Family and friends joked that when I moved to Ecuador, I would end up bringing an Ecuadorian guy back to the States. That’s because my big sister, who lived in Quito from 2011-2012, did exactly that. When I came here though, dating wasn’t exactly a top priority for me. I was busy adjusting to living with a host family, having my first job outside of a university setting, making new friends, and learning how to survive in this country. But lo and behold, I ended up dating an Ecuadorian. My friends and family members back home ask me lots of questions. Naturally, they’re curious about my boyfriend. How is it different from dating American guys? Are there major cultural differences between you? Do you have much in common? These questions got me thinking about what it’s like to date someone from a completely different background. I wanted to shed some light on my expectations vs. experiences regarding dating someone from a different country.**
There are definitely some cultural differences between Americans and Ecuadorians that I have discovered throughout my time here. One of the first things I noticed when I got here was that people tend to be in romantic relationships from very young ages, and often are with these people for years. I think this has something to do with the fact that many Ecuadorians stay in the same place for university, and end up living at home with their parents until they get married. This is different for the students who are from smaller areas in the country, as they have to relocate to go to university, but it is a stark difference from the States, where many of us who go to college move away from home at 18 and live perhaps 2 hours away by car or 6 hours by plane from our parents’ home. Thus dating in general here is different in the sense that there really aren’t endless single 23-29-year-olds hanging out at bars. The fact that many Ecuadorians live at home for so long makes dating itself a bit different as well. Go to any park and you’ll see young couples lying on the grass cuddling and making out. Ecuadorians often have to ask their parents for permission to do basically anything outside of school, and the parents tend to be a lot stricter than American parents, so the time that people can spend with their significant others and dating activities are more limited. Related to this, family time is much more important for Ecuadorian families than American families in terms of quantity. Latino families have a reputation for in general being much more family-oriented than white American families, and I saw this play out while living with my host family. Almost every weekend, the family would make a 1.5 hour trip to the south of the city to visit one if not both sets of grandparents. Family time was basically the only way leisure time was spent–from these trips to sitting and watching La Voz Ecuador or Betty la Fea together. Adult children also tend to spend New Years’ Eve with their families, another stark difference than many of my American friends, who tend to go party and drink on New Years’ with friends.
Then I had this whole other (negative) set of expectations about Ecuadorian men. To be fair, I’d had some pretty shitty experiences involving men here. There were the two guys who I went out with a couple times earlier in my time here who turned out to have girlfriends. There were the creepy dudes that would try to force themselves on us at discotecas and the incessant cat-calling. Latino men have a reputation for being machistas, and I definitely saw plenty of that aspect of men here. They also tend to be much more protective and jealous of their women, and vice versa. Women have stricter gender roles here, too–I asked my adult class this cycle how many of them did the dishes and the cooking at home, and almost exclusively the women raised their hands. As a feminist, these types of things made me leery of dating someone who might have these perspectives and life experiences.
Against this backdrop, I had some expectations about what it might be like to date an Ecuadorian. Some of these things have proven true. One major difference between dating an American and an Ecuadorian is related to family time. For example, my boyfriend still lives at home, many years after finishing high school. Family time forms a bigger part of his life than it does for most of my white American friends. He lives in a house that shares a courtyard with multiple relatives, and spends a decent amount of his free time with his cousins. He also feels a much greater responsibility to care for his mom than many of my friends back home, another aspect of the greater role of family in life here. He has to always tell his mom where he is going, what he is doing, and who he is with–a difference I still sometimes have a hard time understanding. “Why does a 27-year-old have to tell his mom whatever he is doing?” I sometimes catch myself thinking. I semi-stopped asking for permission for things in high school once I could drive at 16. I’m working on developing a greater cultural sensitivity and respect in these regards.
But there are other cultural differences that I didn’t anticipate. For example, on the first date that we had a few months ago, we met up at the park with his dog, and then decided we would cook some Ecuadorian food together. And some burritos, because I was still seriously missing Mexican food. So we went to the store and bought the ingredients to make burritos and quimbolitos, and then went over to his place to cook. As we cooked, his cousins came over and hung out with us, and then we preceded to feed his two cousins, his brother, and his mom. Another time, at the beach, I bought a bottle of rum because his friends were drinking beer and I wasn’t feeling the cerveza. When we got home, most of his friends started drinking the rum I had bought. A couple weeks ago, we made salsa at my place. When my roommate came home, he asked me, “Are you going to share with Lauren?” and my response, “No, we buy our own food”. Yesterday, when we were cooking lunch at his place, my boyfriend realised we had forgotten to buy limes, and then went and “borrowed” some from his family next door. My point with these stories is that Ecuadorian culture involves a whole lot more sharing than I’m used to. It is a significantly more communal culture than mine. My parents can attest to the fact that I’ve never been very good at sharing. It’s definitely been an eye-opening experience.
Another difference that I didn’t anticipate was a really positive one. With the experiences I’d had with machismo and gender roles here, I was a little concerned about how this might play out in a relationship. My boyfriend is not really machista at all. In fact, he is the most caring, kindest, gentlest guy I’ve ever dated–a big surprise. He is incredibly hard working, and is always willing and eager to help out. One of the biggest ways we spend time together is having lunch together. If he doesn’t cook, he does the dishes, and sometimes he does both. When I was feeling really icky last Tuesday, he went to the store, bought everything we needed to make the dish I wanted, and then proceeded to cook the whole meal and clean up after. Then he helped me grade my exams. Talk about generous and kind. I’ve never even had a guy friend like that. And from a place where I had assumed that men would be mostly sexist and machista. Alongside this, my boyfriend is one of the most affectionate guys I’ve ever met. He likes to changar (cuddle) and hug as much as I do. It’s awesome.
Prior to dating my boyfriend, I didn’t really consider how socio-economic differences vary from country to country. I was solidly middle class in the States, and he says he’s middle class here, but our experiences growing up were really different. We both went to private school for a while, but he started working at the age of 11. He’s had a whole lot more responsibility than I have, and he’s become an incredibly hard-working and self-sufficient individual possibly because of it. As a kid, I never even really did chores (sorry mom and dad), let alone had a real JOB. I’ve always spent my money a bit frivolously, often on lots of fun things just for me, whereas he is more careful with his money and continues supporting his family with his income. This has given me pause and made me reflect on socio-economic differences and how they interact with cultural differences.
The final aspect of difference I want to address is language difference. I’m in Ecuador, my first language isn’t English, and Ecuadorians generally speak Spanish. In this sense, I’ve been lucky, because my boyfriend speaks such perfect English with no accent that you wouldn’t know he didn’t grow up entirely in the United States (he teaches English where I do!). So language issues haven’t been much of a problem, but they definitely have given some pretty funny moments. Most of the time, we speak English together, merely because it’s easier since his English is better than my Spanish. When he does make the occasional mistake, it’s really funny. For example, one time he used the word “coffin” to mean “treasure chest”. Cofre is a false cognate with coffin. I couldn’t stop laughing. Another time, I invited him to come pre-game with me and my friends before going out dancing. His response? “Sure, what kinds of games do you play?” I’ve had my fair share of mistakes in Spanish, too. Once, I was wearing a skunk onesie that my friend had bought for me, and I said Soy una zorilla! He busted up laughing. Apparently, zorilla here means slut. This past weekend, I was with his family out at breakfast, and he was bugging his cousin, poking her and whatnot. He does this type of silly thing to dogs too, so I told him, ¡Tu prima no es una perra que puedes molestar para siempre! Everyone started laughing, even his mom. I was thinking I had said, Your cousin isn’t a dog that you can always bother. Turns out I had said your cousin isn’t a prostitute that you can always bother. But these language differences don’t cause problems, they just bring extra laughter into our conversations.
Most of the time, the differences we have don’t get in the way of a positive, caring relationship. They more help us learn from each other and broaden our perspectives. Aside from all these differences, though, there are many things we have in common, too. We are both English teachers. We both love dogs (including his crazy Beagle-esque dog Tomás).We both like to walk and hang out outside. We both love cooking delicious food. We both speak English and Spanish. We both enjoy music immensely, and we both play (or played, in my case) musical instruments. We both want to explore new places together. We both want to have jobs that allow us to improve the quality of lives of members of a community. We both place a premium on relationships-our own, our families, and our friends. We both value communication, openness, respect, and affection.
And moreover, we get the added benefit of learning so much from each other every day. We break down stereotypes about each other’s cultures (i.e.: he thought Americans just wanted to have fun and wouldn’t want relationships with locals, and I thought Ecuadorian men would be jealous machistas) and gain a better understanding of ourselves individually and as cultural beings. We have thought-provoking discussions when differences do arise and I always leave them feeling humbled and more aware. All in all, dating an Ecuadorian has given me the greatest insights into Ecuadorian cultures, has broadened my horizons, and has given me a wonderful boyfriend and companion. Could it get much better?
**written with the knowledge and blessing of my awesome boyfriend 😉