I’ve just had brunch with two expats who have both spent well over a year living in Rome. We got into quite a debate because I mentioned that I still believe Italian males can be romantic and complete gentlemen. Try saying this in any piazza, discoteca or appartamento among female expats with some decent time clocked in bella Italia and you’re likely to be dismissed as naive, braggadocious or both. When I first moved to Rome, I certainly found myself on dates with less than chivalrous types, however, the majority of my experiences have confirmed the whimsical idea of courtship in my head when I first stepped off the plane with my 35-kilo suitcase at Fiumicino. One of my friends said she thinks I’ve just been lucky, while the other countered my protestations with one simple question: “Why then is every beautiful charming intelligent girl we know in Rome still single?” That shut me up.
I defend Italians with relentless fervour, but never more so than on the topic of love. My anecdotes of hopeful romantic encounters range from “What about that guy who I met who took me straight home to meet his family and didn’t even try to get me into bed?” to “Or what about that boy who planned a series of surprises in fairytale locations that took months of planning?” But am I simply the fool choosing to see what she wants to see? Rome is, alla fine, a patently poetic city that has historically attracted the independent female romantic perhaps more than any other place on earth. This is a city that enchants women who are inherently feminine and sensual; aesthetes dismayed by the culture of tracksuits and ugg boots back home who take pride in their style and appearance. These are women who are generally spontaneous and open-minded by nature, by virtue of the fact that they’ve uprooted themselves to live and work in a foreign-speaking country with challenging job options. So let’s recap, we’ve essentially got a bunch of girls who are romantic, well-dressed, independent enough to pay their own way yet cultured enough to revere century-old tradition AND they’re socially intriguing given they’ve all lived in at least two countries. Complete dream girl territory, right? Why is it then that so few female expats have anything good to say about the dating scene?
One of these friends at the brunch blames it all on Italy’s economy. “None of these guys are enjoying professional success or making real money and that makes them bitter and insecure.” I’m not so sure but she could be right. It’s possible that I’m clinging obstinately to this idea that romance in Rome still exists because I guess I want to believe that in spite of a global dearth of Prince Charmings, if love were going to happen anywhere, your chances are just that little bit better in the Eternal City.