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  • Calli Zarpas

What It's Really Like Dating In Your Second Language: A Love Story

If you're ever dating someone from a different culture/background there are going to be issues that come up outside of those of a typical relationship. When you're used to doing something one way your whole life it can be difficult to adjust to a different person's point of view. So when I started dating my stinky-cheese eating, rule-following, straight-edge French boyfriend I realized there were a few things I hadn't really expected about dating someone from a different culture.

Before I left for my year of teaching at a public high school in France a lot of my friends joked with me about getting a French boyfriend and never coming back to the states. I just rolled my eyes because, “I don’t like French boys,” I told them. In my mind they were too slim, too flirty and untrustworthy. Le "French Boy" wore his jeans too tight, was a little too feminine, fell in and out of love way too easily and knew just how to entice a girl back to his bedroom, but not quite how to keep her there. It was a far-cry from the t-shirt and khaki short wearing fraternity boys I had befriended in college whose idea of romance was a text message at about 2:06 A.M. on a Friday night. While definitely a question of lesser-of-two-evils, American boys were just what I was used to and who I liked.

Once I got to France and became friends with other English-speakers from the U.S. and the U.K., I heard about some of their success and failures on Tinder during their time in France. But, I still wasn’t inclined to swipe though countless selfies of straight-faced boys in Supreme sweatshirts. I just wanted a year of being young and free to go out with my girlfriends, take weekend trips and leave on vacation wherever/whenever I wanted. Being in a relationship was work and commitment and I didn’t think I could give that to anyone. I also knew that deep down I was scared to fall for a French flirt who could leave me heartbroken.

When dating in another language it's not just the people who are different, but also the culture around dating in general. The French dating scene is completely different than it is in the U.S. In the U.S. there is this weird culture where first you hook-up, then you're hooking up, then you're talking, then you're a thing, then you might finally date, maybe. In France as soon as you go on a few dates and you're seeing each other regularly you become someone's copine or copain. As nice as it sounded to make things so simple, it also made things serious way too fast!

How did anyone know they wanted to be in a relationship with someone they'd only known for a few weeks? So far, between the lukewarm feeling I felt towards French men (even though the more French men I met the more I realized how many lived outside of my constricting stereotypes) and the total confusion I felt towards their dating culture I was way far from getting involved with anyone during my time in France.

But, along came Thomas. He was a light brown-haired, blue-eyed French boy who sported flannels and leather sneakers (and jeans of normal tightness) who I had met when one of my professors took me to the school's Student Life office and asked the group of twenty-somethings who worked there if someone could take me on a tour of the lycée. Thomas kindly offered and took me on a quick tour of the place. We chatted a little and he told me he was working at the school while he completed his masters to be a high school history teacher. He was all warmth and smiles, with a reddish beard, broad shoulders and a sporty build.

I instantly liked him. He had this kindness and selflessness about him while somehow having the strength to say no, not let anyone take advantage of him and keep the students from getting away with murder. It was a combination I envied and admired. I saw his kindness in how he helped me out whenever I needed: getting me the wifi password to the computers in the teachers lounge, letting me practice my subpar French with him, and always asking me how things were going. He got along with people easily, worked hard at his job and made me laugh. But, I seriously wasn't looking for a boyfriend! And as much as I liked Thomas as a person, he was still really different from boys I had been with before. I liked the idea of having French friends so when Thomas asked for my number in the cafeteria (ahh, French romance at it’s finest) I hoped we could just be friends.

Thomas had other plans. When we first went out, it was with a co-worker, my roommate/co-worker, Thomas and me. We had dinner and had a drink in town. I remember having fun, but also feeling like it was so hard to be myself in another language. It just reenforced the fact that I couldn't date someone here. As nice and cute as Thomas was, it was just too hard. I could barely say everything I wanted to say, let alone flirt. But, after our first night Thomas did not seem as deterred as I was.

Over the next month we would go on two more dates, he would kiss me goodbye before I went back to the states for two weeks for Christmas and I would still tell myself and him I didn't want to date. Thomas and I didn't talk all of Christmas break and I told my friends about this cute, nice and smart guy who I argued just wasn't my type because for me he was still so different from my usual type, my American type.

Another month, two more dates, and a few late night conversations over the pool table in the boys' dormitory where Thomas worked once a week passed before I decided to tell Thomas one Wednesday night that I just couldn't do it. I had given it a shot, but it just wasn't going to work. On the surface it was because I was stressed about the commitment, the fact that I was leaving France in four months, and that I just hadn't had that love-at-first-sight with him like I wanted. But, underneath it was because I was scared to try something more serious, put my heart on the line and commit to the work of a relationship.

The next morning, Thomas sent me a really nice message saying how he understood my feelings, but wanted to stay friends because he really did just like me as a person. Reading the text filled me with so much regret. Here was this good guy who was caring, smart, driven, who liked me for me, who I clicked with instantly and I was just throwing it away because he wasn't my usual type and because I was scared of all the risks in a serious relationship.

That next Saturday night that silent regret and a few too many glasses of wine with my friends would turn into a call asking him if he was out at the bars that night which gave Thomas the suspicion that I wasn't really as done with him as I had told him I was. That next Wednesday I would tell Thomas I had thought it over again and that if he would want to I wanted to give the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing a try.

I've been falling more and more in love with him (mostly) ever since.



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