Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Bologna, Italy

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Emanuela, 37

What's the dating scene like here in Bologna?
This is a town of sissies. There's been a reversal of roles: men have become more effeminate, so women have had to become more masculine. So now it's the woman who has to chase after the man, and the man doesn't want to give it to you. Men don't have any sexual instinct, they have no desire, and even when they do, they can't get it up.

So much for the myth of the Italian lover.
Because it's just a myth! I have my own theory of why men are like this, and I'm talking about the men in this town, because it's different in other places.

Tell me your theory.
I think it's the distorted relationship they have with their mothers. The mothers here are omnipresent. They do everything for their sons, even when they're forty, and I'm telling you because I've seen it. To give you an example, the son of my ex-landlady, thirty-nine-years old, he still brought his clothes to his mom for her to iron, he had dinner at his mom's house every night, he kept his relationships secret because his mom wouldn't approve. It's sick — and the man starts to think, well, why do I need a woman when I have mom who does everything for me. So at least don't pretend to be a macho man if you're just a ricotta.

What do you look for in a man?
I want a man to be a man. I want a man who's always in charge, in daily life as well as in the bedroom. I can't stand over-sensitive guys — you know, the ones that you have to buy them ice-cream or give them Midol because they suffer from PMS. Women here end up believing that this is the norm, but it's not true. If you go to the south of Italy, where I've lived for some time, it's different. Courtship is still a prerogative of men. They call you, they bring you presents, if you show them you're interested they'd never chicken out.

Do you think men are scared of you?
I think men here are scared of women who show personality, who've had unusual experiences in their lives, because they're used to having much younger girls who put them on pedestals, who have no personality, so they can have absolute control over them. If you've had experiences of a certain kind, like I have, having lived abroad for example, men feel threatened in their masculinity because they don't know how to handle you. So they put themselves in competition with you, but they know they're going to lose. Like, they tell you they've spent a weekend in Milano Marittima or a week in London and they think they're really something.

Let's see if all of this holds true. Tell me about your last date in Bologna.
I met this guy through work. He wasn't really that cute, but he seemed nice, and seemed to have a personality. So one night he asks me out for a drink. Well, he talks about his ex-girlfriend the whole time; he tells me everything. They've just broken up because she cheated on him for the second time, and he tells me all the details, that she was bisexual… I mean, do I really need to know all that?! I was at a loss. And then he tells me about this place where the two of them used to go to watch people having sex and asks me if I want to go with him.

What did you say?
I changed the subject. So then the second time we went out…

Wait, you went out with him a second time?!
Well, yeah — I wanted to score. So we did have sex, and right after it, he starts telling me about the house where he lived with the ex-girlfriend, that apparently it was haunted. So we're lying in bed, we've just finished having sex, and, you know, you expect some cuddling… and he talks about ghosts. It was kind of surreal, so I got dressed and left.

Did you see him again after that time?
Yes, but it was random. We met at a bar. He was there with his cousin, who was even creepier than him if possible. So the cousin was talking and talking and at one point he says, well, if you guys go out again and have sex, I can watch you while you do it.

So have you lost all hope?
No, actually, please mention, I'm single and looking. And multi-talented.

Michele N., 37, and Michele D., 37

What do you do?
MN: I'm a lawyer.
MD: I'm a lawyer too.

Did you ever hook up with a client?
MD: No, and by the way that would go against the lawyers' code of conduct… although you could make exceptions to the rule.
MN: No, you couldn't. The code of conduct forbids that.

Okay, let's put the legal stuff on the back burner and focus on juicier issues. I just talked to a woman who said that men nowadays aren't manly enough, that they're scared of women with personality, that it's up to women to chase now. What do you think about that?
MD: I think in part it's true, and I think it's due to the emancipation of women. But also, the younger generations do have less personality. I never met a woman who took the initiative when I was younger. It was always the man who approached a woman.
MN: I think it has to do with laziness too. Also, men don't want to make their intentions too clear for fear of making fools of themselves.
MD: I think men are more fearful because women have changed. Women are no longer shy, so men feel intimidated.

What's a girl gotta do with the I'm-so-scared type of man?
MD: A woman must send some signal to the man that she's interested. It's part of the game. I may have a retro mentality, but I still think that courting and seducing a woman, even if it's more difficult and requires more work, is still more gratifying.
MN: Yes, I agree that the woman should send some signal.
MD: But it should be subtle and elegant.
MN: She needs to make him understand she's interested. I have the sensation that many women are stuck up.
MD: Yes, especially in this town!

Why, what are the women like in Bologna?
MD: Well, I've always joked that the average Bolognese woman walks twenty feet above the ground. The typical Bolognese woman is difficult to approach, she's stuck up, she thinks she's more important than what she really is.
MN: I agree. Many times the women here aren't sincere, and they place all the emphasis on looks, rather than on who they are.
MD: So much so that they seem clones of one another. There is a standardization. I've never dated women from here. They were always from someplace else — Mantua, Milan, Bolzano…the United States.

United States? Did you have an American girlfriend?
MD: Yes, I even married her. Twice. First in the U.S., and then in Italy.

Congratulations! What are the differences between American women and Italian women?
MD: It's a difficult question for me to answer because, except for my wife, I don't really know American women that well. But I can say that, unlike Italian women, and Bolognese women in particular, American women seem to be more approachable and they seem to appreciate a certain type of chivalry from the man. They seem to be more authentic and to appreciate a man taking the initiative because American men don't do that. At least that's what my wife told me. She said she knew that I wanted to go out with her three minutes after we had started talking, which she'd never experienced with an American man.

So what do you do to seduce a woman?
MD: Well, you show your interest by being present. If you go out in a group, you sit next to her, you talk to her, maybe you even say silly things, but you show her your interest by paying attention to her. And then of course you ask for her phone number.
MN: I do the opposite instead — I show indifference. So I can understand if there's real interest from the other side.
MD: He's the cryptic type of guy.
MN: Yes, I don't like to give myself away.

What do you do if you meet a girl that you like and she's also cryptic, or just shy?
MN: I give it up. Amen. I'll just have to find a girl who's not shy and cryptic like me. I don't like to make the first move. I'm more like American men. To tell you the truth, this tactic doesn't really pay off. But at least you don't embarrass yourself.

Marriage kills love. Do you agree?
MD: No, I disagree. Love manifests itself in different ways. I've been married for eight years, which is enough time to see the evolution of a relationship. So I can say that while marriage doesn't kill love, it can kill passion. Love is a different thing. There's more connection on the mental level because you know the other person better. You know what the other person needs. But passion definitely wanes.
MN: I actually think marriage gives a positive turn to the relationship. You can love someone, but if you don't go through daily life together the way marriage or living together forces you to do, it's not the same. It's not so much marriage, it's habit that kills the passion.

What can you do to keep the passion alive?
MD: Nothing. It's physiological that passion fades. To keep it as it was in the beginning is impossible, or at least very, very difficult. You constantly need to find new incentives, to reinvent the relationship. It's not easy. You also have to consider that often when you get married you tend to become comfortable in the relationship, so the fact that passion weakens isn't only due to the passing of time but also to your behavior in the relationship as a married person. You get too comfortable.
MN: That's like shooting your marriage to death. You always have to question yourself. Always do something different, even if you're going to experience something negative. Difficulties unite a couple. Habit kills it, but difficulties and change keep it alive. Like a difficult trip together. For five years in a row, for my summer vacation with an ex-girlfriend, we went to the exact same place in Florida. One year we decided to change and went to South America instead. It was a difficult trip — it wasn't relaxing and comforting the way it was going to Florida — but it was one of the best trips of my life. With Florida, I can't even remember which year I did what.

Angela, 33

Do you have a boyfriend?
I do, but I don't like the terms boyfriend/girlfriend.

I don't like to be labeled. I've always found it hard to say “my boyfriend.” When I say boyfriend, it's just because it's the quickest way to explain who he is. But I usually prefer to say he's Andrea, the person who is with me. I grew up with a complete sense of freedom. My parents taught me to be completely independent, both personally and financially. The idea of “having a boyfriend” brings me to the stereotypical concept of the couple, that you can't live without the other. Andrea and I are simply two people who are good together. I also don't like romanticism. It embarrasses me. I'm certainly not the type who watches the night sky with my boyfriend. That makes me laugh.

So, this Andrea, how long have you been together?
Four years. But we met a year before we actually got together. I was living in Rome at the time. I wasn't even interested in him when I met him — I was totally into someone else at the time. I kept seeing him because he was friends with my roommate and would always come over. But I didn't even pay attention to him. Actually, for a while I thought his name was Alessandro.

Did you ever tell him?
A lot later in the relationship! He also didn't like me, by the way — he thought I was a bitch because I wasn't socializing with him. But a year later I found myself completely alone in Rome and I was at that stage when you start thinking that you're alone. Your friends have their own lives and they start making families. And my friend who just couldn't listen to me anymore told me Andrea was also alone and that I should go out with him. So I did, and I realized I could actually have something with him.

And you've been together ever since.
Well, it's been a long journey. We were on and off until basically last September. He's almost six years younger than me. He moved to Bologna at one point and I was still in Rome. He started going out with a group of friends and thought he was too young to be in a serious relationship. We disappeared from each other's lives for a few months and I was devastated. Then we started talking again after I sent him a song via chat that I thought he would like. But it was a slow reconciliation. We're actually going to move in together next month.

Do you feel comfortable about that?
I'm terrified! I'm especially scared of boredom.

What are you going to do to avoid boredom, to keep things interesting?
I have no idea! The worst thing is when you get home at night, you sit down to dinner and you don't talk, and it's not because you're not interested, but you just don't know what to tell each other. So I'm scared of that, and that we'll start doing everything together. It's strange — it was so painful for me when he kept running away from me, but now that I have him, I feel I also need my space, my time alone. Although I do prefer being in a relationship to being alone. I guess I'm the conflicted type.

Does he ever surprise you?
All the time. He's completely unpredictable, even with himself.

Is the age difference ever a problem?
It can be. It depends if I listen to my physiological self. I don't feel thirty-three, and I don't necessarily have the same needs as the average thirty-three-year-old woman — you know, family, kids — but sometimes I think about having a child, and it's something I don't even want to talk about with him because it's not the right time. It will have to come naturally. I don't want to pressure him — it's not something I do.

Are you friends with most of your exes?
I like to be friends with my exes, but it's not always possible.

Like when?
Like when you have an ex whose new girlfriend is crazy. I was with my ex for twelve years. Of course we stayed friends when we broke up. But the new girlfriend, I later found out, hired a detective to follow me to make sure there was nothing between me and my ex. One day he called me in tears because she had left him. She claimed that there was still something between us because I was still wearing the ring he gave me, and I was like, wait, how does she know I'm wearing your ring? I had never met her. So that's how I found out about the detective.

Are you still wearing his ring?