Dating in Sweden might conjure up dreamy images of candlelit dinners in minimalist Nordic apartments, or snowy hikes with well-toned nature lovers.
Or orgies with buxom blondes.
But international professionals — there are more than half a million foreign citizens of working age in Sweden according to national statistics — hoping to find a relationship face a challenge in a nation that boasts the highest proportion of singles in Europe.
Is there any country where finding a relationship isn’t a challenge? Sure, Thailand and Russia are good for men, but for women? I get the feeling this article is going to say as much about the people looking for a relationship as it does about Sweden.
But, behind the numbers is a cultural norm that almost outright promotes being single. Swedish cities are full of compact homes carefully designed for independent living. Even in the capital Stockholm, in the grip of a major housing shortage, it’s still more affordable to live alone than it is in many other hubs for global talent like London or San Francisco.
Do “international professionals” in London and San Francisco really go dating to share the bills?
For expats like Raquel Altoe, 34, the novelty of working in one of the most single societies on the planet has a distinct downside.
“I moved here three years ago, I’m still single and it’s a super-frustrating situation, because I love everything else about Sweden,” says the Brazilian, who works for a business research start-up in Stockholm and, like many thirtysomethings, has hopes of settling down.
She’s 34 and has hopes of settling down. That’s nice, but I don’t think it’s being in Sweden that is the problem here. See, most blokes settle down in their late twenties and early thirties. At 34 she’s going to be looking in the 34-42 age range of available men, which means divorcees, players, and hopeless cases who either don’t know what they want or no woman wants them. She’d face the exact same difficulties in any country, not just Sweden. I hear the laments of single women in their 30s complaining about the dating options in Paris and London, asking where are all the men. Answer: married to women who got their act together when they were 29.
“I have no trouble getting a first date,” she adds. “But finding something longer term is much harder here.”
She’s found Tinder, then. Again, this says more about her than Sweden.
Sweden is frequently ranked among the most attractive locations in the world for expats, thanks to its high standard of living, flexible working culture and abundant nature.
Swedes are also the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, which helps provide a soft landing for fluent newcomers.
I’m surprised about this. I have friends who’ve lived in Sweden and thought the Danes and Dutch spoke English better. But anyway.
But a report released by Statistics Sweden in 2015 revealed that only one in four people who relocated to Sweden as singles had found a partner after five years.
Hmm. The report is in Swedish and my name is not Olaf, but I’d be interested to see if this was the same for both men and women. I have a sneaking suspicion this article might actually be about how hard it is for mid-career women to date in Sweden, not men.
The study concluded that economic migrants from other Nordic and EU countries were even less likely to get together with a Swede than those who’d fled conflict or moved for family reasons.
Uh-huh. What’s the betting 99% of those fleeing conflict and marrying a Swede are men? I bet there are not many Iraqi women refugees hooking up with Swedish men.
Dr David Schultz, an American psychotherapist who has lived in Sweden for 13 years, agrees that expat dating struggles may be tied to cultural differences that are broader than just the independent mind-set of Swedes.
“A lot of my clients struggle with socialising here, in general. Swedish people don’t tend to talk to strangers much in public areas like the subway or buses or the supermarket,” he explains. “So it may feel like a lonely society to a foreigner.”
For a start, if you’re going to a psychotherapist to discuss why you can’t get a date you’ve probably got issues that are unrelated to Sweden. Secondly, how is this different from anywhere else? Parisians won’t talk to you on the subway even if you’ve been lost down there for days and are near to death from starvation.
Schultz suggests that, although not all singles are unattached by choice, Swedes are also perhaps less conventional than other nationalities when it comes to relationships, thanks to “a more liberal society”.
“You can be with someone but not live together, marriage isn’t such a strong thing, you can have children and not be married. It’s a whole different culture [relative to many other countries] in some ways,” he says.
So Swedes like being single. Okay.
The Nordic country’s strong emphasis on gender-equality leaves women much less likely to depend on men financially than in most places. The average age for a first marriage is 33 for women and 35.7 for men, according to Eurostat. (It’s 27 for women and 29 for men in the US by comparison.) Childcare is highly subsidised, making mothers less dependent on having a partner to pitch in for income. Sweden’s divorce rate is the highest in the EU.
So like in a lot of enlightened Western countries, Daddy Government has replaced the need for a woman to find (and hold onto) a man, and the men are increasingly just giving up on long term relationships. The million dollar question is does this substitution bring about happiness? Judging by articles bemoaning the lack of dating options and the amount these Nordics drink, I’d say not. It’s going to be interesting when the kids move out, isn’t it? Can you buy futures in cat sales?
“It’s very different for me, coming from a more macho culture,” says Altoe. “I have no problem splitting the bill, but it can be confusing. Should I be more assertive here? Should I make the first move? Or do I still wait for the guy to make the first move?”
You’re confused! How do you think the men feel?
However Sweden’s more egalitarian norms do benefit many expats, including American divorcee Rachel Matchett, 36, who moved to Stockholm with her Bulgarian then-husband.
“We broke up [here] when my son was three and it was affordable for me to live alone in Sweden in a way it would not have been in the US, or in Japan, where we had lived previously,” says Matchett, who now has a boyfriend. She adds that the “practically free” day care is also a big plus for independent living.
You mean you might have had to work to keep the relationship together – like you did in less generous countries – rather than sponge off the taxpayer? How does the three year old kid like your new boyfriend? Sorry, but an expat professional using the term “practically free” day care alongside “independent living” grates somewhat. Income tax in Sweden kicks in at 31% above $2,690 per year, i.e. there is almost no tax-free threshold. I wonder what hospital cleaners working minimum wage think about being taxed in order to look after the offspring of an American and a Bulgarian?
Anyway, my guess is that none of this is unique to Sweden only the situation is exacerbated by a long-running government policy of removing the incentives for women to get married and stay that way. I’d also guess that the problem is far more acute for women over 30 than men, despite the BBC wheeling out a coloured British man to balance out the article a bit (the other man mentioned, an Australian of 32, has found somebody).
That said, there might be another explanation which I heard from a Russian girl who lived in Stockholm for a while: Swedes are fucking weird!