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The French Don’t Do Booty Calls

April 4, 2012

A number of recent conversations with both French and American buddies about who’s tying the knot, who’s coupling up and who seems to be running from any form of commitment has had me thinking about how differently our two cultures tend to approach dating.

My own personal experience is one example. As I began to see a Frenchman on a regular basis, I was more than prepared to sit him down and give him a stern talking to about how having a “maitresse” would not fly with Americans (fortunately, this would not prove necessary).

Check out more comparisons from Vahram Muratyan at Paris Vs New York

Yet, one of the early and seemingly minor relationship milestones gave me quite a different glimpse into a life of cultural differences.

We were nearing the end of the pre-relationship dating period – those early weeks where every minute brings new butterflies. You’re also walking on eggshells, hoping you haven’t said the wrong thing, called back too quickly or encountered an unforgivable character flaw.

By the time we’d arrived at this critical moment, we’d survived several requisite tests of compatibility. I’d survived the first dinner party with his friends, where I’d anxiously pushed noodles drenched in Roquefort sauce around my plate, terrified to admit that my francophilia had its limits and they began with moldy cheese. We’d had the “what’s your religion and how attached to it are you” chat.  To recap quickly – it resulted in Frenchie calling his mother on the spot to confirm he was, indeed Catholic (we’ll talk about THAT later). I was sold, and it was time to have “the talk”. I remember it going down like this:

Naive American with French visas in eyes: So…I’ve had beaucoup de fun these last few weeks.

Frenchie: Moi aussi.

NA:  So much fun that I think it’s maybe time to talk about what this is.

Frenchie: ???

NA: Well, you know, what are we? What is this?

Frenchie: ???

NA: Do you want to be official? Do you want to date, like, exclusively? You know, I don’t see other people. You don’t see other people.

Frenchie (eyes narrowing): You mean we’re not dating exclusively right now?

NA: (frantically reaching for the language barrier card) What? Yes? No? Do you feel like getting ice cream?

Unbeknownst to me, “the talk” – a rite of passage for Americans – was not part of standard relationship etiquette in France. How was I to know that a few weeks of coffee dates and sweaty dancing in student clubs automatically transitioned overnight into a birthday present-buying, anniversary-observing commitment?

Expat bloggers I’ve come across (read: live vicariously through) and who have found their own frogs seem to indicate that the willingness to take the plunge without the prelude is still alive and well. The ladies at Perpetual Passenger and Laura’s Vie Quotidienne cited the first kiss with a Frenchman as the event that sealed the deal.

Compare this to the American dating scene today – or rather the string of casual and extended physical trysts that seem to have become the norm rather than the exception.

My late twenty-something American friends often seem to be in a constant whirlwind of testing new partners and considering the pros and cons after each “date”. This often goes on for months. Our French friends, for the most part, are typically in a relationship or out, but rarely endlessly on the brink of one. And as Americans increasingly move to online dating – doesn’t this only create more choices and decisions?

Now I fully admit that this is without a doubt a generalization (isn’t that what blogs are for?). And as the girl who tied the knot less than a year out of college, I’m hardly familiar with the challenges of today’s dating scene. But as a society that can’t seem to stop digging up French mannerisms to emulate, this might not be a bad one to explore.

On one hand, the trial period makes it easier to cut and run at the first sign of a potential incompatibility. But by assuming you’ve got a few weeks to test the merchandise before you’re locked in, perhaps we’re just causing ourselves unnecessary anxiety and feeding our “grass is greener” obsession.

A recent Match.com study on the state of American single-dom noted that a third of young singles are open to a casual hook-up in the near future and 54% have had one; yet only 35% of singles have had a one-night stand that turned into a long term partnership. Is our casual attitude about sex inhibiting our ability to pick a mate?

Perhaps someday soon, in addition learning that French women don’t get fat and French kids don’t throw fits, we’ll be reading that French singles don’t have commitment issues.

Want a Frenchman’s perspective on braving our crazy dating rules (and some exercise for your French)? Check out my friend Freud’s experience on his blog here.

Readers out there (i.e. my meager handful of friends that I’m bribing to visit this blog) – what do you think?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Paula permalink
    April 4, 2012 12:17 pm

    Salut, francophile! I must say that I think you’re totally right about the Americans’ attitudes towards dating and casual sex. However, given my own affinity for Frenchies, I have to question whether or not they’re all the all or nothing relationship types. I can think of one in particular who was very much a booty call or a “when we’re both in the same place at the same time, it’s really fun” kind of deal… But peut-etre, I’ve managed to pick out the ones with American dreams of their own too, who happen to follow the American cultural norms of dating!? Thoughts?

  2. April 15, 2012 11:32 pm

    Paula – thanks for your comment! Certainly this prescription is not one size fits all and I would imagine that just as our dating habits are evolving toward the less conventional, the French are perhaps beginning to abandon their traditional views as well. I personally wonder how online dating is being received over there! And to your point, those Frenchies who are more mobile – as we’re all crossing borders more regularly for schools, work, etc.- have likely learned to be more pragmatic about making connections and are becoming more open to fleeting engagements.

  3. Alice permalink
    April 17, 2012 6:37 pm

    Hi hi! Interesting topic… do you think that perhaps it’s a less committed attitude in France? In the sense that yes, you may be dating, and no, you may not be “seeing anyone else at the moment,” but say if someone was to waltz into your life a couple months into this relationship (which begins at the first kiss, apparently), it’s much easier for them to start seeing this new person, rather than agonizing over the commitment that you already made? In other words, you’re official, but it’s still a “trial period” as we do in the US. I don’t know, obviously, and obviously this is a huge generalization, but just something that came to mind.

    • April 19, 2012 12:40 am

      Alice – interesting idea. I feel like we would see more transient relationships if that were the case, which I can’t say I’ve noticed, but doesn’t mean that’s not the case. I sense the need to do a “A Frenchie’s POV” guest blog at some point. ;)

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