Translated by Alyssa Erspamer
Cities like Paris, Venice, but also Rome and Verona, are said to be cities of love. It is not so easy to say the same for New York. The Big Apple is generally considered the perfect city for those who would rather concentrate on their careers and then, maybe, in their “spare time,” engage in rather fast and superficial relationships, often one-night-stands, which, the next day, often dissolve, leaving everyone “free” again, and allowing the game to start all over. New York, overall, is seen as espousing a rather cynical attitude towards relationships – it is considered a libertarian and libertine city, full of people avoiding stable partnerships who, between one work meeting and another, engage in dates which end, if it goes well, in just a few hours. But is it really like that? We decided to ask just this question to different Italians in their twenties, who moved to New York for their studies or work. And who have left behind, along with their friends, family, and mamma’s lasagna, a culture more tied to traditional family values and to the idea of stable relationships, according to some; or a more provincial and “bigoted” world, as others would claim. But above all, we asked ourselves, how does a young Italian adapt to this change of mentality? Will she let herself be seduced by the (sometimes sentimental) instantaneousness of New York, or will she remain true to her country’s principles?
To respect the privacy of the individuals interviewed, we have changed the names.
How is your sentimental life going here in New York? How many dates or encounters have you had, and out of these, how many led to more significant and lasting relationships?
The people we talked to – between 20 and 30 years old, in New York for at least one year and a maximum of eight years – have had, from the time they arrived here, an average of five to 30 physical encounters, but very few of these encounters resulted in any longer-lasting relationship. There are those, for instance, who seem more “reserved”: like Leonardo, 22 years old, from Vicenza, who claims to have had, in the year and two months he’s been here, “only a couple of dates, I met some girls at parties, but none of these encounters led to a romantic relationship.” Aurora, too, a twenty-year old in her first year at Columbia, spoke of only two physical encounters, which did not lead to “anything more substantial.” For the others, the average number of encounters has been higher, but in very few cases was the relationship deepened. Filippo, 22 years old, an NYU student, is among the most “fortunate”: “I think I’ve had between 20 to 30 physical-sentimental relations, out of which around ten led to something more explicitly romantic, lasting only a short time. Now it’s the second month I’ve been together with my girlfriend.” Similarly, Giovanni, 24 years old, Sicilian, who has had a job on Wall Street for the last two years, had around twenty sexual relationships before finding his current girlfriend, who he’s been dating for the last six months. Alberto, 30 years old, in his fourth year here due to studies and work, also met the girl he’s with now after various adventures.
Many, however, despite having searched far and wide, remain empty-handed. Pietro, 20 years old and from Florence, in his first year at Columbia University, counts seven encounters, but no deeper relationship. Laura, 20 years old, from the Italian region of Piemonte, in her second-to-last year at NYU, prefers not to reveal the number of extemporaneous encounters she’s had: “As you can understand, quite a few. Only one, out of all of them, led to something I can call a romantic connection: he was a pretty boy, even Italian, but then he left New York.” “I’ve had about ten sentimental encounters, of which maybe two can be defined as romantic, at least on my part,” answered Giacomo, a 22-year-old from Milan and recent graduate of Boston who just moved to New York. Carla, a 28-year-old from Naples in the city since a year for work confesses: “I’ve had more than ten physical encounters. None of these led to any romantic connection, except one, but that lasted only a week. I, however, still think about it.” Camilla, 23 years old, from Rome, graduate of NYU and now working in Midtown, has also had about ten sentimental encounters: “I also had a boyfriend for about a year, but it’s been a while now that I’m single,” she explains. Marco, a 26-year-old from Rome, in his last year at PACE University, has never had a significant relationship in New York: “I’ve had many different adventures, more than I’d like to admit. None of them, unfortunately, ever became something more concrete, except one, which then turned out to be an illusion.” Paola, a 28-year-old from Padova, who has been here eight years and works as a fashion designer, is a more particular case. Despite having had quite a few experiences, she has tried to avoid any one-night-stands: “I’ve had six encounters which resulted in somewhat long-term relationships. In two cases it lasted a couple months, one time six months, and then I had three serious relationships: two years, three years, and my current relationship, began six months ago.”
In what way are the relationships here different from those in Italy? Has New York changed how you understand relationships? If so, how?
Some of the twenty-year-old individuals we talked to admitted that their experience in New York changed their way of relating to an eventual partner. “New York has decidedly changed my sentimental relationships. To begin with, I was in a relationship for four years in Italy which ended after about five or six months of being here – my life was so frenetic that it was hard for me to maintain a long-distance relationship,” Carla says. Additionally, the more liberal attitude on the one hand, yet more resistant to long-term relationships on the other, “has made me more cynical. After trying for a bit, I don’t care at all anymore about finding a relationship in New York, I just think about having fun,” she admits. According to Alberto, “in this city people do not need to hide themselves to do what they want, because everyone is free to live their life however they wish, without worrying about judgement.” Alberto describes himself as having “changed a lot in his understanding of love and relationships: I live through relationships now with less taboo, less problems, less jealousy, as opposed to what I experienced in Italy and Naples.” According to Michele, 23 years old, in New York since a year, “in Italy we do not have the dating culture that exists here,” and these interpersonal relationships, in the Big Apple, become somehow “monetized”: “Meeting up with someone here means having an engagement in your agenda, spending money and time (which is always limited here) in order to find a person who shares your passions and is suitable to your needs. Investing in other people serves only as a means of getting an affective return and personal affirmation.”
“Having moved here when I was 21 years old, after high school, I never had an independent life in Italy,” Paola tells us. “I had that legendary boyfriend from 16 to 21 years who I met in high school.” And yet, after many different encounters in New York, Paola has reached a conclusion: “New York is not home, New York is a place of passage. Many, thus, do not want to put down their roots, and people have a hard time thinking long-term.” The perfect city, then, for extemporaneous relationships in which you can invest very little romantically speaking. In Giacomo’s case, instead, New York makes him think “of the bigger picture, also in terms of relationships: it makes me want to look for the person who is perfect for me with more attention. There’s a lot less social pressure on having to be in a relationship or dating.” The gender roles in New York, as well, are less traditionalist than they are in Italy. Aurora, for example, has learned from when she moved here that guys do not necessarily have to be the ones to take the initiative. Filippo confirms this impression: “I have become more confident in myself. Here you do not necessarily have to be the one to make the first move, and being in an environment where everything is more equal is nice.” Marco, too, feels freer here “to interact with girls, even when I’m alone. Anyways,” he adds, “I think New York is the best place to feel respected in one’s own sentimental choices.” For his part, Pietro is very happy of the changes in his relationships since he landed in New York: “In high school, I was very shy with girls, and I thought no one was ever interested in me, but coming here I’ve realized that all of a sudden they are also interested in me… crazy.”
There are also those who claim, however, with some pride, that they do not feel changed or influenced by their new context: like Leonardo, who realizes nonetheless that he is “atypical,” because “the mentality here is definitely more uninhibited and open.” Laura also does not feel any different: at most, she claims, New York “makes me want to try everything I can. There are many people here who are not interested in relationships: it is very easy to want to get to know them all.” Giovanni answers proudly that not even the seductions of the Great Apple have been able to damage his ability to fall in love. “My vision of love has not changed by one iota since coming here. The city has helped me, however, put things in perspective, seeing how girls behave here.” Camilla also believes that she has remained firm in her values, even though she admits that her time here has helped her “understand how the attitudes of both girls and guys differ in the US and Italy,” and also to acquire a less provincial perspective on relationships.
Is it easier to secure amorous relationships here, or in Italy?
Almost everyone agrees that it is extremely easier to meet people in New York, but harder to initiate something longer-lasting. Carla, for example, has this understanding of the situation: “Here there’s a lot of choice, and this leads you to getting involved with people who, maybe, in the meantime, are already seeing ten other people (it feels like you’re on TV shows like ‘The Bachelor’)!” For Carla, “the overwhelming majority of young people here uses dating apps and is never satisfied with seeing only one person, but instead continues to look for more.” The result? “New Yorkers are a lot freer, but also a lot more scared of relationships, and so most people disappear, instead of writing to you again.” But this is not the only obstacle: “People, here, are very involved with their careers, and it is truly hard to coordinate to have a date. We Italians, in general, are a little more spontaneous.” According to Alberto, these difficulties exist also in making friendships: “The classic childhood friend in Italy that you have known for twenty-five years is very hard to find here. Many people consider you an acquaintance, while you, as an Italian, feel them to be close friends, and then in your moments of need they reveal themselves to be no such thing.”
Paola, on the other hand, identifies some positive aspects in the New York attitude: “At home, in cities like Padova, we think of settling down early.” She considers such a tendency a sign of “cultural and social monotony,” which tries to dictate our supposedly pre-determined life stages among which it is heartily recommended to “get married before 30 years of age.” Conversely, “whoever moves here is changing the direction of her life so drastically that nothing is predictable anymore.” Giacomo synthesizes: “Meeting girls is a lot simpler, but finding love is a lot harder.” Same for Marco: “Here it is easier to meet people and bring them home, but it is more complicated to fall in love with someone.” Aurora admits that, from when she is in New York, finding a boyfriend has become a kind of mission impossible: “I am someone who needs a relationship, something stable, but here it feels like everyone is trying to avoid long-term connections. On the one side it’s fun, but many times it is absolutely depressing.” Pietro has found the perfect motto for New York: “Here you try until it works,” something he considers “great fun” and the “exact opposite of how things work in Italy.”
There are also those, however, – a minority – who believe that it is easier to develop relationships, even lasting ones, in the Big Apple. According to Leonardo, the fact that in a city like New York everyone is focused on their careers is not necessarily a negative thing because it “encourages people to maintain their independence and personal space even when in relationships,” something that is important to having healthy ones. Leonardo is not the only one who believes this: for those who have always been very shy, the frequent opportunities to meet people and the climate of freedom represent an opportunity. “Developing a relationship, for me, is always hard, but it is harder in Italy,” Laura says. Because, she explains, there is more pressure on the need for relational developments in Italy, while the disengaged American attitude “makes everything, paradoxically, simpler, and also more fun.” There are also those who, in New York, have found love, like Filippo: “I met my girlfriend here, at university: we’ve been together for some time now.” In his opinion, “this myth of the impossibility of finding a girlfriend in New York is simply BS. There are so many intelligent pretty girls that you are only spoiled for choice. Falling in love is beautiful, and it is so easy: everyone wants to escape from the at times oppressing negativity of the city and place their hope in something a little more romantic.”
Is being Italian an advantage or a disadvantage?
Almost for everyone, the made in Italy brand, also in relationships, attracts a certain amount of interest. Maybe, as Camilla suggests, more for the guys than for the girls: because the male “Latin lover,” as we know, is irresistible. Marco, in fact, confirms this idea: “For me, especially at the beginning, being able to say that I was Italian was fundamental. It was the easiest way to strike a conversation and spark others’ interest in me.” According to Pietro, the attraction derives also from the manner of speaking: “They hear the accent and go crazy,” he says. Others, like Paola, claim instead, from a more politically correct point of view, that it makes no difference. But, according to Carla, it is a double-edge sword: “It is an advantage, because it impresses, but also a disadvantage, because that which we expect from others is not always realized.” This is to say that us Italians, used to deeper and longer lasting relationships than New Yorkers, have a higher probability of being disappointed. In Leonardo’s opinion, however, it is not so much the nationality that counts, as much as the fact of being foreigners: because the exotic, here, far from causing fear, captivates and fascinates.
Can you tell us about an experience that you consider important for yourself and exemplary of how relationships are in this city?
“All the relationships I’ve had have taught me a lot about the person I am,” says Paola. “They have helped me get to know myself and understand the traits I want in a man, the compromises I am no longer willing to make, and, above all, that I must always push myself forward, and never the other person,” she explains. “As an Italian who believed in romantic love, I was always too available sentimentally, while in the other person there was a very New York attitude, of a heart with breaks.” Paola cannot choose any one particular experience to share: she is convinced that, “if I had not had many relationships with people who were completely different, but shared that one attitude, I would never have understood and gained consciousness of that which I really deserve.”
Then there are those who, instead, have no doubts about which experience to recount: “I met a very attractive guy, a professional, of my age, Jewish family from New Jersey, apparently normal,” Carla remembers. “I spent a fun night with him, but the next day I realized that he had left his coat at my house. A real fur coat, worth about 900 dollars: this person, rather than writing to me, left it at my house for a long while. In the end, I contacted him to give it back.” In any case, the “escape” after a sexual encounter is a classic: “One evening I met a girl in the library who was studying for the same exam as me,” Giacomo tells us. “We studied for a bit, and then we went to her place. Afterwards, however, she completely disappeared: I didn’t see her at the exam, and I was left feeling a little bit like a fool.” Aurora confirms this tendency: “Does never being called back, even if they promised, count?”, she asks us. Some, here in New York, were left stung in their experiences even with fellow Italians: “An Italian girl I liked a lot left me after two weeks because I ‘reminded her too much of home’ and her friends. I never understood what was so bad about it,” Filippo confesses.
Since you’ve been here, have you signed up for any dating app, or do you prefer to place your hope in destiny?
Among young Italians, the attitude towards dating platforms is, on average, rather mistrustful. Many of them claim not to have any, or to have them but use them very rarely. According to Pietro, parties are much more effective than technology. Aurora, despite the pressure, continues to prefer in-person encounters: “My roommate told me to download Tinder, she is in love with that kind of stuff,” she tells us. “For me it feels a little strange, so I still haven’t done it.” Giacomo claims that he has Tinder, but doesn’t use it: “I place my trust in the City, which is a lot better.” Carla downloaded the app one evening for fun, but after the first conversations she became bored and decided to cancel it. In Paola’s case, she used a dating app only in two particular moments of her time here: “In this way,” she says, “I met two of the people I dated. I was convinced that there was no other way of meeting people in New York for me, due to the stressful rhythms of my work and an excessively dispersive social scene.” And yet, only a while later, Paola understood that these apps were not for her: “The people who I was with and met online became part of my life because I had ‘searched’ for them, and it didn’t work out with any of them,” she explains. Not surprisingly then, she met her current boyfriend in a casual way, during a walk in Soho: “This thing made me believe that destiny may still exist, even in New York.”
Among the most popular apps for the Italians who have been seduced by love 2.0 is, in the first place, Tinder, which, according to Laura, is “the best of the best.” Camilla, instead, also uses the app Bumble, which passes for being the better option for those who, rather than a one-night-stand, are searching for love. Leonardo also uses Hinge, which is more scientific because it connects people who have friends in common on Facebook. There are also those who have become disappointed after using dating apps: “I met a girl on Tinder,” Michele says. “I went out with her to get to know her better and was interested in her life, but she became obsessive and, despite not knowing anything about me, began telling me after three dates that she was an adult, she was serious, and she only wanted to have an important relationship.”
What happens to romantic relationships begun in Italy, when one of the two moves to New York?
Far from the eyes, far from the heart? Question worth a million dollars. Do the classic stable Italian relationships survive the shock of New York? Carla has already told us that, after a few months living in New York, her relationship went downhill. Marta, a 24-year-old here since September for an exchange with Columbia University, is, instead, still optimistic: “I have been in a relationship since March 2018, and, for us, distance has not made anything harder. Until now, everything seems to be going well: we manage to talk a lot, but we are both reasonable if we are not able to and we’ve fought very few times.” Marta, from when she arrived, claims to have never felt any temptation. “Honestly, I have never seen someone here that I like, also because I have a very defined type for guys: Dutch/German, blue eyes, tall.”
For Gianna, 29 years old, here since more than a year and working in the digital field, things have become a little more complicated: “I arrived here already in a relationship of several years, and now I do not know if I’m still in it.” And New York was an important ingredient in the crisis: “From the moment I arrived here, I started giving a lot more importance to my career. I have begun to see all the opportunities that this city offers, I have begun to think a lot more with respect to Italy, because here there are many more options in the professional world as well as an ideal environment.” Gianna left Italy with the idea of going back, but now she’s beginning to have doubts. And her partner does not share her dedication to work. “We have two very different ways of understanding life and it is very hard to carry forward a long-distance relationship when you do not see each other for such long periods of time.” She confesses that the freedom she feels in New York has made her somewhat light-headed: “In a city like New York, with so many people coming through, you often ask yourself if perhaps there isn’t someone more ‘right’ for you, more similar in ways of thinking.” But Gianna also sees, in the New York way of experiencing relationships, a lot more superficiality: “Here relationships are like products in a market that you try and keep changing in order to understand if there’s anything better. This attracts me but at the same time it also scares me, because it risks making me lose sight of what is important, like sentimental stability and the romantic idea of love that we still have in Italy. I am attracted to this other way of living, but I am afraid that this city will change my nature.”
Translated by Alyssa Erspamer