Home Living in South Africa Love, Marriage & Partnership Dating in South Africa: looking for love as an expat
Last update on May 26, 2020
Sophie Pettit Written by Sophie Pettit

Looking for love in South Africa? Here’s everything you need to know about understanding South African men and women and the local dating scene.

Embarking on a relationship with someone from another culture can be complex and challenging. After all, every country has its own values and beliefs, and this extends to the qualities that make someone a desirable partner. Therefore, what some people might consider romantic or polite in your home country might not be well received in your new one.

If you happen to live in South Africa, learning about the local dating scene and the mindset of South African men and women can really help your love life. With this in mind, this helpful guide outlines some basic etiquette around dating in this beautiful yet highly complicated country. It includes the following information:

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An overview of dating in South Africa

With eleven official languages and a variety of different backgrounds and belief systems, South Africa is a diverse country; to say the least. It is understandable, therefore, that courtship varies significantly between different ethnic groups. That said, some customs and traditions remain fairly universal. If you meet the man of your dreams in South Africa, for example, he will likely ask permission from your father before he proposes.

dating

Gender roles in society

Another thing to bear in mind is that although South Africa is becoming more modern, it remains a patriarchal society. This means that gender roles can appear slightly regressive. For instance, many people still believe that men are superior to women and this is why many women rely on men to look after them; even when they are highly educated and financially well-off. This might be a bit hard to swallow if you are an independent female expat; especially if you come from a more progressive country. Of course, the dynamic in your relationship will be largely influenced by the nationality of both you and your partner.

Personality traits in men and women

Aside from being somewhat ‘kept’, women in South Africa are generally known to be sweet-natured and romantic. That said, they certainly aren’t pushovers and know what they want. Some say they can also be feisty if you get on the wrong side of them. Although dates tend to be simple and relaxed in South Africa, women still like men to be chivalrous and brave and act like gentlemen. After all, they love a man they can show off to their family and friends. And the men certainly deliver. They are generally known to be sweet and traditional, if not a little obsessive about sport.

South Africa rugby fans

And speaking of sport, it is important to understand that this is a major part of South African culture. As a result, your man is likely to be fit, healthy, and passionate about the subject. Furthermore, some expats report that sport seems to be a way for South African men to channel their aggression. Many feel they also have a tendency to be highly protective in all spheres and aren’t quick to back down in a fight. However, it would be unfair to suggest all South African men are aggressive; of course, they can be gentle too. After all, while your man may be rugged and fiercely protective, he will most likely act like a true gentleman when he takes you out.

How to meet people in South Africa

When dating in South Africa, you will generally meet prospective partners in similar places to where you might in your home country; for instance, at work, through friends, and while you are out socializing.

Meeting through friends

In South Africa, the place where you meet someone can have a big impact on their expectations of you. If you meet a man or woman at a club, for example, you are more likely to find a partner who is looking for a casual fling and nothing serious. This is a common assumption in many countries, too. On the other hand, if you meet through friends, this is usually considered to be a more solid base for establishing a long-term relationship. As a result, there is a tendency for married couples in South Africa to try and set their single friends up with others they consider to be a good match.

meeting through friends

Expat groups and clubs

As an expat, the simplest way to meet new people when you first arrive in South Africa is through the local expat community. If you live in Cape Town or Johannesburg, which are the most popular cities for expats, you will discover numerous groups that cater to people with similar hobbies and interests. Furthermore, some of these are specifically designed for those interested in dating and relationships; so you are likely to meet other singles with the same intention.

Dating apps and websites

Just like in many other countries, online dating is very popular in South Africa, particularly among young professionals. In fact, data from the online portal Statista shows that in 2019, the majority of users (51.7%) were between 25 and 34 years old. Interestingly, the percentage ratio of men to women was 69:31. Therefore, if you are male and within this age bracket, you might be very tempted to try online dating. Furthermore, you will likely find that you’ll have more success in large cities such as Johannesburg or Cape Town, where the majority of tech-savvy expats live.

dating apps

While some of these platforms are free to sign up for, others charge a fee to subscribe. However, paying a small fee also means that you are less likely to come across fake accounts or “romantic scams”. AfroIntroductions remains the most popular dating app in South Africa with more than 2.5 million members. People generally consider this to be the most trusted dating app and site for those seeking a serious relationship.

Similarly, South African Cupid, one of the oldest dating sites, is focused on long-term relationships. It also features a secure verification process that helps users reduce the possibility of falling foul of a scam. And just like in other countries, Tinder, OkCupid, and Badoo remain popular options among singles looking to casually date, as well as a proportion of users looking for long-term relationships.

Dating etiquette in South Africa

When it comes to dating etiquette, South Africa is fairly unique from some other countries. Here are some things that are useful to know as an expat.

Making the first move

Because women in South Africa like men to be chivalrous, they generally expect the man to make the first move. Therefore, asking a woman out properly, rather than just suggesting to hang out, is a good idea for male expats. To avoid coming on too strong, however, this should be done in a smooth and friendly manner; cracking a few jokes to make her laugh will help, too. Being friendly and funny will usually go down well with women in South Africa; at least you will be able to save face if she says no!

Asking someone out

South African women are generally known for their elegance and ability to carry themselves well. In fact, for South African men, elegance is an important feature every woman should have. Some even claim that having an elegant wife is the secret to a long-lasting marriage. With this in mind, if you’re a man, picking a nice restaurant, scrubbing up nicely for a date, and holding the door open for her will help make a dazzling first impression.

A typical dating scenario in South Africa

When choosing a venue for your date, it’s important to know that this will generally set the tone and intention of your relationship. Taking your partner to a nice restaurant, for instance, generally suggests that you want to have a serious relationship with them. It will also gain a man more respect. Going to a club, on the other hand, suggests that you are after something more short-term with less commitment.

Lion's Head mountain in Cape Town
Lion’s Head mountain in Cape Town

It might also be helpful to consider that while there are some vegetarians in South Africa, women tend to be meat-eaters. After all, braais – or barbecues – are a beloved outdoor pursuit in South Africa, and widely enjoyed by both sexes; especially during summer. Chances are you will have a few of these too during the stages of getting to know your partner. And because South Africa boasts some of the most fantastic vineyards in the world, your partner is likely to know a thing or two about good wine, too.

Given the nation’s love of sports and the great outdoors, you may also find that dates extend to watching the rugby or cricket, or going surfing, hiking, boating, mountain climbing, and more. After all, with an excellent climate and stunning nature, why would you want to stay indoors! As time goes on, you can expect your dates to become more adventurous and varied.

Dating behavior in South Africa

While it’s always wise to take stereotypes with a pinch of salt, there are certain traits that South Africans are known for around the world. These may become apparent once you begin to navigate the local dating scene.

Body language

While greetings in South Africa tend to be relatively informal, it’s polite to shake hands while maintaining eye contact the first time you meet a date. Once men and women know each other a little better, they replace this with a kiss on the cheek. In this warm nation, greetings also include an exchange of pleasantries and small talk, and any perceived aloofness might come across as impolite.

Good manners

Because South African women are generally known to be elegant and well-mannered, it’s important for men to carry themselves well, too. However, being too outwardly shy or stand-offish can be off-putting to a woman. Therefore, it is better to just relax, be yourself, and enjoy your date.

Paying the check and chivalry

If you are a man, being courteous, dressing smartly, holding doors open for women, and offering them your coat are seen as attractive qualities in a partner. And when it comes to paying the check, men in South Africa will usually pay. That said, an offer to split it will not be seen as rude.

paying the check

Presentation

For South African men and women, being well presented is important in a relationship. This means dressing smartly but also humbly; without going to extreme lengths. It is not necessary, therefore, to wear heavy makeup or your fanciest clothes. In fact, South African men tend to prefer natural beauty, and a woman who wears as little cosmetics as possible is more attractive to them.

Talking points

South Africa has a rich cultural tapestry, and women are closely attuned to their local and family traditions. Therefore, if you want to earn brownie points, do a little research and be attentive to her stories. And don’t worry too much about learning the local lingo at this point; you’ll get the hang of it in time. Of course, sport – and rugby in particular – is a major part of South African culture for both men and women. So chances are your date will be fiercely loyal to their rugby team, which is also a good conversation starter.

Moving into a relationship

How a relationship might typically progress in South Africa is really down to the individuals involved. That said, there are some cultural influences that usually come into play when couples date.

Meeting the family

Family is highly important for both men and women in South Africa, so when the time finally comes for you to meet your partner’s parents, you should consider this a significant step in your relationship. If you’re lucky enough to get this far, you will likely be made to feel very welcome by the family. After all, South African families are known to be warm and friendly, with a good sense of humor and a big heart.

Meeting the family

Make sure to be on your best behavior, though. And while most South Africans don’t expect you to bring a gift with you, it can be polite to bring something to drink, such as wine, when visiting their house. There is, of course, a flip side to this too; in return, South African women will value the significance of meeting your family when the time is right.

Getting married

Despite the fact that people in South Africa still hold on to tradition, figures released by the Department of Statistics South Africa show that registered civil and customary marriages have been steadily declining from 2008 to 2017. The lowest number recorded was in 2017 when 135,458 couples tied the knot; a decrease of 2.9% from the 139,512 marriages recorded in 2016. Government statistics also show that a growing proportion of couples are now choosing to simply live together without getting married.

Couples are also choosing to get married later in life. In 2017, for instance, the median age for first-time marriages was 34 years for men and 31 years for women. Interestingly, for those who are married, most are between the ages of 35 and 39, belong to the white population group, and live in urban areas. If you are dating a South African man or woman, therefore, marriage might not necessarily be on the cards; or at least until your early 30s.

Having children

Just like the marriage rate, the number of births in South Africa is also decreasing year on year. In 2020, the birth rate is 19.995 births per 1,000 people; representing a 1.64% decline from 2019. It also seems that women are choosing to have fewer children. One study suggests that this might be due to couples not having enough time or money to raise a family. In fact, 64% of people surveyed stated that child care is just much too expensive; meanwhile (49%) are concerned about the economy.

The role of the family in dating

The family is the foundational unit of South African society. Although it means different things to different ethnicities in the country, relatives tend to maintain close relationships throughout their lives.

family

Therefore, as the partner of a South African man or woman, you can expect to spend a significant amount of time with your in-laws. You may also notice that white South African families tend to show respect to their close family friends by referring to them as ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’.

Gender roles in the family home

Traditionally, South Africa has a patriarchal society. Therefore, views on gender roles might not be as progressive as you might be accustomed to. Due to the high cost of living, women who are able to find a job almost always work. But those without a job are often expected to dote on their husbands. Meanwhile, in communities that condone polygamy, women are not allowed to have more than one husband while men can have multiple wives. So, while outdated mindsets are slowly developing, you might find that change filters through very slowly in this complicated country.

Raising children in South Africa

When it comes to having and raising kids in South Africa, the father generally acts as the patriarch and the mother is primarily responsible for the emotional and physical wellbeing of the children. These rigid gender roles can often create a conflict for mothers who choose to undertake paid work outside of the home.

working mother

Research suggests, however, that this may be less of an issue in societies where responsibility for childcare is shared among extended family and community members. Again, family dynamics really come down to the cultural background of you and your partner, as well as your own ideologies.