One could argue that after my most recent break-up I went a little bit off the rails. Not in a bad way, I don’t think; I didn’t isolate myself from all humanity to brood on a deserted island or go on an uncomfortably pointed social media rant rampage. Instead, I started window-shopping for guys. One night, in a burst of more-or-less justified anger over a boy who wouldn’t text me back, I downloaded the god-awful, notorious Tinder.
It wasn’t my first dabble with the app. Three years before, in a similar fit of frustrated rage caused by the sudden death of a budding relationship, I said screw it and downloaded the app. I think I went on one date during that spring. I remember being terribly hangover and spending most of the time talking about The Walking Dead. I can only wonder why there was never any continuation to it.
But man, I loved Brazilian Tinder. I loved it even though everyone seemed to take it way too seriously (goodbye to those profile pictures of guys sitting in bath tubs full of apples or posing in their underwear with a fish on a riverbank. German Tinder used to be hilarious.) I loved it even though no like lead to a match for sure – Brazilian girls are gorgeous, and I couldn’t get mad at the face of such competition. And of course it’s a shallow app. I think we all are aware of that by now and can move on.
What I loved the best was how easy it was to start a conversation. Finnish guys are not exactly known for their flirtatious flairs, but in Brazil most of my matches were conversation-starters, date-askers, go-getters. (Even when about half of them doubted whether I was actually Finnish – I mean, if I were to lie about my nationality I would pick something way cooler like French or Indo-Lichtenstanian!) Even the self-proclaimed shy guys were not shy on the spectrum that I had gotten used to. I was just coming out of that gloomy, eating-chocolate-cake-in-my-pyjamas and thinking-no-one-will-ever-love-me-again post-break-up phase, so I went out with almost anyone that dared to ask me just to enjoy the novelty of dating again.
Then, one fine Monday morning I woke up to yet another new message and realised I could set up a new date for every day of that week if I wanted.
So I did. Just because I could.
I met my first date of the week that Monday. He was short, cute and shy, with a soft face and an even softer voice. As soon as he opened his mouth I knew it wouldn’t be the love story of the century. I guess I spent too many nights of my adolescence jumping against the separating fence on the front row of big pop concerts; perhaps I moodily played my teenage favourite The Kill on full volume a few times too many; all I know is that as a wee kid I habitually scored high points for all my hearing tests, whereas now I more often than not find myself yelling a confused ‘que???’ at poor dates’ faces.
He took me to Burger King. We dined by the big bay windows with a view to the train station entrance and the McDonald’s on the other side of the street. Conversation stalled and sputtered like a rusty Soviet Lada trying to climb up a steep Siberian hill. We went through the usual pointers of what I was doing here, why I was doing it, and if I liked it – partly because it’s polite, partly because that’s all my language skills could do. If you’re single, going out on dates with locals is actually one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the language. When he told me he owned a business that delivered xis, a delicious sandwich lunch typical to Rio Grande do Sul where I was located, I considered for a wild second if it would be a bad thing to date someone just for free lanches.
All in a sudden he told me he had cancer. I’m glad I understood that; most of the other things he was saying I was just occupying my most preferred Portuguese survival strategy, smiling and waving. I can only imagine how awkward it could have been. Hey, I have cancer. ‘Seriously? Wow, that’s so cool haha.’
He had also broken up with a long-term girlfriend just two weeks prior, and I was his first date since. In a true Brazilian fashion, he had dusted himself off quickly and leapt back into the saddle, apparently. I didn’t know what to say. My Tinder training did not prepare me for this. So, instead of trying to play a Portuguese-retarded therapist, I changed the subject and asked him if he had ever been robbed. You know, it’s Brazil after all.
He drove me home in his beat-up Chev Onix with its seats leaning back like in a time machine and an exhaust pipe that never shut up. He got up to open the door for me, not as a gentlemanly gesture but because that was the only way the door opened. He asked if he could see me again later that day, and my mind blurred by the promise of xis, I said maybe. He was shy and I wasn’t too keen on that, but… sandwiches!
In the end I stayed home. I knew it the minute I traded my ripped jeans for pyjama bottoms. If you’re looking for a life lesson here, kids, it is this: only date people who are worth putting on trousers for.
I woke up to 16 minutes worth of voice messages from my best friend, a cat picture in a group chat and a text from my next Tinder guy, an Uber driver, informing me that if I was still up for it, he’d drive 500 miles and 500 more – or at least the 60 kilometres to Novo Hamburgo – to take me out that night.
We agreed to go to McDonald’s, not because I have a particular affection towards dating in fast food joints but because it would be late and I really, really wanted ice cream. (Take notes, boys – take me out to ice cream and I’m yours.) I wasn’t surprised to see that he was late. (Brazilians are always late.) The minutes dragged on. He was either somewhere on the highway to Hamburgo or lost and I was the only student left on the campus, accompanied by three security guards who absolutely insisted that I stay inside the locked gates until my ride arrives. I texted my friends a picture of my date. This is tonight’s Tinder boy and he drives for Uber. If he murders me and dumps my body in a ditch, give him a zero star rating.
I had almost dropped contact with him, like a little brat surrounded by tens of toys gets sick of each one of them at a time, but when he pulled up, I was glad I’d gone out. He spoke quickly but clearly – two attributes that rarely clash. I found it endearing how his straight white teeth shined through his beard when he laughed. I thought he wasn’t afraid of me; some guys laugh when I crack a joke because they don’t know what else to do, and perhaps they find my strand of humour perplexing in its straightforward, gently insulting manner. He looked at me straight in the eyes, though, and as I was examining his stretched ears and pierced brow, I wondered how strange it was that so far my best dates had been the ones I had been the most indifferent about beforehand.
He told me he had been married. Eight years with the same girl, three years under a legal licence. He wasn’t the first Brazilian my age who I’d met who’d already dipped their toes in the marital waters. This commonness of serious commitment is a strange contrast to the more prevalent Brazilian stereotype of casual dating and meaningless sex. Most stereotypes are based on some truth. In this case, on a lot of truth. When young Brazilians go dancing to the clubs, they’re looking for a hot partner for a one-night hook-up or a make-out buddy just for the fun of making out with somebody. And they’re not afraid to flaunt their sexuality: girls wear tight dresses and high heels, and when Anitta starts playing, the crowd twerks without shame.
On the other end of the scale are these super-commitment enthusiasts. Ironically enough, even the language seems to address this juxtaposition: Ficar means both to stay and to hook up. One of my friends had suggested that Brazilians married young because of religion; Brazil is a mostly Catholic country, and even though the lives of the youth seem to be more devoted to hard work and gym selfies, religion still plays a big part in everyday lives.
I asked my date about it. Do Brazilians marry young because it’s customary or are they just madly in love? He shrugged. ‘I guess it’s a bit of both.’
Then he fixed his gaze on me. ‘How tall are you? I think you might be taller than me.’ A valid concern – I’m only 5’4’’ but often I have found myself one of the tallest in the group. I struggled to pronounce numbers, so we got out of the car to measure our heights.
The sound of my steps died in the mist that had crept onto the streets without a warning. I moved to him; when we stood in front of each other the tips of our shoes touched. I laughed and pointed out that we were wearing almost matching outfits. Suddenly I was remembering another strip of a street of a dead town, early morning crisp in the air, the night I had my first kiss. His hand nearly brushed my hair as he measured the difference in our heights. The city held its breath and I suppose I did, too. The lipstick hung heavy on my lip. He zipped up his jacket and began to shiver, and we returned to the car already laughing at some new joke. The moment had passed but not unnoticed.
One thing’s for sure: Brazilians love fiercely and passionately, whether it is for a night or five years.
I hadn’t heard back from my Wednesday date – you could even call him a Wednesdate – by noon, so I shrugged it off and booked another date, this time with people I actually love. As Spice Girls sang, friendship lasts forever. We had two whole days of holiday in front of us, then the weekend, so we agreed to go for a late-night dinner after classes.
(My Wednesdate finally checked in after a while, too. He asked if I could meet him a little bit later but as I worried about being late for class, we rescheduled for the next day.)
Some years back I would have been bummed out to miss out on a date, even on a mediocre one as I suspected this one was going to be. Now cancelling a date doesn’t bother me. I’ve found out that somewhere along the years I have actually managed to grow a backbone; my life would not, in fact, be ruined depending on whether some guy wanted to date me or not. And of course it helped that I had other prospects in mind. Remember when I mentioned my unfortunate affair with the app previously? In Finland I was asked out a grand total of one time, which I chalked up to the timid nature of the Finnish manfolk. It also seemed like in Finland everyone was fervently looking for their better half. Here dating was fun – easy, entertaining, and best of all casual.
After classes I met up with my friends. They’re the people who I trusted enough to blabber on about my dates. ‘Wish I had that much luck on Tinder’, Mariana had sighed once. I had just shrugged. I guessed I was getting attention because I was a foreigner, exotic. When I return to Finland, I need to start claiming I’m from Madagascar.
We headed out to get what had been dubbed the best xis in town. The radio was blasting Coldplay, but it was the B-side of Viva La Vida and I didn’t know the lyrics to these songs. My stomach was aching – after a two-hour photoshoot in the studio I was left exhausted, and the hot dog place where I was planning on picking up a few pão de queijos had already been closed.
‘I’m gonna eat one of each’, I declared as we turned into the parking lot.
‘You’ll die’, Paco pointed out.
I shrugged. ‘There’s surely worse ways to die.’
‘Yeah, like getting killed by a Tinder date’, he replied.
The xis were enormous and while maybe not the best in town, still the best thing for that moment. The exam season was looming ahead. My flight out was on everyone’s minds. Still, it was easy to feel like it would never end. We were sharing Coca-Cola and gossip over our midnight snacks, the late-May chill not quite reaching into the little restaurant, and I couldn’t help but feel that no matter who I was going to see tomorrow or the next week or the next year, this was the best kind of date I could ever wish to have. As we were driving back through the empty town we didn’t speak, we only sang out to Coldplay since Mariana had changed CDs and now we knew all the songs, and the street lamps cast quick shadows through our darkened windows, and I was thinking this is it, this is everything, fun and forever.
I woke up to find a message from my Wednesdate. It was a picture of his arm wrapped in bandages, with an IV needle sticking out. He had ended up in the hospital. (Just my luck, right? If it wasn’t for the picture, I’d think he was trying to avoid me.) He reassured me that he’s not about to drop dead any time soon but that maybe we should re-reschedule. I agreed willingly enough: it was almost noon and I was still waiting to succeed in getting out of bed.
It seemed like I was going to have to date myself this time. I spent my day off dreaming of all the productive things I could be doing, in the end accomplishing nothing of it. It was getting late and I was considering texting the group chat for another friendate just to have something other to do than watch mold grow on my walls (it did, actually) when a familiar name popped on my screen. To my friends, I referred to him as Catman. My friends referred to him as Asshole. In my mind, I called him Karma Chameleon because he is like that – he comes and goes.
Some time ago Emma and I had visited a sweet girl we’d met at a bizarre mansion party. In a true Brazilian fashion, her whole family welcomed us as if we were long-lost cousins to this unfathomably pretty girl. We ate the dinner her mum had specifically cooked with foreign visitors in mind, and then we ate some more when they found out we had never tried sweet pizza and they ordered one for us. Then we sat in the living room, her parents included, talking while her kitten gnawed at our fingertips. She was a curious girl; we covered every topic from World War I to the Finnish education system.
‘So, what do you think of Brazilian guys?’ she finally asked, beaming at us. ‘I prefer tall, blonde guys. Europeans.’
‘I love Brazilians guys! They know how to grow a nice beard.’
‘I don’t really like Brazilian guys’, she said. She had one of those faces with a perpetual smile. ‘They tell you all these sweet things but then they cheat on you, they don’t actually want to be with you, they just want to hook up with as many girls as they can. They’re very unreliable.’
I remember thinking that he, my favourite Tinder boy, could not be like that… Not with the way he acted, no, with the trufas – small, sugary treats – he brought me, the way he replied to my messages instantly, how he thought it was cute when I dropped my hot dog in my beer on our first date. I thought about my sweet Brazilian friend’s words again as he popped up on my phone.
I hadn’t heard from him in a week.
‘I am alone and feeling careless’, he wrote to me. ‘Come over.’
Brazilian guys are handsome and fun to be around. They like to take you out for lunch and sometimes when they’re feeling particularly stupid, they get married at 18 or ask a girl they’ve known for a few weeks to stay forever. Is that why I’d rushed to catch the last train, shivering as the night air pushed through the grilles on the open window, clutching my phone in a death grip to not get it stolen off me as I was trying to concentrate on an audio book over the rattling of the tracks and my own wild thoughts. I gave up on the book; instead I dug up the numbers of my three remaining dates for the week and cancelled.
What is it with us smart, independent, intelligent women that get so crazy over a boy that we’re ready to run to them at the drop of a hat? What is it with those ambitious, clever men that let their feelings run amok even after days of stoic silence?
‘I’m on the train’, I texted my indecisive, ever-changing Karma Chameleon.
‘You came quick’, came the reply. ‘If you were a Brazilian girl, I’d think that you like me.’
The train rattled on. Outside, the streets were empty; all the good people had gone to bed already. I stared at my reflection on the opposite window; she stared disapprovingly right back.
I shrugged. ‘Yup. Sure.’
But what was there to lose? (Except for my dignity, sanity and friends’ approval.) Such is the road; unpredictable and unstable, taking you to lovers that are not built to last. But just on the off chance that they might… Should I wait for something better? Should I take the leap and see if the fast road would slow down for me for once?
The train rattled on. I was tired of waiting.
Thanks for reading! I actually wrote this some months ago already but somehow it’s taken me all this time to edit it to be presentable. (Another reason I’m glad I didn’t end up going to seven dates that week after all – I might have never made it through editing seven whole days of boy talk.) Hope you enjoyed it!
Have you ever dated while you’ve been abroad? How was your experience different compared to where you’re from?