When friends back in Asia ask me what the dating scene is like in Portugal, I don’t know what to say. Fine? Active? Normal? It’s not that I don’t see a difference between dates in Bangkok and dates in Porto–I definitely do. It’s more that I didn’t know how to describe it.
Then a friend posted this to Instagram:
For months I couldn’t get this out of my head.
Comparing dating in Bangkok and Portugal is like salsa and guacamole, although whether it’s the guys, the culture, or something else is yet to be determined.
Bangkok–and most of Thailand–attracts people with sex. Not just sex, but sex is a big part of tourism in the Land of Smiles. When you meet a westerner in Bangkok they typically fall into one of two categories: thriving off the sex culture or exasperated by it (and the thriving ones are usually white guys, although I did meet a handful who were miraculously not in this niche).
This heavy emphasis on sex also seeps its way into the casual dating scene. When friends and I went on dates, the typical MO was to go out for drinks, get fairly hammered, and then back to someone’s place for a hookup. If you didn’t hookup on a first date, then the date was probably a bust and you’d likely never see or hear from that person again. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, and I am all for sleeping with whoever you want and however much you want, but when I later tallied my count from my 15 months in Bangkok (including about 9 months of seeing just one guy), I was a bit shocked.
What I also realized upon listing all these dates out was how much BS I had put up with in Bangkok. There were guys who were cute, but could barely handle five minutes of conversation; there were guys who I didn’t even find that attractive and were also obnoxious; and then there were the straight up jerks. Yet–did I typically wake up with every single one of these guys? Of course. Why? Because: Bangkok.
Dating in Bangkok as a western woman can be hard and usually likened to wandering through the desert (shameless self plug!) in search of a glass of water. However, metaphor aside: I wasn’t wandering through the desert and I didn’t need water–real or metaphorical.
Still, this seemed to be the way dating in Bangkok worked for everyone. Men, women, Asian, non-Asian–we’d all lamented at some point or another about putting up with someone we knew wasn’t worth it…and yet there we were. Putting up with it.
When I moved to Porto, my dates did a complete 180. I’d go out with a guy, we’d chat, and then the night would end with the polite side-cheek kisses and ciao. No one suggested more drinks. No one got wasted. No one asked to come to my place, nor did they ask me to go to theirs.
At first I took this personally. I called one of my good friends from Bangkok, who I’d gone on many double dates with. “Is it me?” I asked. “Am I unattractive in Europe? Or is this how dates are supposed to go? Is this what real dating is like? Are we not supposed to just get drunk and hookup?”
“Bangkok’s weird,” my friend agreed. “I look back on a lot of my dates there and wonder what I was thinking.”
I thought about my friend’s comment and the guacamole versus salsa a lot during my next several months in Porto. One guy in Porto asked me out twice, and each time he asked what I wanted to do. I would say “get drinks?” He would counter with, “How about dinner and then drinks.” The second time this happened I had to confess: “My default is just drinks. I don’t know what else to do on a date.”
“Ok,” he said, “we need to change that.”
Oh god, I thought. He wants to hangout? Sober? Why? To talk? About what?
As it turns out: to talk about everything. Life, our jobs, my writing, his knowledge of Portuguese history, etc. He wanted to chat like people normally do on dates: sober, and maybe with a slight buzz at the end so that one of you can sum up the courage to go in for a kiss.
After this guy, I continued to meet and go out with more genuinely nice guys. They didn’t all lead anywhere, but they were at least all absent the slightly shameful feeling I’d having many mornings in Bangkok of, “Oh god, why did I do that? That wasn’t even fun!”
For me, that’s the biggest difference between dating in Bangkok and dating in Porto. In Bangkok, everyone is salsa: you are salsa to your dates and your dates are salsa to you (not all the time–I’m generalizing a bit; those of you who weren’t salsa know who you are). Obviously, dating is both awesome and shitty so no matter where you are you may still be salsa at times, but, for me, the difference is that in Porto, I can actually be guacamole.
Confession: I wrote this post back in August 2019, but did not post due to some online harassment I was receiving and therefore felt hesitant to provoke that further. Now: whatever. And I am happy to report that in the seven months that have passed since I originally wrote this, wanting to be “guacamole” has worked out very well. Thanks, Portugal.