All you’ve always wanted to know about dating and getting engaged in the country of love
Silent cobble-paved streets and beautiful piazzas perfect for hand-holding and kissing. Terraces that offer spectacular sunsets, Tuscany’s vineyards, Venice’s canals, the Amalfi Coast cliffs, and the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites…
A country made for falling in love
Italy’s cities, towns, and natural environment seem to be purposefully crafted for lovers, and its restaurants and cafés built to shelter their moments together. But what do loving, dating, and getting engaged in the world’s undisputed land of love imply today?
How do relationships between Italians really work?
Dates, and relationships in Italy, a glossary
Language is of paramount importance when it comes to love, so let’s start by focusing on the Italian words used to describe relationships, and the people involved in them.
It may seem strange, but there’s no specific word for date, in Italian. The most popular term is “appuntamento”, which literally means “appointment”, or “meeting” and is used to describe all kinds of appointments. There are, however, two Italian phrases in which “appuntamento” clearly matches the English term date. These are “primo appuntamento”, i.e. “first date”, and “appuntamento amoroso”, literally “love date”.
Boyfriend and girlfriend in Italian
Today, the most commonly used Italian word for girlfriend is “ragazza”: “la mia ragazza” translates as “my girlfriend”. Likewise, “il mio ragazzo” is “my boyfriend” in the Italian language. When things get serious and there’s a formal engagement between the two, the words change. The Italian for engagement is “fidanzamento”, and the correct term for fiancé, in Italian, is “fidanzato” (male), or “fidanzata” for (female).
Culture and customs shape language: what “fidanzato”, fiancé in Italian, means today
Language, customs, and lifestyle are unquestionably linked, and the former, at least in its spoken form, varies along with the changes in behavior and traditions. Nowadays, numerous Italian couples are together for years before they get married, and many choose to live together too. Sharing a life naturally implies knowing each other’s families, and spending time, holidays, and celebrations together. Couples who are together for a while use the term “fidanzato/fidanzata” to describe their beloved, even if they are not formally engaged. And in many Italian regions, Tuscany for instance, it’s quite frequent to refer to one’s partner’s parents as “my inlaws” (“i miei suoceri”) even before marriage.
A typical Italian date night
Now that we’ve got the most important terms straightened out, let’s look at what dating entails in Italy, starting from what happens on a typical Italian “primo appuntamento”, a first date. Generally, a first date will include an aperitivo, i.e. drink before dinner, and/or dinner or a show, such as a concert or play.
Getting to the first date in Italy
More often than not, the couple will meet beforehand and go to the bar/restaurant/venue together, by car or scooter: Italians don’t have a great relationship with public transport, so no Italian over 18 would even dream of going on a first date by bus. The couple may also meet and walk, provided their destination is really close by. This might happen, for instance, for a first date taking place at the seaside, where it could include an evening seafront walk and gelato.
The role of food and drink
Eating and drinking are definitely part of the Italian dating game: whatever the plan, an “appuntamento amoroso” will virtually always include some sort of refreshment or meal. The apéritifs, lunches or dinners most popular among Italian couples on their first date aren’t necessarily fancy or formal, but they always include good food!
Second, third, fourth, etc. dates in Italy
If the first date goes well, there are bound to be many others to follow. At that point, time spent together will encompass any sort of activity or entertainment that meets the couple’s preferences. Favorites include pizza and a movie, day trips, weekends out of town, sports activities, and again meals and drinks.
Italian engagement traditions
What happens once the two get really close, decide to build a life together, and ultimately get engaged? Are there set Italian engagement traditions that people still honor today? Yes and no.
Bygone Italian engagement traditions
Back in the day, it was customary for the future groom to ask his bride-to-be’s father for her hand in marriage before asking the girl. Needless to say, they would commonly have what Jane Austen called “an understanding”, but the formal process called for obtaining the father’s formal approval before anything else. Once everyone closely implied had consented, the bride’s parents would host a reception to inform family and friends about the wedding. On this occasion, the groom-to-be would give his betrothed an engagement ring, and she would reciprocate with an equally valuable gift.
Today’s Italian engagements: the ring
The gift of an engagement ring is the only part of these time-honored Italian engagement traditions that is still heartfelt and important. Actually, very important. As current Italian engagement etiquette goes, the groom-to-be will give his beloved an engagement ring, and she will wear it on her left hand until the day of the wedding when she’ll put it on her right to leave her left free for the wedding ring. Both the betrothed consider the engagement ring to be a pledge, a promise to commit to getting married as soon as possible.
Italian engagement rings
The types of engagement rings preferred by Italians today include all three of the traditional ones, i.e. diamond rings, solitaires, and trilogies. Among diamond rings, one of the preferred styles is the “veretta”: called “eternity ring” in some countries, it’s a thin single band studded with small diamonds (or other gemstones) all around. Heirloom antique Italian engagement rings are also very popular, especially among important, ancient, and/or noble or historic Italian families. In these cases, the groom will give his betrothed a valuable antique engagement ring that has been passed down for generations, and the ring will then go to the couple’s children.
Celebrating an Italian engagement
This may come as a surprise, but there is no such thing as an engagement party or reception in Italy. What the couple will commonly do is host a lunch or dinner where relatives and friends can meet and mingle.