The Different Cultures Of Dating
Throughout the world, there are hugely diverse traditions and customs for relationships. Social expectations can vary from country to country, even when those countries share a border. One continent can have dozens or hundreds of different cultures.
Dating cultures are influenced by a variety of things: social customs, religious tradition, and evolving modernization are just a few. I've taken a look at some of the dating customs and cultures in different countries and religions around the world.
#1. Asian Cultures of Dating
Dating in Asian countries is just as varied as in the West. Though it's easy to think of Asia as a homogeneous culture, every country has its own traditions and social constructs. The "rules" and expectations for dating change depending on where you are.
For example, China's modern dating scene is influenced by the imbalance of men to women - there are over thirty million more men than women in the country. Japan's dating tends to be more formal and undergone with an end goal of marriage in mind. In Korea, open affection is common, and dating couples often act like spouses.
It's also important to note that though these are common experiences culturally, not everyone's relationship will follow them. Just as there are many different relationship structures in the United States, other people also sometimes choose to engage in relationships that defy cultural norms.
Chinese students tend to be incredibly busy in high school due to the country's tough college entrance exams. Because of this, serious relationships rarely start until after people have finished with college. Some Chinese students may have crushes or relationships, but these are far less common than in the United States.
Dating is also often considered a matter of pragmatism. Some people may date for romance or passion, but it's more common for dating to be a matter of finding a stable life partner. Once people marry, it's generally expected that the couple's social circles will merge.
One significant note is that there are more than thirty million more men in China than women. Because of this, men sometimes struggle to find a long-term relationship. "Dating schools" have cropped up in the country, which are schools that teach men how to emulate the qualities that women most find attractive.
In the Japanese dating scene, a relationship generally begins with a confession. Once the parties have established mutual feelings for each other, they then begin dating. This is a transparent relationship structure, particularly when compared to the US, where going out for coffee can sometimes be misconstrued by one party as a date without the other realizing.
It's common for dates to last an entire day rather than being an hour-long affair. People may spend time together at a mall, outdoor event, or theme park. At the same time, public displays of affection are rare. Though hand-holding is seen occasionally, kissing in public is rare.
Marriage is a common end goal of relationships, and it tends to be part of people's thoughts when they reach their twenties. About half of couples in Japan live together before marriage, but others don't share a bed until after they're married.
Thai dating culture tends to involve a great deal more flexibility and choice than many countries throughout the world. Women are given the task of deciding whether they find the men worthy of a lifetime of companionship. With that said, there are still traditions and social expectations that are widely followed.
According to Thai tradition, the man in a relationship should be able to provide financial support for the woman and the woman's family. A daughter's marriage is meant to bring fortune. Older traditions include a dowry, but as of about 2010, dowries are not as commonly seen.
In modern times, dating is often a "test." The woman will decide whether she likes the man's personality enough to consider a lifetime partnership. Spirituality is also often important to couples, with Buddhism being the primary religion practiced in the country.
There are a variety of ways in which Korean people might meet and decide to date. One of the most common is meeting through a friend. Being set up by a mutual friend is so common that there's a word for it, sogaeting. Since both parties are known by the arranging person, there tends to be more common ground.
Public affection tends to be more prominent in South Korea than in many other Asian countries, although it is still relatively restrained. Hand-holding and hugging are both common, and couples share the occasional pecks in public. More intense affection tends to be saved for home, though.
Communication tends to be open and straightforward. There aren't games of "hard to get," and it's considered normal to express your interest in someone.
Romance is a big component of the dating culture. In fact, there are multiple romantic holidays in addition to those found on a traditional Western calendar. Not only is Valentine's Day celebrated, but there are also holidays like Pepero Day and White Day.
Filipino people follow traditional dating etiquette. For the younger generation, though, courtship - called Panliligaw - has some Western influence. Traditionally, men make the first move. This tradition is mostly followed, although there are rural areas and minor provinces where women more commonly initiate.
In older Filipino tradition, men had to ask the permission of a woman's parents before they could date her. But the majority of Filipinos no longer follow this guideline.
Public displays of affection are relatively reticent, but young people are more affectionate than previous generations. Nowadays, young couples often hold hands and cuddle in public, something that would be unheard of a few generations back.
Over 86 percent of Filipino people identify as Catholic. Catholic religious traditions and values often become part of the dating scene because of this.
One sign that a relationship is becoming serious is if one party introduces the other to their entire family. That includes both their immediate family and extended family members like aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
Indian dating practices tend to be more traditional and conservative than those found in some other parts of the world. Arranged marriages are commonplace, although the amount of freedom of choice of the "matched" partners has changed a lot over the past few generations.
One unique aspect of India's dating culture is the dating apps. Some dating apps are designed specifically for Indian people to use - except they're for parents to match their children together. There are tons of criteria used in the matching process, everything from financial and caste considerations to numerology and family compatibility.
In India, dating is a community affair and has been pared down to a science. Rather than leaving things to chance, people are matched based on the idea of marriage. Indian men tend to take on a traditional role of protector and provider, while Indian women are expected to be pampered and wooed.
#2. Arabian Cultures of Dating
Many Westerners don't realize that there is a difference between the Middle East and the Arab world. Twenty-two Arabic-speaking countries span parts of North Africa and Western Asia as well as the Middle East. As with other multi-country areas, different areas have very different traditions, histories, and modern social expectations.
These are just some of the dating constructs in a few countries.
Egypt has a rich cultural history rife with different traditions. Over the years, courtship has evolved alongside social customs. In today's world, the majority of Egyptians adhere to either Coptic Christian or Muslim beliefs, which tend to influence the dating culture.
Though it's common for Muslim practices to make an appearance, the Muslim dating scene isn't homogeneous. Differences can be found based on class as well as whether someone is from a rural or urban area. Traditions tend to be more relaxed for young Muslim couples in urban areas.
In Cairo and other large cities, some couples eschew tradition entirely. Instead, they date on a more casual basis. Public displays of affection tend to be frowned upon in all parts of the country, though.
In traditional Yemeni culture, there isn't an established practice of courtship or dating. Most young women and men don't have social contact with each other. It's also uncommon for Yemenis to choose their own spouses, as marriages are usually arranged by the parents.
Yemen is one of the most socially conservative Arab and Muslim countries in the world. Arranged marriages tend to be performed for girls between the ages of 11 and 14. Some young people in Yemen adhere to more Western expectations, though, which sometimes causes tension in families.
In Jordan, social traditions differ in a number of ways from the West. Women are expected not to socialize with men outside of their family, so men may greet a husband without greeting his wife in public. A man can also have up to four wives, but this has become less common, and the first wife must consent.
Though public displays of affection are discouraged, and dating tends to be a more conservative affair, Jordanian people tend to be more energetic in social interaction than Westerners. Long conversations and casual hand-shaking are both common practices.
#3. Eastern European Cultures of Dating
There isn't a strict definition of which countries are part of Eastern Europe. Though the geographical border is fairly well defined, different countries have been included or excluded from the region based on political alignments over the years.
These are a few of the countries commonly considered to be part of Eastern Europe today.
One of the biggest hallmarks of Russian dating is chivalry and romance. There are many romantic traditions in Russian culture, and it's common for men to give women gifts and flowers. Men also often bring women to romantic events. Traditionally, men are also expected to foot the bill for dates.
There are certain customs associated with flowers. For example, only odd numbers of flowers are given in a romantic context. Even-numbered flower bouquets are reserved for funerals.
The social rules around dates are very flexible. Russian relationships tend to be based more on emotion and passion than tradition and planning. Gender roles tend to be traditional, with men bragging of their provider status while women laud their more "girly" hobbies.
For Polish dating, one common tradition is buying flowers. But you need to be aware of the meanings of different flowers. Red flowers are overtly romantic, and they might be too much for first dates. Yellow, meanwhile, can symbolize betrayal or envy.
Public displays of affection are common. Traditionally, people greet each other with a kiss on the hand on the first date. These days, though, many young people find this old-fashioned. A kiss on the cheek or a handshake is more common.
Gender roles also vary widely. Some Polish people stick to the tradition of having the man pay for everything, but there are a fair few women who prefer to split the bill. It's also traditional to walk your date to the bus stop or subway when the night is over.
Romanian social conventions tend to be open, encouraging, and friendly. When couples date, they build up a rapport with each other and are expected to enjoy each other's company. Family also plays a big role in the culture, with many people having a traditional attachment to their families.
Food is another big part of Romanian dating culture. When food is offered by a date or their family, it has generally been prepared as a gesture of welcoming. Refusing food is considered a potentially serious breach of etiquette.
Romanian people also tend to share their social lives with each other. Introducing one another to a person's friend groups is very important, as it helps people to integrate more fully into each other's lives.
#4. Western European Cultures of Dating
Western Europe encompasses the entire western half of the European continent. It also includes some offshore land masses like Ireland and Iceland. Dating traditions vary widely by country, with these being just a few of them.
Dating in the UK tends to be casual, informal, and relatively relaxed. While some European countries have much more structured dating traditions, it's common for people in the UK to go to a pub or bar as a date. This is especially common in the beginning stages of a relationship.
Socially, British people tend to be reserved in their emotions. They're less likely to display emotions or casually touch in public than some other countries. While some people eschew tradition, it is still common for young people to aspire to marrying and starting a family.
Plenty of people, particularly young people, aren't currently interested in marriage. UK weddings tend to be expensive, so many people opt to use the funds to purchase a house instead. Like in Poland, traditional gender roles are upheld by some and ignored by others.
French relationships most commonly begin with group dates. Rather than going out one-on-one, people socialize in groups and become closer. This tends to take much of the pressure off of the date.
There is no official word for dating or courtship in French. When describing a relationship, the most common term that people use is "seeing someone." French people tend to get to know each other before making their affections official, and the first kiss is considered a big deal.
France is one of the most openly affectionate countries in the world. PDA is even more common there than in the United States, especially when it comes to kissing and embracing.
In Spain, emotional displays are actually expected. This is very different from countries like the UK and the US, where people are more reticent about their emotions. Showing your feelings and communicating your affections are both considered necessary steps to move a relationship forward.
Public displays of affection are also common. Romance and chivalry are commonly seen, and it's not uncommon to see people whispering sweetly to each other and kissing. Marriage tends to take longer, though, with men being an average of 38 years old when they get married.
People may go out to bars and nightclubs to meet, but these areas are also places to have a good time without romantic entanglements. One of the most common ways for people to meet is through mutual friends.
#5. Latino Cultures of Dating
In the US, over 60 million people identify as being Hispanic or Latino. It's common for people to come from collectivist cultures. Collectivist cultures consider familial relationships to be the most important.
Because Latino people in the United States come from all over the world and have such diverse cultural backgrounds, it's impossible to generalize one single "dating culture."
In the United States, the top three values in relationships noted by Latino people are connection to family, the shape of the relationship itself, and compatibility within the relationship.
Latino families in the US tend to be larger than those of other populations. Households also tend to include extended family members like grandparents, aunts, and cousins.
In Mexico, most courtships are formed from a blend of older customs and Western traditions. Most people date for a while before becoming engaged. Engagements tend to last a year or two.
Some traditions are based around a patriarchal setup. Fathers tend to choose when their daughters can begin dating. Most fathers won't permit their daughters to date until after their quinceañera, which is the traditional party held to celebrate a girl's fifteenth birthday.
One time-honored tradition is paseo. Eligible men and women will go to the central plaza of their village. They will walk in a circle, men in one direction with women going the other way.
If a man passes a woman who catches his eye, he might give her a flower. If she keeps it rather than returning it, that means she accepts the interest. The third time around the circle, the couple will break away to talk and walk.
In Brazil, it's common to go on a few dates and then make the relationship official. A relationship talk is most often used to denote the definition and boundaries of a relationship. For some people, going from a first date to being officially "together" can take less than a week.
Another note about Brazil is that Tinder is commonly used. In fact, Brazilians are the second largest market for the dating app, with the largest being the US. Dating apps have no stigma in Brazil. People also sometimes seek casual hookups at Carnival, since flings and kissing are considered part of a celebration.
Argentina is another country with very flexible relationship definitions. Plans tend to be flexible, too. It's common to cancel plans at the last minute without any sense of betrayal, which can be hard for people from countries like the US to get used to.
It's uncommon for friend groups to mix. Boys and girls have their friend circles, and they don't tend to mix that with their relationships. Affection is a big part of Argentinian relationships, but infidelity is also a big part of the culture. Some women distrust men because of this, while others practice flexible nonmonogamy.
#6. Native American Cultures of Dating
Native American cultures are extremely diverse, as they encompass the traditions and history of an entire continent of people. You can find as much cultural difference from one Native American nation to another as from one European nation to another.
Dating practices may also vary depending on whether a person grew up on a reservation or in a different area. Being raised on a reservation means being immersed in Native American culture, which tends to give people a unique outlook.
Customs Across Different Nations
One historical custom most commonly shared across different nations was communal courtship. Eligible young men and women would go to a dance together, where they'd socialize and expand their friend groups. Different nations had different dances, but one common example was the Crane Dance.
When men and women made a connection, the mother of the man would discuss it with the mother of the woman. If they approved, the couple would meet later that night. Should the woman be happy with the man, she'd invite him to become part of her family.
Today's Dating Traditions
The level to which Native Americans partake in traditional dating varies widely. Some people prefer to adhere as closely to cultural expectations as possible. Others date without regard for tradition or expectations. Cultural preservation is a common focus, particularly because of the painful history of discrimination and cultural erasure.
Spirituality, tradition, and specific customs all depend on the tribe. It is common for family to be a big part of a person's life, so their dating partner can be expected to be involved in familial life.
#7. Muslim Cultures of Dating
Islam is the religion of more than one billion people worldwide. As such, you'll find that dating and cultural traditions are just as varied as with Christian dating. Some practices have to do with geographical location or government regulation. Others are practiced by people who are reconstructing their own traditions.
These are a few common traditions practiced.
'Halal Dating' for Young People
It's common throughout the world for younger generations to be less traditional than their older counterparts. For Muslim youth, there's often a push and pull between preserving culture and engaging in personal freedom. There's a great deal of discussion about how to respect religious traditions while engaging in more flexible relationships.
Young Muslims commonly date before marriage, though what this looks like depends on the country. Most involve their families at an early stage of the relationship. That allows for adherence to tradition while also allowing for a deviation from arranged marriages.
Religious observations also vary. More conservative individuals have a very structured practice, while others observe the principles of their faith more casually.
#8. Jewish Cultures of Dating
Jewish dating traditions also vary widely, as different groups of people have different histories. Jewish people are unified by a shared ethnic and religious background. Different practitioners of Judaism may engage with traditions and culture in very different ways.
The shidduch is a matchmaking tradition in Orthodox Jewish communities. Single men and women are introduced as prospective marriage partners. They will then get to know each other over several meetings to determine whether they're right for each other. Family members tend to be heavily involved in this process.
It's essential that both the man and the woman have agency when deciding whether to approve the match. In fact, this is part of Jewish law. Traditionally, the shidduch is arranged by a matchmaker called the shadchan. Over the past several years, shidduchim sites have also been created for online matchmaking.
Traditions and History
The Talmud, which is the most basic collection of Jewish law and discussion, has explicit rules regarding relationships and marriage. Men cannot marry women until the two meet, and the woman finds him a favorable match. In addition, women cannot marry until they've reached the maturity to make informed decisions about their futures.
Most of this sounds like common sense. But the fact that it's outlined in the Talmud means that traditional Jewish relationships have a strong focus on the consent of all parties. Even when couples date casually and non-traditionally, these principles tend to come into play.
#9. Christian Cultures of Dating
Like with other religions, dating in Christian culture is not homogeneous. The traditions and social expectations vary depending on the denomination, geographical area, and sometimes even the individual church.
Courtship Before Marriage
Some Christian couples become engaged within just a few months of dating. For others, it can take years before there's talk of marriage.
In conservative Christian relationships, it's common for people not to live together or sleep together before marriage. For some people, this hastens the desire to get married.
Dating itself tends to follow traditional means, though what that looks like depends on the surrounding culture and history. Religious expression is just one part of the system.
For people from more conservative areas, faith tends to be a large part of a relationship. Shared religious values matter. It's common for Christians to seek partners who have a commitment to their relationship with God as well as a commitment to the romantic relationship.
Some religious leaders encourage moving quickly in relationships. It's common for Christians to marry younger and start families at younger ages than their secular peers. Depending on the church, some Christians may experience a sense of social pressure to "settle down" because of a stigma against being unmarried.
There isn't just one way to go about dating. The process of finding partners varies hugely around the world, as does the structure of the relationship itself. In every culture, people discuss ways to keep tradition alive while choosing the future they want.
The biggest takeaway is that there is no "default" way of dating. If traditional dating hasn't worked for you, you might consider ways that you can subvert social constructs to get the relationship you want.
And if you date someone from a different culture, it helps to learn about their culture's traditions. Different cultures have very different standards for affection, expression of feelings, and length of relationships. Understanding the expectations of all partners helps to keep feelings from being misinterpreted.