Pettit

Learn how to navigate the world of dating in the UK with our guide to understanding British men and women and the local dating culture.

Believe it or not, not all British people are tea-chugging football fans with bad teeth. 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 UK.

Understanding these traits and the mindset of British men and women is key to successfully navigating the local dating pool as an expat. It will also help you avoid any misunderstandings further down the line if you enter a relationship. After all, what is commonly seen as polite or romantic in your home country might have the opposite effect in your new homeland. Luckily, this guide is here to help by providing the following information:

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An overview of dating in the UK

Generally speaking, British people have a laid-back approach when it comes to dating. Unlike in some European countries, dates in the UK often center around drinking and heading to the local bar or pub. This is particularly true in the initial stages of getting to know someone. That said, British people tend to be more reserved than some other cultures; therefore, they don’t display their emotions in public.

dating in the UK

Changing attitudes towards marriage

Although attitudes towards dating are somewhat relaxed in the UK, the idea of finding a partner, buying a home, and having children is a traditional process that many young people still aspire to. However, nowadays, getting married is not necessarily seen as a necessary part of life that it once was. In fact, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the marriage rate in the UK is declining. There were 21,000 fewer marriages in 2014 than there were in 2000. At the same time, there has been an increase in the age at which people marry. In 1973, for example, the average age at marriage for men was 28.8 years and 26.1 for women. By 2013, however, the average age was 36.7 for men and 34.3 for women.

Other than changing attitudes towards marriage, one reason for people marrying later in life is down to limited finances. With the average cost of a UK wedding peaking at a hefty £32,000 in 2018, many couples are choosing to invest in buying a home instead. In fact, statistics show that the number of first-time buyers is on the rise. Indeed, there were 353,000 first-time buyers in 2019, a total of 159,000 more than in 2009. This suggests that many couples in the UK consider getting on the property ladder a bigger priority than tying the knot. And given that the average deposit for a house was £32,800 in 2018 – almost exactly the same as a wedding – this seems like a logical conclusion.

same-sex wedding

The millennial generation is another factor that is contributing to these shifting attitudes towards marriage. They are less rooted in traditions, which is partly due to the financial strictures placed on them by the UK economy. One group that doesn’t seem as affected, however, is same-sex couples. In fact, there were 7,019 marriages between them in 2016; an increase of 8.1% from 2015. This is likely due to the fact that same-sex marriage was legalized in the UK in March 2014.

How to meet people in the UK

Like in many other European countries, there are various traditional ways to meet people in the UK. This might be through friends or work colleagues, in bars or clubs, or via online dating platforms.

Meeting through friends

Despite the big nightlife culture in the UK and the growing popularity of online dating platforms, many people meet their partners through their circles of friends and social gatherings. In fact, a survey of 2,000 adults, which featured in The Independent, found that one in four married couples met on a night or day out with friends. This is particularly common among older adults who might not be swayed by online dating or who don’t go to bars and clubs as much as they used to.

meeting through friends

Online dating in the UK

Online dating is very popular in the UK, especially in larger cities. Location-based dating apps such as Tinder, Happn, and Bumble are among the most popular ones. However, when SurveyMonkey polled 4,000 people, they found that more than half of 18-24-year-olds view apps like Tinder and Bumble as platforms for casual hookups. Older adults (25-34 years old), meanwhile, see profile-based dating websites such as Match.com and Lovestruck as ways of developing relationships. This is due to the fact that they provide a greater opportunity to get to know other users in more detail. As a result, 58% of older adults (45-54 years old) use Match.com; more than double the percent who use Tinder.

Meetup groups for singles

Another popular way to meet people is by joining local Meetup groups and attending events. There are numerous groups throughout the UK that cater to those interested in dating and relationships. This is a fun and safe way to meet new friends and potential partners. Groups usually specify the age range and sexual preference of members too, which means you are likely to meet like-minded individuals.

Dating etiquette in the UK

While the dating etiquette in the UK is arguably more relaxed than in other countries, there are still some traditions that are useful to know.

A typical dating scenario in the UK

Being quite a traditional country, the burden of asking someone on a date in the UK usually falls to the man. And if the man has initiated the date, he will usually suggest a place to go too. Generally speaking, a couple is likely to go for a drink or two on a first date. However, in larger cities such as London and Manchester, there is also a growing trend towards going on quirky dates at unusual places; This might mean hitting a mini-golf course, heading to a silent disco at the Natural History Museum, or having drinks at a themed cocktail bar. After all, the British are a varied bunch and are just as likely to enjoy dancing and drinking at a nightclub than staying at home and binge-watching Netflix.

Silent disco at the Natural History Museum
Silent disco at the Natural History Museum

One important thing to be aware of, however, is the concept of exclusivity in dating. While some cultures view dating numerous people at the same time as the norm, this isn’t really the case in the UK. Generally speaking, people prefer to have the undivided attention of their potential partners. Seeing multiple people would be taken as a sign that you don’t consider the person enough for you. In this sense, you might say that dating in the UK is perhaps more meaningful than in some other countries.

Dating behavior in the UK

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 UK.

British politeness

British people are widely renowned for being unfailingly polite. Indeed, if two people bump into each other in the street, you can expect them both to quickly apologize; and in some cases, apologize several times. More often than not, this politeness translates to dating. Initially, when going on a date, people greet with a handshake. However, once you know someone, this could extend to a kiss on the cheek.

Splitting the bill and chivalry

Chivalry is certainly not dead in the UK. On the contrary, it is quite common for men to act like gentlemen on dates. This might mean holding the door open for his date, lending her his jacket when she gets cold, or insisting on paying the bill. That said, gender equality is fairly strong in the UK and many couples like to split the bill after the first few dates. When dining out, however, sharing meals is generally less of a cultural trait than in other countries. But British people usually tip well, and some restaurants add service charges on to bills automatically; this varies between 10% and 20%.

Gentleman on date

General conversation

When it comes to conversation, you can expect your partner to want to learn about your life, and take a genuine interest in your goals and dreams. This is because British people tend to be quite ambitious in terms of their career; yet they remain very traditional in what they frame as being successful. And don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t catch every word they say or stumble upon miscommunication now and then. The UK has a wide range of regional accents and dialects, so this can be difficult to understand at first. Just remember, it’s still considerably easier to get to grips with than if you are dating someone who speaks a totally different language.

What to wear on a date

You needn’t get too hung up on what to wear on a date in the UK, either. British people usually choose smart-casual clothing and in some cases go on a date straight from work. That said, professionals in the UK present themselves smartly; even those who don’t wear suits to work are likely to wear casual blazers, smart jumpers, button-up shirts, and formal shoes.

casual date

Body language

It is worth noting that British people are generally more reserved than some other Western cultures. This means that public displays of affection aren’t as common as you may be accustomed to in your home country. So while you might feel like your date is giving you the cold shoulder, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Moving into a relationship in the UK

How a relationship might typically progress in the UK is really down to the individuals involved. There is no rule book with regard to when to get intimate, meet the family, and so on. That said, attitudes towards sex are fairly liberal in the UK. For instance, if the first date goes well, some people have no qualms about sleeping together. Whereas some cultures might perceive this as being ‘easy’, the Brits see it as totally acceptable.

Meeting friends and family

In relationships, you might find that British people are in less of a rush for you to meet their friends and family. However, this isn’t necessarily something to worry about. It is likely just due to the fact that parental approval is less important in the UK than in some other countries; therefore, meeting the parents early on in a relationship is not considered a priority. It is also quite common for individuals to maintain their own friendship groups separately from their romantic relationships. This might actually be a good thing if you value your independence.

Moving in together

Couples in the UK might date for months or even years before they decide to move in together. Given that rents in large cities can be substantial, living together is a cost-effective solution for many people. Furthermore, couples looking to buy a property in the UK may need to rent for a longer period of time before they have enough money for a deposit on a house. This is reflected in statistics that show that the average age of a first-time buyer in the UK in 2019 was 32 years old; two years older than in 2018.

moving in together

The role of the family in dating

The family remains a key part of life for many adults in the UK. Most British people are very proud of their heritage and relatives are a fundamental part of this. Therefore, as the partner of a British man or woman, you can expect to spend a fair amount of time with your in-laws. And if a man decides to pop the question, he is generally expected to ask the bride’s father beforehand. In this respect, the UK remains fairly traditional when it comes to attitudes towards marriage.

marriage proposal

This transcends to parenting too. Although both men and women in British families now tend to work (albeit often part-time for new mothers) women generally spend more time on family duties. In fact, NatCen Social Research suggests that women spend an average of 13 hours on housework and 23 hours on caring for family members each week; whereas the equivalent figures for men are 8 hours and 10 hours.

So, while the UK is fairly progressive in terms of attitudes towards dating, sex, and marriage, there is still some way to go before it reaches a level of gender equality in the family home that is seen in neighboring countries.