Why flirty Italians still don't do online dating

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It might be harder to find love online in Italy. Italy romance photo: Shutterstock
09:46 CET+01:00
Online dating has taken off around the world but in Italy it still hasn't quite caught on. As Valentines Day looms, The Local's Angela Giuffrida finds out why.

Love is most definitely in the air.

Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and I’m writing this fresh from an offer of marriage.

My suitor made his proposal while I was having a coffee on Sunday morning.

"Are you married?" he asked. "No," I said.

"Why not?" he asked. "I don’t know," I replied.

"Well, will you marry me?"

I thanked him for the offer, but said, seeing as we’d only just met, I might need some time to consider it.

I must admit that for a split second, I was tempted to accept.

You see, after months of dabbling with online dating in Italy, I’ve decided that if love is going to be found here, then it’s more likely to be found in a traditional way.

I first tried Tinder – the no-nonsense app whereby you quickly browse photos and swipe to the right if you like the look of someone and to the left if you don’t – last summer.

It’s become known as the fast-moving app for fast-moving singles, mostly looking for fast-love.

But as with many things in Italy, dating etiquette on the app seemed to be anything but fast.

Once you’ve dismissed all the half-naked selfies with a swift swipe to the left and matched with someone who looks appealing, it takes a little time to move beyond the “Ciao principessa!” small talk and find someone you’d like to meet in person.

My first date was with Elvio, a sassy, floppy-haired graphic designer who played in a band.

We met on a warm evening in June at a stylish bar set in the courtyard of a Rome villa.

He was the quintessential gent: he held the door open, paid for my food and drink (but not to the point that would get me drunk) and, having brought his guitar, insisted on wrapping the evening up with a serenade on the aptly-named Ponte della Musica.

Having recently broken up with a long-term girlfriend, he said he was curious about the dating app.

But despite all his confidence and charm, he admitted he found the concept unusual and that Italians were more used to meeting people offline, usually by being introduced by a friend.

Roberta Ribali, a Milan-based relationship psychiatrist, says that although more Italians from across the age spectrum are using online dating sites, the subject is still a taboo.

"It has become a very useful way for people with busy lives to make new acquaintances,” she tells The Local.

"But lots of people won’t admit it through fear of embarrassment as society has not overly accepted it yet."

Having been left love-notes in obscure places, Ines Becker, a German researcher living in Rome, doesn’t believe online dating is a necessity in Italy.

When it comes to finding love here, she says "anything can happen" and that guys are "much more likely to pick you up directly".

"They might just want a one-night stand or want to marry you. Or turn into your best friend."

Becker mostly gets around Rome by bike, something that seems to have enhanced her chances of getting a date.

"Somebody actually wrote a letter and stuck it to my bicycle, like a good old-fashioned note scribbled on a torn piece of paper," she tells The Local.

"After exchanging some messages I met up with him. But he turned out to be slightly older than I would have preferred."

Ribali says Italian men have learnt all their "politeness and charm" from their mothers, and tend to put this to abundant use when they’re attracted to someone they meet first offline.

Others, however, have grown weary towards being wooed street-style.

Jayne Rossiter, from the UK, has lived in Italy for over ten years and has seen it all: serenades, random proposals, and cheats.

Being a patient and well-organized type, she sees online dating as a great way to vet suitors properly.

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She’s been on OkCupid for four months and after sifting through hundreds of messages, she whittled the suitors down to the few she wanted to meet.

Unlike Tinder, subscribers on OkCupid can provide more detail about themselves.

Rossiter is now preparing for the fourth date with suitor number seven.

"Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed by the quality of men on there," she says.

"Of course, you get your fair share of chancers but there are lots of professional people who genuinely seem to be looking for relationships." 

But what do Italians make of the online dating world?

Alessandro Brunetta, who lived in the UK and US for a number of years, says he’s tried the international brands like OkCupid, Plenty of Fish and Tinder, but hasn’t had much online luck in Italy.

"But when I was in Chicago over New Year’s Eve, I got tons of Tinder matches with attractive women. When I lived in London, I went out with dozens of girls I met online, some of whom I’m still friends with.

“Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, but online dating hasn’t really caught on here."

But then, in a country where every social interaction can turn into a flirt, perhaps the answer is to put your phone away and start up a conversation with the person next to you. Who knows where it might lead?

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