Dating, Brit-Style: Drink, Snog, Mate, Repeat

Not to get all Candace Bushnell on you, but recently I’ve been dating way outside my culture. This trans-global mash-up results in horrible linguistic disasters on a near-daily basis. When he reads this, he’s certainly going to bristle at my use of the word “dating.” For all I can tell, he’ll take that broad American term as a grievous insult, and I’ll have been dumped by the afternoon.

Because this person is from a queer foreign country-England-where they evidently have a shoddy understanding of basic terms we normal people take for granted, I have now been forced to ban all dating-related descriptors from my vocabulary. These words and phrases-and the actions that go with them-just don’t mean the same things. Worse: I can never tell when he’s joking. By the time I’ve gotten a clue, I’ll already have worked myself into a snit over some comment that presumably would be considered riotously funny in Islington.

But! Once you start dating one of these expats, they invite you into their secret accented society. Most notably, I’ve been surrounded by foxy single women from the U.K. They’re rampaging their way through Manhattan’s parties and bars. They’re girls gone wild on permanent holiday-and the men of Manhattan are disappointing them, much as I’m sure I’m disappointing my … whatever the hell he is.

How could this be? The U.K. girls like to drink and swear, and they have enchanting accents. But, for whatever reason, New York’s men are cowering when, really, they should be worshipping them.

“The standard way of meeting someone in England is you get drunk and meet them at a party and end up snogging them-and then you go on a date if you like them,” my new acquaintance Carolyn told me. “So I’ve been here 10 months, and I’m still single.” Carolyn is stunning, blond, smart, fun. She’s early 30′s, good job in TV. “I feel sort of like we’re living in the 1950′s-like I have to wait for some guy to ask for my number and call me, and I have to play my part in it.”

It’s true about mating in London, seconded Delly, a wild-haired, sharp-eyed business manager who’s been in Manhattan now for two and a half years. “You get drunk and end up in bed with them, and end up with them for a couple of years. Drunken serial monogamy.” And it’s also true about the confounding rules by which Manhattan men date. For her first date in New York, “He phoned me up and said, ‘Would you like to come for coffee? We could meet for noon.’ And I said, ‘Ooh, we could even have lunch!’, and he said, ‘No! Coffee!’” That date “was a complete and utter disaster,” said Delly.

Jayne is cool, very successful in her industry, and in her early 40′s. She’s been in New York for nearly 20 years. Has she acclimated in the last two decades? “Actually,” she said, “there’s a disconnect between me and white straight American men. A complete disconnect. I don’t know if it’s cultural or what it is. I think that a woman with a European sensibility is frightening to them. And it’s not like you can talk about sports or anything like that-because you have different sports! I have found over the years that I have more in common with African-American men and men of other nationalities.”

Jayne’s been playing by American rules for a good while, but it doesn’t seem to matter. “Because I’ve lived here so long, I’m comfortable with the basic rituals. We don’t have the pub, and so many people don’t drink here anyway. I’ve gotten used to doing that-going for coffee and that. My frustration is that even when you play by the book-wait to be asked, go for coffee-it still doesn’t work out. Because, ultimately, we want different things.”

Andrew, a 33-year-old research analyst, is one of the few and proud who have dared to take a Brit girl up on the challenge-in fact, he’s been dating Delly for a couple months now. Andrew is one of those guys who seems short but actually isn’t; he’s humpy and pretty-eyed, and he’s a fast talker.

Andrew started going out with Delly in a very traditional English manner: He made out with her best friend in a nightclub bathroom. “These girls are just …. They have such a carefree attitude,” he said. “Back then, I used to get drunk and feel like crap if I made a fool of myself. But they’re like, ‘Who cares?’”

“American men are sort of half-fascinated by the fact that we don’t give a shit-we swear, and drink, and party,” said Delly. “And we’re quite outspoken, and we’re not trying to get them. I don’t honestly think that he’s paranoid that I’m trying to impregnate myself and tie him down and escort him down the aisle.”

So what the hell’s wrong with New York’s men? Jayne thinks they’re sexually conflicted: “I think straight American men tend to be way more uptight than English men. First of all, there’s the whole area of constantly proving that they’re heterosexual.”

“I just think Americans are more prudish,” said Carolyn. And: “I feel that American men are more emasculated than English men. They feel like they should have control, because they’re more emasculated in other parts of their lives and, somehow, being in control at the beginning of the relationship makes them feel good.”

Delly thinks they’re fussy, too. “The thing that really annoys me is that no one’s allowed to have pubic hair. The grooming thing drives me up the wall. You can’t have hairy legs; you can’t have hairy armpits. Hair seems to be an abomination! No one seems to have pubic hair-they’re all obsessed with ripping it out! Who really gives a toss?” She gets warmed up into a good rant. “I loathed Sex and the City . I think it’s appalling. I think it’s dreadful that people admire those women. They’re not these wild, free party spirits-their rationale in life is to have a man. Sometimes you can just be or do ; you don’t need to validate every moment of your life.”

She’s harsh, but: “I feel like,” said Andrew, “as much as Delly likes saying Americans are stupid and is always going on about British politics, she’ll always stop and say, ‘I love New York City, and London is kind of boring.’ As much as they want to put us down, they are in love with the city.”

“All my British friends say, ‘I don’t really fancy American men,’” said Carolyn. “That’s how they deal with it. I feel like I don’t really like American men, but I’ll keep trying.”

But what about British men? Can’t they score a simpatico pint-hoisting countryman at Soho House? “What would be the point?” asked Delly. “What would be the point?” asked Jayne. Carolyn sighed. “When you’re British,” she said, “you generally play on the fact you’re British a little bit, so you wouldn’t be seeking out other Brits. But I’m thinking I might resort to that soon.”