5 Things People From Other Countries Will Never Understand About American Dating Culture


When I moved overseas last year, there were many things that I thought would remain the same — dating being one of them. However, I quickly came to realize that dating culture has its own new set of rules in each country. I was surprised to learn many “relationship steps” that Americans consider to be totally normal, actually did not exist outside the United States.

1. Casually Dating

(v.) — A popular form of “dating” that can carry many meanings and rules, often when one party or both parties aren’t ready to fully commit to the other.

Casual dating is often masked by the three infamous phrases, “Let’s just see where this goes,” or “the timing isn’t right,” or “I’m not ready for a relationship.”

Which, more often than not, translates to “I don’t want a relationship with you, but I still want the benefits of one when it’s convenient.” Basically, one or more parties wants the feeling of the freedom of being single with the comfort/benefits of having a relationship at the same time.

Some people like casually dating because they feel like it allows them to set their own rules and not have the pressure of commitment (which, since a relationship is only supposed to be the two of you anyways, you do get to set your own rules regardless). Or, when the hot girl/guy at a party asks them if they’re single, they can give them a ‘guilt-free’ yes.

Casual dating can lead to a relationship over time, but this is the most difficult stage to get out of. It’s like the ‘friend-zone’ of relationships.

2. Having “The Talk”

(n.) — The dreaded conversation about where you stand with someone. It decides whether or not you’re dating, in a relationship, exclusive, or in the friend zone.

It’s a conversation that we all have to have at one point or another. However, it’s often met with feelings of dread by both parties for fear of rocking the boat. Just setting up for “the talk” (right moment, right mood, right outfit…etc) can feel as stressful as bearing your soul to someone who might have the ability to crush you or visa versa.

This is part of the deal obviously, because you can’t be in a healthy relationship with someone whom you feel like you can’t trust. But, many put off this important conversation and avoid the topic because they feel afraid. Avoidance of this conversation generally results in confused feelings and mixed signals, along with spending too much time analyzing where you both actually stand.

The talk is generally about finding the correct title or label. Everything seems to be about titles these days. There’s friend, good friend, best friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, fiancé(e), and husband/wife. There’s also “(insert title here)” relationship. If you successfully make it through “the talk,” you’ll usually arrive at one of the three following conclusions: an open relationship, a monogamous relationship, or exclusive for one person but not for the other.

3. The “Almost-Relationship”

(n.) — A relationship where nothing would change if you decided to be official, but one party still wants to keep his or her options open. (often leads to hurt feelings and feeling heartbroken)

You’re in an ‘almost-relationship’ after you’ve had ‘the talk’ with whomever you’re seeing, and they decide that they “don’t want to change how things are now.” When in reality, if you both decided to be in an actual relationship tomorrow, nothing would change. Being in an almost-relationship doesn’t mean that you’re not in love, or that you’re not spending a significant amount of time with each other.

If you’re in the almost-relationship phase, then you’re generally not seeing other people. However, you do usually have the option to, so if you decide to hook up or make out with someone, it’s “not considered cheating.” It’s most likely about convenience at this point.

Ending an almost-relationship can feel as heart-breaking as ending an “actual” one. Since you were never exactly in a relationship to begin with, is there really anything to end? But, you still have relationship-like feelings for this person, and you feel like your “non-relationship, relationship” is not really any different from an actual relationship…?

4. Ghosting

(v.) — Cutting off communication with someone temporarily or permanently because you’re too much of a coward to actually tell them that you’re no longer interested.

Ghosting is a phenomenon that we know all too well. It’s probably happened to every one of us around the dating age. We’ve either ghosted on someone, or we’ve been ghosted. Since communication between millennials is mainly through technology, it has made it super easy to blatantly avoid the responsibility of being a decent human being.

Ghosting generally creates more hurt feelings than actually breaking up with someone. Suddenly ending all communication makes the other party feel like they weren’t worth an explanation. Technology makes this incredibly easy. When you’re seeing people you’ve met on online dating sites, it’s easy to see them as just another profile as opposed to a real person, even if you’ve gone on a few dates. If you’re in a more developed “(insert title here)” relationship, we can all agree that breaking up via text is horrid, so why not ghost them and just avoid the topic all together?

The problem is that it not only feels worse than breaking up via text, but it also takes time to realize that you’ve been ghosted. Whereas if you tell someone that you no longer want to see them, then boom: you’re done and we can move on. The big question is, “how long do we wait until we declare someone’s non-responsive behavior to be ‘ghosting?’”

5. Benching & Bread-crumbing

(v.) — Leading someone on just enough so that they’ll stick around, because you’re not sure if you want to be with them, but you want to make sure they’re available if Plan A doesn’t work out. (often accompanied by sporadic ghosting.)

“Benching” is commonly known in sports when you’re still on the team, but you don’t play because the coach has better players. In dating, it’s basically the same idea. There are other (better) players on the team, but you’re kept
on the team anyways, in case the coach needs you. As a benched player, you usually feel pretty psyched when you get an opportunity to play, without realizing that you’re actually someone’s second (or third) choice.

“But why would you want to be with someone if you’re not their first choice?”

You wouldn’t. However, you don’t always know right away that you’re being benched. Sometimes, you won’t figure it out until you’ve been temporarily ghosted, or you’re celebrating the six month anniversary of your “almost-relationship.” It usually takes either a long period of time or an outside person to tell you that you’re being benched.

Bread-crumbing is how they get away with benching, and it makes it difficult to figure out what’s happening. It’s like leaving a trail of never-ending breadcrumbs for the person you’re leading on. They pick them up one by one, in hopes of it leading to their goal — you. It feels exhausting, but it’s relatively effective. Generally, when you’re bread-crumbing someone, you have no intention on actually being in a relationship with them. Some guys call this “the chase,” some people call it “playing someone,” but many girls call this “being an asshole.”

So why does all of this exist? Why can’t it just be simple?

Two main reasons: technology and feelings. These two don’t mix well, and these almost-relationships and casual dating habits happen because we’re afraid of feeling hurt. We feel like we have to have our guards up all the time. We’ve grown up in a society where we’re wired to think that a decent person actually has indecent intentions. We’ve been ghosted or benched before, and we’ve had our hearts broken by an almost-relationship. We don’t see that “no two partners are the same,” so we walk into dates or a new “(insert title here)” relationship feeling like we need to have our walls up and guns blazing.

“Wait, that makes no sense. Why would you go into a relationship being completely guarded but wanting something sustainable?”

I don’t really know. We tend to see things as dependent events, rather than independent, mutually exclusive ones. You become jaded based on past experiences with partners. You make excuses, saying that it’s not the right time, or you’re still getting over your ex. You feel that just because your last girlfriend/boyfriend hurt you that the girl/guy you’ve just started seeing
will hurt you too. So, instead of giving her/him a fighting chance, you casually date, you ghost, and you bench.

Or, you let your guard down and hope for the best.