Many people think of the U.S. as having a fast-paced dating culture, and international students are sometimes surprised at customs that are different from their own.
When Kutlwano Mokgwathi left Botswana to go to the U.S. for college, a few American dating customs caught her by surprise.
On dates, men will assume women will split the bill instead of buying their dinner without questions. They may also expect the women to go back to their place after the first date or even host a casual date at their place to “Netflix and chill,” Mokgwathi, a doctoral student studying media arts and studies, said.
In Botswana, men are usually the ones to make the first move, and they have an abrupt style of approaching a woman. Sometimes, the men would proposition the women and ask them to be their partners despite not knowing them very well.
Gaone Manatong, who is also from Botswana, said young people, especially young women, aren’t expected to have relationships during their late teens and early 20s.
“My parents wouldn’t expect me to go up to them and say, ‘I have a boyfriend, and we sleep together’ unless they know that he’s courting me for marriage,” Manatong, a graduate student studying communications and development studies, said.
It’s common for parents to want their children to focus on education instead of relationships, she said, so younger people sometimes hide their romantic pursuits from their parents.
Manatong said her culture has a double standard for young women because her mom brings up children but doesn’t find dating appropriate at her age despite the fact that she is older than 20 years old.
Her mom questions her about when she’ll have a child even though she would disapprove of a relationship.
“It’s funny because she feels like I’m old enough to have a child, but at the same time she doesn’t feel like I’m old enough to have a boyfriend and sleep with him,” she said. “Where am I going to get this child? Is it going to drop from the sky or something?”
Erick Meza, a junior studying real estate, said his parents are from Mexico where there’s a lot of familial influence when it comes to relationships. It’s normal for two people interested in each other to need both sets of parents to approve before they date. Another common practice can be for parents to attempt setting their children up with people they know.
“When we would meet up (with my mom’s friends), they would always be like ‘Oh, this is Erick. He’s single by the way,’” Meza said. “It’s awkward. It’s like they’re your wingmom or something.”
Meza said it’s a custom for men in Mexico to show their interest in potential partners first, then work on keeping her love and attention with small gifts. Problems can arise when people have different dating customs than their dates because each person might have a different interpretation of a situation, Mokgwathi said. An African man could ask an American woman to grab coffee, but that doesn’t always carry romantic intentions. People in the U.S. tend to jump to conclusions too quickly because they’ll assume it means something, she said.
Ashley Chong, a junior from Malaysia studying forensic chemistry, said her parents wouldn’t necessarily have to approve of her relationship, but she’d still introduce them to her partner out of respect.
Malaysia has the entire spectrum of romantic and sexual connections from hookups to friends with benefits to committed partners, she said. But most people look for stability when they’re seeing someone and aim for a deep connection.
Americans can fall into a trap of attaching labels too quickly, Chong said. She would need to make sure she had real feelings for someone before calling them a significant other.
Manatong hung out with someone back in 2012 when she came to the U.S. for a study abroad program. She said it wasn’t a relationship, and she didn’t see it as dating, but everyone she knew called them a couple because they went to events together.
Mokgwathi said love isn’t said or expressed nearly as much in Africa as in the U.S. because people don’t “pour” their hearts out.
“You kind of hear ‘love’ all the time here. People just love everything,” she said. “Love is supposed to be a very strong emotion for special people in your life. But here, I kind of find people just throw it around.”