A Very British Way Of Dating

For those who don’t know, those of us in the UK don’t really ‘do’ dating, or at least not in the way people in the USA do. A generation’s worth of Friends, SATC and Seinfeld means we are more than aware of the conventions and rules involved in US-style dating. In practice, though, there’s still a sort of underlying consensus over here that any date is a big deal and that you should have decided whether you are going to like someone *before* the first date. Yes, I know, that kinda defies the point.

How It Should Be Done
As far as I see it, this is the way dating *should* work. You meet someone who is also single and you exchange numbers. You meet up for a coffee or a meal and, over the next couple of hours, decide whether there’s a hint of a spark or not. You also try and suss out how much chance there is of them being an axe murderer, but let’s assume for now that they are not. If either of you doesn’t quite feel the spark then you gently turn down the second date with no (well, very few) hard feelings. On the second date, you are slightly less nervous and can get to know him/her a little bit more. At this point, you can work out if you have the same sense of humour and if you’re interested in the same stuff. Two yeses in these compatibility stakes = a third date. The third date is the one where you decide if you want to take things further and what happens after that is generally allowed to be off-book – the formal dating part is usually over.

The problem is that over here, we sort of want to know all the answers before we even begin. Again, yes, this is stupid. I myself cancelled loads of potential first dates (and by “loads”, I mean “at least two”) during my single days, just because I wasn’t sure if I’d like him. Another thing we are guilty of is getting over-excited when a friend goes on a first date – we pile the pressure on them by our inability not to demand pre- and post-date analysis.

So, why do we make so much more of a big deal over a little date? Is it because it’s in our nature to be quite self-deprecating and are afraid of wasting someone else’s time? Is it because we don’t want to waste our own time with someone who we’ll end up not seeing again? Are we more sensitive and afraid of being rejected or – worse – having to reject someone else? Or perhaps some old-fashioned idea of courtship comes into play – us girls still half-expect men to woo us, but men these days are afraid of offending the strong-minded modern women by coming on too strong.

I don’t know the answers, but I do know that, by being so cautious, we are very much reducing our chances of meeting people we wouldn’t normally have the chance to get to know. It’s all about averages, right? The fewer people we meet, the less chance of finding the right one. If we don’t regularly go on first dates, then how can we ever hope to get into a relationship?

Well, since you asked…

How It Works Over Here
It’s not like we don’t date at all. It’s more that the dates we go on are pretty much always with people we already know a bit about. We usually date acquaintances – friends of friends who we’ve met a few times and who we’ve already acknowledged a mutual attraction with. If not friends-of-friends, UK dates tend to be with people from online dating sites – i.e. people who we’ve already had a chance to judge for their likes, dislikes, humour and looks. When we deem someone first date-worthy, we generally already know that there’s a good chance of a second date…and a third. This approach is not without its advantages – friendship (or at least acquaintance-ship) is a good foundation to build on, and dating less = less chance of casual rejection.

We do sometimes agree to go on blind dates but, again, we tend to feel the need to find out everything about the other person before we agree. Plus, there’s the worry about offending the person doing the set-up if the first date doesn’t lead to a second. Best not to risk it then…staying at home alone is much less likely to upset anyone.

My boyfriend once said to me that he nearly cancelled our first date because he wasn’t sure we’d have anything in common – which goes to show how important it is for us Brits to take a more relaxed approach to dating. I reckon it’s great to have high standards, but only as long as they are coupled with an open mind. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts about dating in the US, UK or any other countries, so do leave a comment if you have a story to tell!

Main image via, Union Jack via England For All. Thanks to my colleague and friend Evelina for helping me with images for my posts! You are a star.

  • Clau Piña

    In Mexico is pretty much the same acquaintances and such…

  • Siobhan Kümm

    I quite like the idea of at least somewhat knowing the person before you go on a date. I think dating is done far too casually in America. Then again, I do tend to be a bit old fashioned. =)

  • Robin Epley

    I don’t date a lot either, I think mostly because I think a lot of the same way as you outline here, with the geographical problem of living in Northern California. (It’s NOT LA, basically.) I also go to college, which means a lot of the guys who I meet are not interested in relationships, they’re interested in…well. You get the picture.

    Anyway, the love ’em and leave ’em gig has never been my thing. Until then, I only go out on dates with guys that I’m comfortable with. If I can’t trust him to drive me home at the end of the date, or meet him by myself somewhere, then there will be no date.

  • Jineen Carcamo

    I love your series! I’m planning on studying abroad in London next fall. I was wondering if you’d do a post about the British way to drink tea haha. I like tea but I realize tea is Britain is much different.

    • Liza Baron

      Hi Jineen, thanks for the compliment and I hope you liked this week’s tea column! x

  • Cyndy Mathes

    I find it funny that I’ve received criticism for dating the way I do, but apparently I date the British way (I live in the States). I do the online thing, and generally call a first interaction a “meet and greet” to emphasize it’s to see if we’d like to date. It can be tricky, when many I’m interacting with don’t have the same rule book, but I’ve constructed my dating life the way that feels comfortable to me, and those who get upset from divergence of social norms aren’t getting a second date anyhow!

    • Liza Baron

      Perfect – I’m a big fan of constructing one’s own way of dating, and you’re right that anyone who doesn’t like it is not your match anyway!

  • Katie Glenn

    Turns out that I’ve been dating the British way this whole time…I’m just on the wrong continent.

  • Meredith Bagdazian

    I too seem to have been dating British this whole time, which makes sense, given how much the rest of my life reflects my yearning to be a subject of Her Majesty! I’ve never been asked out by a random stranger, or someone I didn’t know or have a mutual connection with. I think everything you see on Friends, SATC & Seinfeld is much more for the generation before us.

  • Manu Pillado Matheu

    Hey! I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and i’ve got to say that our way of dating is quite similar to British style, at least regarding that we go on first dates with people we already know a bit. I’ve always been amazed by how much Americans date (at least as seen on tv…) . Over here we either meet people at bars or parties and never see each other again, or we go out with people we already know (friends of friends, classmates, people from work, etc). Asking somebody on a date is like admitting that you really like him/her, that you have a crush on him/her or that you have feelings for him/her. We just don’t date as if it were a sport (which I think would be actually much healthier!) In fact, during one year that I’ve been single between one boyfriend and the next, I’ve been on five first dates, to say the most, the last one being with my actual boyfriend. And I recall only one guy being someone I had just met at a bar… al the rest were friends of friends or guys I had already met elsewhere…

    • Jime Ys

      I’ve always thought that it sucks that here in Argentina (I’m from Rosario, Santa Fe) it is extremely rare that you meet a guy at a coffee shop, in the supermarket, while riding a bus or an elevator, and he asks you out on a date, you always have to meet guys at bars or be introduced to them by mutual friends!

  • Andrea Barrios

    I’m with Katie. I’ve been doing it the British way since I can remember.
    I don’t date all that often because I’d prefer to know I’m gonna like the guy or we have things in common. Most of my friends, my mother even, mistake this for shallowness or snobbery or tell me my standards too high. But whatever, it tends to work for me and it’s my happiness that matters!

  • Rachel Nelson

    I think the process of socializing is probably different here in America. We are so spread out over here and have less cultural connections. I think of the UK as having a rich culture and thus it is probably safe to date the way you do. I feel over here we are in our teenage-hood and don’t have the support of families knowing families going back for years. Does that make sense? So therefore, we have this ‘falling in love’ myth that we chase after; believing anyone could be “the one!”

  • Pauline de Groot

    Well, as far as I know we date even less than you do here in The Netherlands. Generally, you meet a guy in a club/bar, dance a bit, attempt to talk (i.e.:scream) either snog him or not and then give him your number to meet up a second time. After the exchange of some texts, of course.
    Just a quick question: do these rules apply to Scottish guys as well? I’m going to university in Scotland this October but I hear the Scottish are a bit ‘rougher’. What’s your poit of view on this?

  • Dora Lobo

    I live in London – and have for many years – and I disagree. I have done the online dating thing, and dated people i had known before, but I also got chatted up in clubs or bars, exchanged numbers and went on dates. Isn’t it like that in the entire world?

  • Alycia Lourim

    i think in general the internet has made it almost impossible to date someone. if you know their name you can easily look them up on facebook immediately judge them on likes and dislikes. i live in the US but i generally try to give a fair chance. because in the past i wouldnt have dated “jocks” and recently they’ve been on my radar and they are not “jocks” like i thought them to be. obviously they are their own person and sports is just one of their interests. i have not have sports on the top of my interests but it doesnt mean i dont enjoy them. im only 22 but i have realized that eventually you can’t judge people or pin a stereotype on them because no is usually what they appear to be.

  • Mars Ella

    Wow I would fit right in if I moved to the UK. I’m from the States and still don’t date anyone I don’t know. I usually get to know them and “talk” for a while before going on an official date.

  • Amalia Pantazi

    I live in Greece and I could totally relate. I don’t thing it’s a ‘british’ thing, it’s just a different take on dating. Watching Hollywood films and american series, I’ve thought about that myself. We see the actors walk down a street and bump into a charming stranger and exchange a few sparky lines and next thing we know, they are on a date. I don’t know if that’s only a movie thing or it also happens in real life, I mean as a norm, in the USA or anywhere else in the world and I’m definately not judging it ‘wrong’ or anything. But from what I know and what I hear from my friends, it doesn’t really work like that over here. There is no ‘casual dating’. We mostly date when we’re serious about someone. We’re kind of drama-prone, too.

  • Jena Evans-Turnbull

    I live in Canada and I would say this is the exact way we date too. Personally I like to be at the very least on friendly terms with someone before dating them. Which worked out, since I ended up marrying my very best friend in the whole world!

  • Megan Eaves-Egenes

    Being from the US, now married to an Irishman (we dated in Dublin) and living in London, I can aptly say that most of what you seen on TV and movies is just that. I’m sure in some parts of the US, those sit-coms reflection a semblance of reality, most regular Americans date the same way that you described as “British” style dating. :) I know I certainly did and all of my single friends still do.

  • Michelle Glauser

    I loved this post. I suppose I also have a curious way of dating, because I’m a Mormon. I just wrote up my own post about relationships after reading Lori Gottlieb’s book “Marry Him.” Take a look: Let’s talk about relationships.

  • Star Singles

    Some prefer meeting online and others face to face. So we offer both to cater for everyone’s needs.
    Singles socials are quite effective – it’s just a social drink after all..

  • Simone Schiavini

    I came in the UK 4 months ago,and I don’t really understand how things work in here even reading this post,because i’ve seen a girl for the 4th time a few days ago and there have been several kisses and the day after she said things wouldn’t work between us,what does this mean?

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