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Dating in Russia

St’Valentine’s Day is relatively new to Russia and is still not as important as other, traditional holidays. But it is a good opportunity to talk about dating in Russia.

Dating here is similar to dating elsewhere in many ways; people are people and people all over the world are looking for love. And in the same time “Rules” are quite different.

"Olesya, marry me! Ustin". Love messages, written on asphalt under the windows of the girl are very popular in Russia. (Photo by Eugene Barsky)

“Olesya, marry me! Ustin”. Love messages, written on asphalt under the windows of the girl are very popular in Russia. (Photo by Eugene Barsky)

The main difference is chivalry – Russian admirers are very romantic and they lavish objects of their affection with flowers, small and big gifts and romantic events. Men will be very polite, will open doors in front of women, help them into coats and do all other similar things. THE MAN will never allow a girl to carry anything heavier than a tiny purse and will always pick a bill at a restaurant. The latter is expected in 100% of cases, so do not be surprised that the girl will not even offer to share. And if you offer to share – you will never see her again, and not because the only thing she wanted from you was a free dinner, but because that is against the cultural norm.

Flowers are a must, not only for important events, but also for everyday dates. Make sure that you give odd number of flowers, since even number is for funerals only. Also, try to avoid yellow flowers – they are a symbol of separation or break-up. Long-stemmed red roses are a safe bet and the most appreciated flowers, since they symbol love. They are expensive, but no need to present a dozen or more – one red rose is considered equally romantic and will be much appreciated. If you think that red roses are too cheesy – go for tulips (in Spring) or irises or even for romantic field flowers. Avoid orchids (also separation connotation), carnations (too formal and remind of Soviet time) and lilies (smell is too acute).

At lunch time in one of Moscow cafes, Feb 14th 2014

At lunch time in one of Moscow cafes, Feb 14th 2014

Girls are never expected to plan the date – it is a man, who thinks, plans and surprises his princess. Typically, men date younger girls. Girls are expected to be pretty, that is a skill that all Russian girls have mastered to a greatest extent. Be aware that a girl will start preparing for the date with you minimum several hours in advance and maybe even several days in advance. And she will invest a lot of money in expensive manicure and other beautification procedures and a lot of time and effort on choosing what to wear and on doing make up. She will want to look perfect and she will look at her best. Most of the time that has nothing to do with her trying to look chic in order to extract any benefits from you (contrary to the popular opinion). That is just the upbringing and the habit here. However, she will expect a lot of admiration in return, so do not be shy to compliment her on her looks. Russian girl will always accept admiration with grace and smile and will love that. And when you think how much Russian girls spend in order to look beautiful, you may come to a conclusion that even if she expects some gifts in her honor – that is justifiable.

Good idea for a date with a Russian – to dress up a bit more than you would typically do for going out regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. For a man – wearing a jacket, for a woman – make up and high heels (if you feel comfortable wearing them) are most appropriate. Typical outfit for a date in the US for a girl – skinny jeans, high heeled boots and a nice top, may be not enough in Russia. You may feel a bit underdressed and will feel more in place if you wear a more feminine outfit. That does not mean – you have to wear mini, but wearing a dress or a skirt and a top will be more appreciated than wearing jeans.

I get a lot of questions about “THE RULES” of dating Russian men or women. In the US – there are plenty of rules, especially regarding appropriate topics for conversations at a first date, duration of the date and the progress (what is allowed and considered appropriate at each stage of the relationship). In Russia – there are much less rules, barely any rules. People act as they wish and are rather emotional than rational. Of course being too intimate after one date is a “no-no” everywhere; one-night stands are never wise if you want a long-term relationship. But in general – people kiss if they feel like it and do whatever feels right at each particular moment. I know some cases when couples decided to get married after 2 weeks of dating and still are happy together after 10+ years.

Champagne is the drink of choice for any dating occasion in Russia, not just weddings and anniversaries

Champagne is the drink of choice for any romantic occasion in Russia, not just for weddings and anniversaries

As for date behavior and conversations – expect the guys to act manly and the girls to act girly. A guy will talk about his business or his job a lot and will find a way to demonstrate his wealth by mentioning his car, house and other evidences of status. Sadly, wealth is valued more than good looks and there might be too much emphasis on the wealth from the guy’s side. A guy will also talk a lot about his manly hobbies – hunting, shooting, fishing, doing manly sports, jumping with a parachute, DIY projects etc. Also, guy is expected to be a good storyteller and to make a girl laugh.

Expect a girl to talk about being a good cook and mentioning her “girly” hobbies. I was really surprised that guys in the US often brag about their great cooking skills to their dates. To me that was so bizarre that I asked one of my American friends, why these guys do that? You will never hear a Russian guy, bragging about how he can cook a herb-crusted salmon or bake macaroons! And my friend said that otherwise you will not get a girlfriend, that cooking skills are now among expected skills for men. How cool is that!!! I frequently amuse my Russian girlfriends with that story!

In the US people usually avoid talking about politics, religion and problems on a first date. In Russia all that is considered quite normal. Girls may tell about some minor disasters, which show them as vulnerable – how she got lost somewhere or her heel broke or she had a flat tire and did not know how to change it. Girls will often downplay their intellect, education and professional status. She may have a PhD in nuclear physics but she will chat you up about baking pies or embroidery, especially if she is unsure whether you are an equal intellectually. She may also speak about problems in her family or about her past disasters in love life (that openness always surprises foreigners).

Love is… cartoons inside chewing gum were collectable items in the 90s

Love is… cartoons inside chewing gum were collectable items in the 90s

Man can also tell about that – how unfair love life has been for him so far. Or can even tell about problems at work or tell a story from his childhood, how he was bullied in school. You see a contradiction there – how the same man can act manly and portrait himself as a winner and whine about something? There is no contradiction here – that is building connection on an emotional level. In former times, in ancient Russia to love and to pity were synonyms. That mentality is still strong – if a woman feels that a man is vulnerable, she will be more likely to fall in love with him. That is not universal though. I recently read an interesting blog post by one of my Russian friends on that topic. He argued that modern men in their 30s do not want women to pity them, they want women to love them. But I would say that if you are dating a Russian girl – do not feel bad about showing your vulnerability in limited doses.

Another difference is that there are no strict rules on how fast the relationship should move forward.  It can move to marriage very fast or stay at a dating stage for a long time and both versions will be considered normal. Very big difference is that engagement rings appeared only recently (new habit, promoted by diamond makers). Before, a guy was just asking for a hand and a heart from a girl and asked for the permission to marry her from her parents. Wedding usually happened in 1-2 months after the proposal and that is when bride and groom got wedding rings. To a large extent weddings happened so soon because people used to marry in the early 20s, when they still lived with their parents and parents did not approve sleepovers. But another reason is that Russians are emotional and impatient. If we decide that we have found a right guy or a right girl – why wait to be together?

Relatively new custom - leaving a "love lock" at the bridge in the center of Moscow

Relatively new custom – leaving a “love lock” at the bridge in the center of Moscow

Leave a Reply

  • Jenn - 4 years ago

    This blog post reminds me of Ирония судьбы )) I’m in the coursera Russian culture class taught by Mira Bergelson and found your blog from a link she posted. спасибо!

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Thank you so much Jenn!!! I am traveling in the US right now, do not have time to update the blog in these 2,5 weeks. But will definitely write more soon!!!

  • Nick Atkins - 4 years ago

    A bit surprising the that the internet is full of Russian woman wanting to date men from outside of Russia – clearly all this chivalry doesn’t impress them any…

  • Frank - 4 years ago

    Hi Tanya, I like your stories, they are very informative.
    I have a question, regarding this issue of romance and dating. Are breakups common after being married? What about infidelity, is it also common?

    Thank you for sharing this blog.

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks a lot both for your warm words and for great questions.
      Yes, more than 50% of marriages end in divorce (that is a function of early marriages and often short time of dating before getting married)
      Most people used to get married in their early 20s, now getting married in early 30s is a rising trend – lets see if the divorce rate goes down.
      Infidelity is very common in marriage, especially by men. Tolerance to infidelity by men is very high among women (which I personally find crazy), in the same time there is almost zero tolerance to infidelity be women. Reasoning behind that is that “men are polygamous but their nature, but women always have emotional attachment in any romance”.

      • Frank - 4 years ago

        That’s interesting, thank you for your precise response.
        After breakups, do fathers use to watch out for their kids, or are they usually forced to pay a pension?… I mean, how does moral judgement plays its part? Is there a common trend?
        Furthermore, do you know if after the breakup men and women use to engage, or are they willing to engage again, in another formal relationship?

        • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

          Hi Frank,
          After breakups kids almost always live with their mothers and fathers either spend Sundays with them or participate in kids upbringing even less (the level of involvement depends on the person of course). Fathers are obliged to pay a pension until the child is 18 years old, but it is not easy to enforce that legally.
          After the breakup most men re-marry again or find a new relationship pretty fast. Some women also re-marry or find a new relationship, but many stay single as it is not easy to find a new spouse, having kids and being not as young anymore.

          • Frank - 4 years ago

            Татья́на, большое спасибо…=)

  • Anonymous - 2 years ago

    Thank you so much for this. My son is 13 and wants to ask a classmate to a dance. And this will help him understand the culture. Thank you

  • Tanya Golubeva - 3 years ago

    Hi,

    I think I may have answered this question at the coursera forum of our class in Summer. After break up – husbands are obliged to pay pension for kids until they turn 18. Visitation rules are case by case – usually fathers get to see their kids on weekends, but it really depends on each case. Irony of fate is a great movie indeed))

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