Understanding El Gringo Frio.
I was in Guatemala the first time a Latina girlfriend told me, “Ebans, tu eres frio.” (Evan, are you cold). At the time, were we sitting in a local coffee shop in Antigua, Guatemala sharing a cafe con leche (coffee with milk). She was surprised that I was not sitting beside her holding her hand. To her, boyfriends usually sit on the same side of the table. To me, it was awkward.
That day was the first time I was called “frio” by a Latina, but it certainly would not be the last. Different Latina girlfriends from different Latin American countries would periodically label me as frio. I was not sure why. In the States, I had semi-successful relationships with Gringas. Some of my ex-Gringa girlfriends would happily recite a laundry list of my imperfections, but being unromantic probably wouldn’t rank among their complaints.
Being labeled frio made me a bit self-conscious. Was I indeed acting cold and unromantic? If so, how could I become more cariño (affectionate) in the eyes of Latinas? Being considered El Gringo Frio (the un-affectionate Gringo) by Latinas would be fatal to my Latin dating life.
In order to rid myself of frioness, I tried to mimic some of my Latino amigos. I stocked my Itunes music library full of romantic songs by Marc Anthony, Tony Dize, and Luis Enrique. I adopted more affectionate Latino embraces and puppy love phrases. To top it off, learning to dance to Latino music became a top priority. I did not want to be El Gringo Frio any longer.
The results were mixed. While dancing to Latin music definitely helped, reciting romantic lyrics from Marc Anthony or other romantic songs made me feel incongruent. Something was never quite right about a green eyed Gringo whispering, “Suavemente besame, que quiero sentir tus labios” (Gently kiss me, I want to feel your lips).
Then, one day I read about an interesting study. Researchers from the University of Florida observed couples from around the world having a cup of coffee. In London, couples rarely touched each other. In Paris, 110 touches were observed per coffee. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, it was 180. A person’s culture greatly affects their dating behavior.
*** More on this topic: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
For the sake of simplification, Gringo dating culture is closely related to the seldom touching Londoners, while Latinos would be similar to fellow Puerto Rican Latinos. After reading the study, I finally understood why my Latina girlfriends perceived me to be frio.
Generally speaking, Latin culture is more romantic and loving. Latinos warmly contact lovers and loved ones more, both physically and verbally. Physically, this can be seen in their greetings. They kiss on the cheek instead of shake hands. They are also more willing to publicly demonstrate affections (think 180 touches per coffee). Latin dances are often performed “bien pegados” (super close). Latin culture is truly a culture of contact.
Verbally, Latinos have more contact with their lovers and loved ones. They are more likely to refer to them with terms of endearment. It doesn’t matter if you are Gringo, it will not be long before you are called, “Mi amor” or “Mi vida”. Latinos also have more contact with their families. It is customary for a Latina daughter and mother to talk multiple times a day on the phone.
Even though it is very apparent, the majority of Gringos are slow to notice this cultural difference. I sure was. Thus, we are confused when our love ones directly or indirectly point out our perceived frioness. To Latinas, we are acting cold and unloving, while we think we are behaving perfectly normally.
It is important to be cognizant of a person’s dating norms. For example, a Gringa might consider you needy if you called her three times a day. While, many Latinas would expect you to call at least that often. A Gringa might consider you touching her 180 times at coffee or on a park bench as too touchy-feely for a public setting. While, a Latina would probably consider you a cariño (a sweetheart). Successful dating relationships require you to adapt to (or at least recognize) your partner’s dating expectations. Most people do not.
Yet, I want to be careful not to oversimplify. Gringos Frios, who are unwilling to change, may have dating success with Latinas. There are a number of Latinas who are fed up with Latino men. They complain that their romantic behavior is short lived because they get too comfortable in relationships too quickly. They stop caring. Worse yet, some have a tendency to cheat with other women (sometimes with other men, as the inside joke in Panama goes…). As one of my amigas put it, “Osea, Gringos are a bit frio. But at least they continuously try to be a little romantic and they don’t cheat on me.”.
It has taken me a long time to understand El Gringo Frio. I still don’t completely act like a Latino when dating a Latina. Yet, I try my best to understand their dating expectations and try to be less frio. In truth, It would probably be best if all of us Gringos were a little less frio.