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Love, Italian Style
Part 2: Old-Fashioned Romance Lives in Italy
Continued from part 1
This is the second in a series of stories called "Love, Italian Style." Occasionally, as part of this column, I will write articles to help you understand how Italian beliefs about dating, marriage and sex influence your life -- even if you live abroad and even as Italian attitudes about love evolve. At the end of this article, you can find out how you can help with the research.
Italians seem to feel as though being the "world's greatest lovers" is their obligation, even part of their civic duty. On Valentine's Day, Arcigay, a group that fights for the rights of homosexuals, organized a kissing contest for gays and heterosexuals in Roma's Piazza Farnese. The idea was to get attention for the cause but also to try and break the Guiness world record, currently held by Chile, for number of couples kissing at once. Call it the perfect publicity stunt. Who would argue with Italians holding the title of kissing champions?
The label "Italian" comes with many expectations, especially when it comes to gender roles and dating. An Italian man should be sexy, suave and smooth. The country's women should be equally sexy, sweet but seductive. But what happens when boy meets girl in Italy's real world (as opposed to the one we have running in our minds thanks to popular culture and folklore)? Is it all chocolate and roses? Do Italians know something about love and romance that the rest of the world hasn't figured out yet?
For answers to these questions and more, I went right to the source: Italians. Although I have only gotten to discuss the topic with a handful of heterosexual men and women and we've barely touched the surface, I already have noticed some interesting trends. Of course, an Italian's opinion and ideology about romance is colored by the region of Italy and the generation in which he or she was raised. Nonetheless, I learned that, across the board, Italians are still fairly traditional when it comes to gender roles, especially when compared to other Western countries. And romance still plays a large part in modern relationships.
Contemporary Italian women appear to have made the same strides as their counterparts in the rest of the Western world. But when it comes to the mating dance, they are still following man's lead. "An Italian man sees himself as the hunter and the woman, the hunted," says Cece, a 34-year-old married man in northern Italy. "The best way to get things going smoothly in a relationship is to keep things that way. When these roles are mixed, men no longer feel natural, nor are they too comfortable in this new dress." Giovanni, a 28-year-old in Parma who has a girlfriend, adds that women are really the ones doing the hunting, but they let men think that it's the other way around. Whatever the reason, women are letting men make the first move -- on dates and in the bedroom, Italians say.
It's that aggression and confidence that seems to have coined the phrase (and phenomenon) "Latin lover." To catch a woman's eye, Cece pays particular attention to the look he gives her, and Giovanni says he is straightforward about his interest from the beginning. Men in Italy seem to be much more free with admiration than those in other parts of the world. "Men will compliment your appearance a lot, and they can be very "touchy" but not in a perverted way," says Daniela, a 25-year-old in Parma who is in a long-term relationship. "But above all, they are chivalrous. [They] will open doors for you, pay for things, etc. Males might even ask if it is okay for them to kiss you." And Daniela admits that women respond to a man's ego by laughing at his jokes or making clever comebacks if they are interested in him. Flirting, with coy back-and-forth text messages via cell phone, has become a popular sport for both sexes in Italia.
Unlike many Americans, who seem to have turned courtship into a business that requires a strategy, replete with speed dating, professional matchmakers and dating consultants, Italians still believe that you can meet "the one" just about anywhere. The Italians with whom I have spoken have found dates in the piazza, at the beach in the summer, on the slopes in the winter, at school, at work, at the discothèque, at concerts, at pubs, on planes, on trains, through friends, through nonna or right next door. Shared interests like a love of soccer or Latin dance, which is becoming more popular in Italy, often helps to spark romance. Like singles the world over, Italians are also starting to turn to the Internet for companionship.
But when you find potential love everywhere you turn, you risk overloading on romance, warns Giovanni. "In Italy, we have an illness called: 'I love loving,'" he says. "Without that strange, sizzling feeling in your chest, you can't live, so that a man in his thirties might have already collected four or five 'women of his life'…I'm naturally romantic, but I've learned to distinguish a rush from a deeper interest that can become love." He admits that he made many mistakes before coming to this conclusion. Errors of the heart are part of the universal language of love. If you're wise, you learn from them. If you're not, you probably live alone. It's up to you.
How You Can Help with "Love, Italian Style": Are you an Italian living in Italy? Do you know an Italian living in Italy? I am looking for Italians in Italy to answer questions about the dating and mating rituals of today's Italians. Everything would be done via email and can be written in either English or Italian. Please contact me if you are interested in serving on such a panel. Write me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 1: Does Your Love Life Make You More Italian?
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