I have been contacted by more than one person wanting to date Scandinavian people or even marry one of us. My reply? Tough luck! Because Scandinavians don’t date. We hardly even have a word for it. The Scandinavian word for ‘date’ is really old-fashioned and one my grandmother might have used but probably didn’t because I don’t think she dated either. So the few times we have to use the word ‘date’ (usually to describe something foreigners do) we use the English word for it.
And we very rarely get married.
So how do we figure on top of these lists of “happiest people in the world,” you wonder? And how do we procreate if we don’t date and don’t marry?
Marrying a Scandinavian
Let me answer the last question first: Yes, many of us choose not to get married but that doesn’t mean that we don’t live together or have children in well-established partnerships. We may not have good words for ‘dating’ but we certainly have a great word for that spouse-without-a-wedding-ring we have back home: “samboer.” Which means “together-liver.” And yes, that word works better in Scandinavian. 🙂
If you live with someone in Scandinavia, and especially if you have kids, you are as good as any married couple would be in your country. I have no idea which of my friends are married and which “only” live together. But I know from statistics that more people live together than are married – and that is counting all the old people who got married back when that was still something you did (in Norway it was illegal to live with someone without being married up until 1972 – imagine that!).
Dating a Scandinavian
I’ve always been fascinated by American date movies because it’s like watching some weird rituals in some far-away country I don’t know very much about. I’ve also lived in several non-Scandinavian countries for longer periods – USA, Greece, Germany and Italy, when I was young and single and thus in the dating segment. But dating was like a foreign language to me – as it is when I watch American movies and television shows. So I might have gotten the dating “rules” of your country (which might *not* be USA and therefore not part of those American movie rules) entirely wrong and am thus making a big thing out of nothing.
So to make it clear what I’m talking about: As far as I understand it, dating in so many non-Scandinavian countries may consist of a man asking a woman he doesn’t know very well to go out to dinner and/or a movie with him, his picking her up and dropping her off afterwards and his paying the bills and making the decisions, and the first date ends with a kiss at the most? Does that describe dating in your country? If so, buckle up and see how we non-date in Scandinavia.
Dating rules – the Scandinavian version
Dating, as mentioned above, is what we don’t do. None of it. I`ll make you a list of what we don’t do so you’re not confused:
- We don’t flirt with strangers. There`s no chance of you “meeting” someone you don’t know and asking her out/him asking you out. That’s, of course, unless we’re drunk. We might flirt if we’re drunk. Actually we probably do flirt when we’re drunk. But it’s not a pretty sight because drunk flirting is not elegant. At all. It’s embarrassing – which most of us realize the next morning unless we’ve conveniently forgotten our flirting faux-pas in some kind of drunken black out.
- We don’t ask people out, especially people we don’t know. That’s, of course, unless we’re drunk. We might (if we can still talk) say something along the lines of “doyouwanttogotoamoviewithmetomorrow?” if we’re really drunk. Usually we only say this after we’ve had sex, though.
Compared to what I`ve seen in date movies we usually do it the other way around: We have sex first and then we go out.
When I went to university I used to work at the local cinema. On Sundays we would always have a lot of couples who’d met at parties on Fridays and Saturdays, had what they thought was a one-night stand and then somehow had turned the sex into something more – through a visit to the movies. You’re safe at the cinema: You have two hours where you don’t have to talk but you can still hold hands and snuggle and afterwards you have a topic for a conversation that might otherwise be pretty hard to make. Did I mention that Scandinavians aren’t great conversationalists? Well, unless we’re drunk, of course.
- We do not go to restaurants with strangers. I mean, the embarrassment of it all – sitting there with someone we don’t know and having to make conversation. We don’t even do that if we’re drunk. We might, though, go to a restaurant with a group of friends and “accidentally” manage to grab the seat next to that hot person we’ve been eying for the last six months.
- We do not – and I stress NOT – let the guy pay for dinner. Which is probably one of the reasons why we do not go to restaurants with people we don’t know because what if HE picked up the check? How would we react? Or, for the guys, what is he expected to do with the check? We’ve all seen American movies where the guy picked up the check so the Scandinavian guy might think he should do it too but he would also know that he might offend the woman if he did. As if she was some pauper who couldn’t pay her own way. No, going out to eat with someone you don’t know smells social disaster. If you know each other a little better you’ll usually go Dutch (or Scandinavian, as it were) or treat each other depending on a multitude of factors: Who has money right now? Who paid the last time? Who is broke? Whoever has a sausage-like appendage in his pants is not a factor that determines who is to pay the restaurant bill.
- If you’re a woman and you’re waiting for a Scandinavian man to take the initiative, you might be in for a long wait. I’m not saying they never do take initiative but the Scandinavian men who do, are rarely the ones you want to meet. They are fairly rare and they only take initiative for sex. Which is not a bad thing unless you’re wanting something else/more. The ones who are really interested in you as a person will hold back until kingdom come. Or until you take the first step. The dam will definitely burst if you take the first step and you might find yourself a happy “samboer” a short while after you grabbed the hand of a male Scandinavian. Because male Scandinavians over 25 are rarely afraid of relationships if only someone would take the first step.
- We don’t drive to and from dates. Well, we’ve established that we don’t date at all but we also don’t use our cars if we go out. That is not an absolute truth, of course. Some of us Scandinavians live in rural areas where one has to use the car to get anywhere but most of us live close to busses and trams and metros and trains. Or we grab our bike or we simply walk. Why do we not drive when we go out? We can’t drink when we drive – there is pretty much a zero tolerance to drinking anything and driving (unless you live in Denmark – in Denmark it’s generally accepted to grab one beer, but nothing more). And since drinking is the oil in our social machinery, we don’t drive when we go out. Ever.
- We do not date more than one person at a time. Yes, yes, I know we don’t date at all but if we do start to “hang out” or we see a person in a way that both have acknowledges is not as friends (i.e. we`ve started boinking and found that it was not a one-night-stand) we only go out romantically with that one person. If we do kiss and flirt with more than one person, we’re cheating (which, of course, also happens but is always considered bad behavior). We do not have to have any talks about being “exclusive”. We’re exclusive if we start exchanging bodily fluids on a regular basis and we only stop being exclusive if one of us cheats or if we call the relationship off. And when we start going out and exchanging bodily fluids, we usually refer to the other person as “kjæreste” (in Norwegian, but it’s similar in the other two Scandinavian languages) which is really quite cute and means “the one I hold the most dear”. Yes, that also works best in Scandinavian.
- We’re extremely slow on the uptake but that doesn`t mean we don’t spend time with the person we’ve fallen in love with. It just means we sometimes have a hard time getting up, close and personal with that one person we really like. We Scandinavians are a tricky people – something we probably have to be because we don’t have the fine rules of dating that you do in your country. We may rely on alcohol to be able to make the first move but just as often we tend to become friends with the person we really-really like. And we can become close friends too.
I know of several couples who were so comfortable talking and having fun (and falling in love) that they slept together – and I don’t mean “slept” as in sex but really slept – holding hands and all, before they had ever kissed.
We’re comfortable with nudity, we’re comfortable with being physically close to our friends and we don’t really do that chivalry thing where the guy sleeps on the floor or in an uncomfortable chair just to let her have the bed alone, we’re just not that comfortable about making the first move when we’ve really fallen in love with someone. So the people who do not meet through a one-night-stand might meet in an entirely different way: Becoming very very close friends who will pine for ages until one of them finally kisses the other one. Alcohol is usually involved even then.
- We may be exclusive from the get-go but we still go out with our friends. And our friends may be of the sex we’re attracted to. Which may be very strange considering what I just wrote about people falling in love with their friends. You’re still not allowed to be jealous if your loved-one spends a lot of time with his or her friend – and actually not even if he/she spends the night with the friend. You’re supposed to expect that your loved-one loves you too much to cheat on you and in most cases that is the truth too. Because friends – even friends of the gender you’re usually attracted to – are important, even after you’ve found the love of your life. And life is too short for jealousy.
- Do these nine points sound scary or confusing? They aren’t to us. And if you stick it out, if you get drunk, if you stop expecting a guy to ask you out or flirt with you or pay the bills (or you stop being that guy), you might just end up with a Scandinavian person who may be impolite and somewhat introvert (unless drunk) but also a great partner in life. Statistics show that we’re pretty equal in these parts of the world, meaning that we share the workload at home and that both genders go to work every day. So as a man, living with a Scandinavian woman, you are not expected to feed the family all by yourself. And as a woman, living with a Scandinavian man, you will not be doing all the laundry or picking up the kids from kindergarten every day. And if you prefer to live with someone of your own gender, you can actually marry your loved-one in Scandinavia – no questions asked, no eyes batted. And that way you might just change the statistics that say that Scandinavians don’t marry 🙂
Good luck finding that very special Scandinavian man/woman!
Edit March 2019: Do you want to read a romance that takes place in Scandinavia? I’ve written a short story about a woman from Arizona and a man from Norway. They’ve met online and now they’re going to meet in person for the first time. Only, she thinks he’s also a woman. My short story is part of this anthology.