I would like to begin this article with the disclaimer that I am writing about my own experience of dating and falling in love in London. That is to say, this account comes from the perspective of a straight, white, monogamous, cis gender gal from America. I cannot claim to speak for other identities in the London dating community, nor do I pretend that I have in any way a comprehensive grasp of the scene. What I can say is that London is a hugely diverse city. The city is bursting with students, but also full of young professionals. Also remember that most Londoners were not born in London, many will be foreigners like yourself. In any case, whatever it is that you might be looking for you have as good a chance as anyone finding it there.
However the course of true love never did run smooth. I can personally attest that shifting from dating/hookup scene on a small, northeastern college campus to a huge, global city like London is, all at once, exciting and intimidating. Read on to learn my tips and tricks to dating and falling in love abroad.
Kicking off with the sexy stuff, personal security should be at the forefront of your mind when embarking on your dating adventures abroad. While many of the same rules apply in this context as on your home campus, given that you are in a new city in a foreign country you must be extra vigilant. For example, be aware that the way you sound will give you away as a foreigner and may put you in a position of increased vulnerability.
My advice is simple, be smart and pay attention. When meeting people from online, do it in a public place. Get to know someone before going home with him or her. If you chose to have sex with anyone, (for the love of god) use protection. I can imagine that nothing stunts an experience abroad quite like a pregnancy scare or a surprise burning sensation when you pee.
Side note: If you do run into any issues of this sort, locate your nearest sexual health or “GUM” clinic and remember that the immigration health surcharge you paid as part of your Student Visa should cover NHS medical care.
Tinder and the like
This is the part where my expertise falls short because I never got beyond Tinder. What I can say is that I fully understand the frustration of swiping to the end of the line in a tiny college community. When you get to London that will no longer pose a problem because, as the saying goes, there really are a lot of fish in the sea.
I studied abroad for a year at the London School of Economics, and the first two weeks were the most stressful of my life. During this time I was picking my classes, establishing a bank account, getting a UK phone number, finding my way around a new campus, learning London’s public transportation system, and desperately trying to find a place where I could buy some oven mitts. My new friend, Sara (also American) and I would return to our half-furnished flat at the end of each day and proceeded to binge eat cookies from Sainsbury’s and stress-swipe on Tinder.
Weirdly enough, it worked. I matched with my current boyfriend, we talked for about a week before going on a date and the rest is history. Side note: I cannot promise that your first Tinder date abroad will yield you an amazing British boyfriend. Like I said, I can only speak from my own experience (humble brag).
Dating in London
For a first date, I would highly recommend getting drinks. It’s casual, less expensive than a meal, and low risk in the respect that the evening can last as long as you want (or alternatively as briefly as necessary). Furthermore, pubs and bars underpin the entire British social system. The fact of the matter is when meeting new people most English guys are more relaxed with a drink in hand.
Side note: London is expensive and thus dating in London is expensive. Cultural practices vary, but in general I would suggest that you offer to split the bill.
Beyond drinks and meals, here are a few romantic date suggestions that get you out and about around London:
- Show off your general knowledge at a Pub Quiz
- Go for a walk along the Thames or in one of London’s many parks
- Picnic on Primrose Hill overlooking the city
- Explore one the city’s amazing and varied markets
I have to say, having a British boyfriend is really awesome. Beyond the amazing accent, I have a bona fide native to show me around and introduce me to local people. I even worked out my own private homestay in the form of going home with him for a weekend to meet his parents. In the end I achieved peak social emersion among all my other American study abroad friends. So if you need another reason to fall in love abroad you might try considering it a culturally enlightening experience.
Side note: You might be thinking “But what if I don’t score an awesome boyfriend abroad?” Given that London is the land of Bridget Jones this is a very real possibility. Does that mean you can’t have an amazing and immersive experience abroad? NO! Join a sports club or special interest society, make friends in class with non-study abroad students, volunteer at a local organization, or use your IFSA contacts or career services office at your host University to get an internship. The city is your Oyster and at the end of the day it is your attitude and NOT your boyfriend that will get you where you want to go.
Return and reverse culture shock
The obvious drawback to falling in love during your year abroad is that, ultimately, you have to return home. Not only do I have to finish my degree, but also the UK Home Office does not take kindly to students overstaying their visas. Reverse culture shock is real, and to make matters worse I had to readjust to an American college style of learning and socializing while simultaneously pioneering my first long distance relationship.
So before you dive into the dating scene abroad, think about what kind of commitment you are looking for – and be honest with yourself. Beyond that, stay safe, keep swiping, and have fun!
I will be returning to London next year to get a Masters degree in social medicine. I have been offered a place to study International Health Policy and the London School of Economics (my study abroad alma mater) and also at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for Public Health. I will make my final decision in June, pending funding decisions. I was inspired to apply for these programs based on an awesome internship that I had at a healthcare financing and policy consultancy during my time abroad. The British Boyfriend and I have plans to stay together for the foreseeable future.