I can get used to the sweltering heat. I can get used to the crazy traffic, and the amount of time it takes to buy even just one thing at the supermarket. I can get used to fried dough in all its forms – dedos, empanadas, etc., and the lack of vegetation. I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of adapting to the crazy, hot, colorful world that is Barranquilla. One thing I don’t seem to be able to get my head around, though, are the ins and outs of the dating scene. Although I’m hardly an expert, I’ve had enough romantic (and not so romantic) encounters with Barranquilleros to confuse, bewilder, and downright baffle me. The differences between cultures are many, and they run deep. Here are a few of things that I have learned.
Lesson number one: A plan is not a plan at all but instead, just words.
When I first arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the apparent willingness of the men here to actually do things. Unlike in my home country, where Netflix and chill is the basic premise for any ‘date’, I found that here, I was being invited out, invited to the gym, invited on sorties with friends. This all seemed like a lot of fun until I started noticing that none of it was actually happening. As this realization slowly dawned on me I began to understand that you shouldn’t put much stock in these “plans”: they seemed to be expounded for the simple purpose of pleasing me (as far as I could tell). Outings had a funny way of being canceled at the last minute, or just ignored completely (who said anything about a trip to Cartagena?). Whereas I won’t suggest an activity with another person unless I actually plan on going through with it, men here seem to think nothing of making plans that never actually materialize. I have learned to not take anything they say too seriously. Even the smallest things are to be interpreted very loosely; hasta manana doesn’t mean ‘see you tomorrow’. It means, ‘see you at any point in the next two weeks.’ Take everything with salt, people. Lots of salt.
Lesson number two: Barranquilleros are confusingly (and sometimes painfully) indirect.
In much the same way that they would talk about things they never had any intention of actually doing, I found that Barranquilla’s natives seemed to have the complete inability to just say ‘no’. Take, for example, the one charmer who promised me fervently that we were going to go for a drink the following night, smiley faces and all, and then blocked me on WhatsApp. If he happens to be reading this, for future reference, a simple ‘I’m not interested’ would have done the trick. Adjusting to the idea that ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ are sometimes just ‘no’ dressed up has certainly been one of the more confusing things I have learned here.
Lesson number three: Monogamy is more of a suggestion than a guideline.
I came to Colombia armed with a little red and orange book which I had been given that claimed to cover essential information about Colombian culture. It stated, rather emphatically, that Colombian men are inclined to be unfaithful. This was soon confirmed by friends, and I was warned that Costeños are particularly free with their love. Sure enough, on one of my early forays into Tinder, one potential love interest seemed like a fairly decent person until we switched to WhatsApp and I noticed that his profile photo was him looking very cozy with a pretty girl. “Your girlfriend?” I asked incredulously. “Yup – that’s her!” he answered cheerfully. He seemed confused when I no longer wanted to talk to him. I’m still trying to figure out if cheating is more common here, if it is just more overt, or if it is just generally accepted as an inevitability and subsequently ignored.
Lesson number four: They are sweet, sweet talkers.
Costeños are warm and charming (most of the time). Coming from a country where pretending to have no romantic feelings is considered pretty normal, I was a little thrown by the passionate way Colombian men talk. I’m your life? Really? But we just met! I felt pretty special for a while, but then I noticed that they talk this way to literally every girl. I’m not sure they are even aware they are producing these words half of the time. I quickly learned to brush off the frequent corazon, hermosa, and reinas thrown my way, but I was still impressed (I think) by the open and often intense discussions of feelings. Unfortunately, they are straightforward and open about a lot of other things too, like pointing out you should probably start using anti-aging cream, you’re getting wrinkles. Ouch.
Lesson number five: They will take you at face value – they only care about your looks.
As far as I can tell, looks are everything here. My blue eyes are worth more to them than the fact that I am educated, well-travelled, and reasonably interesting (I like to think). On my very first date with one lovely Barranquillero, the very first thing he did was gaze deep into my eyes. Not to look into my soul and gauge what kind of person I was, but to verify that my irises were that coveted color of the sea. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place where people take selfies so seriously.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to love about Costeño men. Their smooth charm and smoother dancing are potent antidotes to feelings of confused frustration, and getting caught up in their words can be an intoxicating experience. Just remember, salt. Lots of salt.