If I’ve learnt anything during my two years in Paris, it’s that there are certain measures, habits and role reversals we women might feel the need to adopt when playing the dating game with French men. They are, as I’ve come to be enlightened, entirely different to English men. After many dates turning sour or crushes who disappear seamlessly into thin air, I’ve been educated on what to expect when you’re dating native French men.
#1. French men often prefer the woman to tell them what they want to do on their date.
This initially stumped me. I’d spent my whole life believing it was the man’s decision to say where we should go, what we should do. I’ve been left speechless when I’ve been asked before several of my dates, ‘So, what would you like to do?’ Well, of course, in an ideal world I want to answer that question by saying, ‘Let’s do champagne at Le Meurice followed by the Opéra, topped off with a horse and carriage ride that would leave me right at the foot of my door.’ Once my head stops spinning and I’m brought back to the present moment, however, I have once made the regrettable decision of simply answering, ‘Oh, I don’t mind. What would you like to do?’ My date then suggested going for a drink at a bar in Le Marais. This sounded perfect until I Googled the bar and saw it was listed as, ‘Un établissement gay et lesbian’. So, if you fancy going to the cinema, tell him you want to go to the cinema. If you like a bar or café in your quartier, tell him to meet you there for a drink. If the sun is shining, tell him you’d love to take a walk along the Seine. Once he gets to know you better though, make sure you’re not doing all the deciding work. It will be more satisfying for you when he dreams up a fabulous idea for a date because he knows you would just love it.
#2. Sometimes he might expect you to do most of the chasing.
What happened to waiting for the man to contact you after a first date? What about the rules of letting the man be the one to text you first? How about not wanting to appear ‘too keen’? You can forget everything you’ve learned when you date a French guy, it’s a level playing field! As well as having to be more decisive about where you want to go on a date, it’s pretty important that a woman does aide the man in doing some of the follow up work after the date. If he’s really not making an effort, however, he’s probably not worth pursuing. I’d previously been used to a world where if you appeared ‘too keen’, you might lose the guy prematurely. It always came down to playing it cool and not giving too much away. When dating the French, however, it is completely normal for the woman to tell the man when she wants to see him again. By all means, get in there and book him in for another date. It is natural (in France), for a woman to be completely honest and tell the man she wants to see him again.
#3. How not to declare your feelings to a French man.
Oh how different things might have been if I’d known then what I know now… I certainly learnt the hard way what you must never say to a French man if you wish to declare your feelings (en francais, parce que c’est plus romantique comme ça…) So, you’re dating. Well, you’re not really sure if it’s dating. All the signs are there that it’s true love. You flirt, perhaps touch each other a little, (or, in my case, he brushed my leg with his foot under the table once, I blush thinking he’s outrageously flirting with me only for him then to apologise for accidentally kicking me.) Anyway, the chemistry is going wild yet he hasn’t made the move and kissed you. I was once in this position with a man I had feelings for, I was cautiously optimistic that he felt the same way but neither of us was brave enough to admit our feelings. So, after another evening spent together where he cooked me a three-course meal in his apartment and still hadn’t made a move, I decided the next day to finally declare my feelings for him in a text, (because my little heart just couldn’t handle face-toface rejection). ‘Je t’aime bien’ I finally pressed ‘send’ after deliberating for longer than I’d care to admit. ‘It was nice to see you too’, he sent back. Yes, if he’d pulled out my heart with his bare hands I don’t think it would have been more painful than to read those words. After summoning my friends to a crisis coffee meeting, where I had to tell them about what had just happened to me, my friends explained I had, in fact, told him that I liked him a lot – but as a friend. One of my friends even likened saying ‘Je t’aime bien’ to something you might say to a sandwich. It’s meaningless when it comes to love. In England, if you told someone you liked him or her a lot, you would have been declaring some pretty strong romantic feelings for that person and would most likely be holding out for a future relationship with them. But, when you say it ‘en français’, it doesn’t quite translate as you’d like it to. In other words, if you tell him ‘Je t’aime bien,’ your love interest isn’t likely to be making your relationship ‘Facebook official’ anytime soon.
#4. How to declare your feelings to a French man.
I suggest leaving the grand declaration of ‘Je t’aime’ for the man. He will say it sooner than you think, since he probably already knows his true feelings for you after the first date. But what happens if you find yourself in a stalemate situation where neither of you is making the move to take your relationship to the next stage? You could tell him that he’s great or that he’s nice by saying, ‘Tu es génial’ or ‘Tu es très sympa’, while brushing the hair away from his face… I think he’d get the point then.
#5. He’s moving too fast? C’est normal!
In a totally different situation, if he starts referring to you as his girlfriend after the second date, that’s pretty normal. Once you kiss a French man for the first time, you’re practically declaring exclusivity right off the bat. In other cultures, it may be normal to ‘date around’ when you’re single, see which shoe fits… But the French like to move quick; they work on impulse and chemistry. If they’re attracted to you after date one, they kiss you on date two, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be locked in to being their girlfriend right away. I have a friend who, after having been on a couple dates with a French guy, stumbled across something marked on his calendar a month to the day after they had shared their first kiss saying it was their would-be ‘1 month anniversary’ on that day. Since she’d only known him for two weeks, she was naturally quite alarmed at how far they’d already progressed as a couple in his mind. She soon came to realise, though, that this was oh-so-normal en France.
When dating in any new culture that you’re not familiar with, it can understandably be daunting, especially if you’re speaking in a language that’s not your mother tongue. But once a native laughs at your jokes on a date when you’re speaking their language, you will truly feel gratified in a way you’ve never felt before. It will take time, trial and error to fully understand how the French operate on the dating scene. But when you do, you will find that French men can be the most affectionate, caring and attentive men you will have ever come across. Like the way we search for the perfect statement heels or the right dress that fits our figure like a glove, one day you will find your beau, your butter to your baguette tradition, and it will be just fabulous.
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