When most people meet a young, unmarried foreign woman working in Florence—one who hasn’t set an egg timer on the experience—a default, often correct assumption is that she originally came for Italy, but stayed for an important Italian man. ‘After all, with la crisi, what would keep you here if not a significant other?’
It’s the million-dollar question for many of us who have moved to Florence indefinitely sans fidanzato. Though the people who ask it are usually well intentioned, sometimes the sentiment feels laced with suspicion. Not every girl comes to Tuscany aiming to snatch up an Italian guy, hightail it to the Colli Fiorentini and breed a crew of bilingual babies. But if you’re single in Florence and admit to both a) loving where you are and having no imminent plans to leave and b) hoping to meet someone, then suddenly you’re seen as a Fabio-chasing freeloader, looking to lock down the elusive dolce vita.
Confidence and cool parents have always helped me feel more than okay on my own, but last spring I realized I was becoming too blasé about my single status. I needed a change, but I wasn't necessarily gunning to land ‘the one’. Rather, I knew I should start filtering through someones if I wanted anything to shift.
But where to meet them? When you stick around Florence longer than a student, yet haven’t put down permanent roots, locals’ fascination with you can start to fade—blonde hair and Anglo accent notwithstanding. Add to that what often happens in any city: your social circle stops rotating, your favorite locales become fixed and your ego takes a blow when date invitations slow down. The dent in confidence and subsequent retreat to your safe zone then only perpetuate the no-dating pattern.
Illustration by Leo Cardini
Cue my first foray into Floren-Tindering. For the uninitiated, Tinder is an internationally popular dating app, with a business model built on facilitating casual hookups. Users browse through very minimal, photo-based profiles and swipe right on the people who appeal to them. When both parties swipe right, it’s a ‘match’ and you can chat within the app.
Early in 2014, I downloaded the app on a tip from a British friend contentedly distracting herself from a Sicilian ex. I had my hesitations—call me prudish, but even in college, I never felt comfortable with romantic rendezvous of the super-casual variety. After four years in a campus bubble, I was hopeful that the mildly warped way we ‘millennials’ tend to date wouldn’t have made its way to the Mediterranean.
I was pleasantly surprised then when my friend said she’d arranged cringey but cute get-to-know-you coffees, and even actual dinners via Tinder.
It was easier than I expected to get past the hangups I assumed I’d have about digital dating—stigmas about this mode of meeting have all but disappeared, especially in busy international cities like Florence. I’d also wager that expats have fewer qualms about dabbling in dating apps and websites, since we’re used to braving unfamiliar social situations as we carve out niches in non-native territory.
Surprisingly, texting ahead of meeting was what took the most getting used to. Scrolling through my ‘inbox’ felt like stepping into a Santa Croce bar brimming with (faux)-Florentines on the hunt for foreign girls. Ciao! Sei inglese? Francese? Americana? The attention was flattering, but I found myself doing the same familiar Italian-boy, American-girl banter dozens of times over. The rare guy who got past the ‘how long are you staying?’ and ‘ti piace l'Italia?’ questions was way ahead of the curve.
I eventually bit the bullet and took a chance on one of my more promising matches, Florentine Banker Boy, who won me over with his WhatsApp wit and suggested meeting up near the Mercato Centrale. Since he was born and bred in the Tuscan capital, I was suitably surprised when he strode confidently toward San Marco once we decided we were in an Oltrarno mood. Given my own subpar sense of direction, I was willing to let it slide…until he started spouting off a bizarre series of backhanded compliments.
‘You’re not like most Americans, who are fat and loud and disgusting,’ he said, squeezing my hand and genuinely seeming to think this was flattering. I grinned and bore it through the next couple of hours, which he spent bragging about the strength of Italian bonds and how any friendships of mine were certifiably shallow: ‘Seriously, if your car broke down in New York City, how many people could you call? How many people would drop everything to come help you out?’ he pleaded, exasperated that I refused to fully engage in the conversation.
To recover from Banker Boy, I stopped swiping long enough to develop a short-lived crush on Starving Artist.
He was one of the few interests that I actually met ‘on the town’ and not, as our grandparents would probably say, ‘on the Tinder.’ He was handsome, ambitious and internationally minded, but quickly lost his appeal when I accidentally learned via Facebook that he sang in an (unironic) Journey cover band. Curse social media (or bless it—I still can’t make up my mind).
I began swiping again without significant incident until an American friend relatively new to the Tinder pool invited my Norwegian housemate and me to join her and a Florentine match on a six-member group outing where the pairing patterns were left deliberately unclear. The resulting evening was fun and innocent, but bewildering. We drank and ate alfresco in piazza Santo Spirito, chatting effortlessly as a group, but we failed to couple up appropriately by the end of the night. There was no discreet exchange of numbers, no coy boys slyly offering rides or shared cab fare. Were they all interested in the same person…or none of us? Were they uncomfortable making moves without first squeezing into a bar bathroom to talk about who was into whom?
Over cold kebabs, we dissected the situation—more for entertainment than to resolve any real anxiety. We eventually turned to a trusted Italian girl for input, whose take we hadn’t even considered: ‘You’re all foreign. They wanted to meet you because of what they’ve heard. You probably surprised them when you had a conversation instead of just immediately taking your clothes off. Then they didn’t know what to do.’ Though we knew our straniera reputation preceded us, this was still more than a little enlightening.
I’m not sure I really took the warning to heart, however. Up until that point, my Floren-Tindering had been fun and harmless. But, like most things where humans are involved, it can get messy pretty abruptly.
Budding Architect drew me in immediately with his easy charm, scruffy-sexy style and varied set of interests and ambitions—many of which matched mine. I warned myself not to get too wrapped up in liking him too much too fast, especially considering how we met—but our first few dates were of the blissful variety, the kind that you can’t help babbling incessantly to friends about the next day.
Inevitably, of course, after a semi-balanced series of ‘real’ dates and Tuscan-tinged ‘Netflix-and-chill’ nights, he broached The Conversation—through a waffly WhatsApp essay with this winning excerpt: ‘I’m not sure what you were looking for, but I’m not looking for anything serious…anzi, you might actually be the person that I want, but right now, I don’t know.’ Subtext: I’m having too much fun Floren-Tindering to focus on getting to know someone.
In hindsight, I jumped the gun, naïvely equating our common interests and chemistry with potential long-term compatibility. I wince at this perfectly natural thought progression only because, when all’s said and done, we met by swiping right. Had I attached the same set of expectations to someone I’d met under less ‘loaded’ circumstances, I imagine I’d have felt far less gullible.
For the time being I’ve thrown in the Tinder towel—not out of hopelessness or heartbreak, but because, frankly, Florence is filled with better places to meet. Tinder and similar tools are good for getting your ‘sea legs’ back, but once that step is taken, their work is mostly done. No, I may not meet any future SO by bumping baskets at the market or grabbing the wrong macchiato at the bar, but I do have an inkling that most of the best storie begin on their own Floren-timing…and I suspect no swiping is required.
Have you dated or coupled up in Florence? The Florentine is eager to hear about the wide range of reader experiences. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas and stories.