A friend of mine, a fellow European, summarized how relationships on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean work in a comical, but also pretty accurate way: “In America, the girl is Barbie and the guy is Ken. In Europe both are both.” So how does this actually apply to the way relationships differ from each other in two continents whose inhabitants once belonged to the same culture?
Well, for one, it has obvious, superficial reasons, such as the typically super-white teeth and perfectly groomed appearances that Americans tend to have compared to their more natural-yet-not-necessarily-better-looking European counterparts. But then again, Americans tend to dress up less often and like wearing their sneakers and sweatpants everywhere without ever being judged, a level of a relaxed attitude I would sometimes like to see in my own country.
But aside from visual aspects, girls in the States expect to live their lives like Barbie in her dreamhouse, with her super-manly successful boyfriend. They want to live the American Dream. But while these expectations are high, I often find that putting guys on a pedestal and doing anything in order to get their attention is a big part of getting to this ultimate goal.
In America, guys get to be cool players who are allowed to switch between different pretty girl-toys who will simply obey their preferences. From my experience at an American university, I understand that dating in the U.S. is a lot more spontaneous and relies a lot less on checking every detail about the other person.
Love is found, and dismissed, very casually and almost according to the preferences of the particular day. I could hardly find anyone who wasn’t in a relationship and who wasn’t engaged in some serious PDA all over the place, complete with holding hands, wearing matching clothes, constantly uploading a super-couple-y profile picture on Facebook and so on. It felt almost as though each person played their role in the perfect relationship, but could easily repeat it the following week with somebody else.
This leads me to my next point, of commitment not being the serious part of the relationship. Apparently, a boyfriend or girlfriend is defined as being the most current interesting or comfortable member of the opposite sex that one can find, which also means that the relationship status is often likely to change in almost as short an amount of time that the neck needs to direct the face’s gaze into a new direction.
Of course this is obviously not true for every single American, but it is the view that is generally conveyed to the outside. In reality, though, American couples are often still getting to know each other when they are already together, and could easily end up holding their partner’s best friend’s hand in the next instant. It’s like there is a constant trial-and-error going on in order to find out who you can actually see yourself with.
In Europe, on the other hand, not many people are ever in a relationship, but if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, it actually means something and will probably last for a while. That’s also the reason why Europeans are notoriously single and complaining about it. Europeans are a lot less likely to just date anyone in order to see how it goes, but will always find some minor detail to be a horrible, insurmountable flaw in the other person.
After making their own lives very complicated, if a European actually manages to attain a relationship, you often will not even know how to spot it. When the members of the couple are out and about, they will probably not mention their partner very often or obsess about them (of course, there are always exceptions) and will not be super-touchy and obvious in public when they are together. On the inside, however, they will be really happy they were actually able to nail each other down after the endless confusion and unnecessary drama along the way.
So why does this difference even exist, or is it just a slightly different packaging of basically the same feelings? My theory is that Europeans feel a lot safer in their tiny familiar communities, little towns and social circles where everyone knows everyone, that they are a lot more afraid to commit to one person within this already-figured-out social life.
Americans, on the other hand, can feel a lot more lost in the crowd of a huge, diverse population and thus are more likely to commit to someone without making it the search for the Holy Grail. This is exactly the problem that Europeans face, they make finding a partner an endless quest that resembles the quest of the grail, over complicating their lives and sometimes missing out on necessary learning experiences of short-term failed relationships.