Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Bologna, Italy

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Lorenzo, 24

What do you do?
I'm a software engineer at a local university.

So you're around students a lot. Does your job get you a lot of dates?
It depends on the years. No, I'm kidding. There's a lot going on among the students of course, but not so much among staff. And there are cameras everywhere — which I control, by the way — so no, no secret love affairs.

Are you seeing anybody right now?
Yes, but unfortunately this somebody is very far. She lives in Urbino.

Is it serious?
Not at all. I don't want anything serious.

How often do you see each other?
Every month, when it goes well.

Is there anybody you're seeing in Bologna?
No, although there's someone I like. But she has a boyfriend.

Did you tell her you like her?
I did. One night I managed to go out with her and a group of other friends. At one point, with the help of some alcohol — maybe too much alcohol, actually — I approached her and told her I was crazy about her and I thought about her all the time, which doesn't happen often to me.

How did she react?
She laughed. Really hard. And she kept walking. At that point I went home, quite desperate.

Have you talked to her since?
No, and I don't think I want to.

You were very brave, considering she has a boyfriend.
Yeah, well, he wasn't there that night.

What do you look for in a girl?
She must be smart and pretty. She must have some sexual spark. She shouldn't be predictable — I don't want someone who I know for sure is always there for me, always 100% available, always waiting for me.

Do you have any crazy exes?
Yes, this one girl who I met at my father's store. I asked her for her phone number, but instead of giving it to me, she gave me a different riddle to solve every time I saw her just to get one digit of the entire number. The height of it was when she gave me a Sudoku to solve.

Did you guess her phone number in the end?
No, I was finally able to get it from her because I insisted so much that she relented. So we started going out together, but she was crazy and obnoxious. She tended to overreact. So I ended it, and she totally flipped — she yelled at me, cried for hours, then disappeared, and I had to go look for her because I was worried. She travels the world now, working as a flight attendant.

It's comforting to know there are unstable flight attendants. Do you think that men are no longer predators and don't make their intentions clear?
Well, I think some boldness is missing from both sides.

Francesca, 25

What do you do?
I work for an insurance company in the customer-service department.

Do customers ever make advances to you on the phone?
Oh yes, all the time! They start with, "Miss, you have a really beautiful voice." Then they invite me out for coffee. Sometimes they've even asked me if I was married. And even when I responded that I was — not true — to make them stop, they wouldn't give up.

It's a difficult job.
Yes, especially since they're customers — I can't really treat them badly.

Are you seeing anybody right now?
Not right now, but I just went through a month of going out with three different guys.

Any luck?
No. One of them got really attached after going out just a couple of times, but I didn't want anything serious, so I backed out.

How do you back out?
Basically, I become elusive. I answer a text message after three hours, then I answer one text every three, things like that. Right now, I really get along with guys who live in different cities that are far enough away that we see each other only once a month. This way they don't become oppressive.

Do you have any crazy exes?
Yes, my ex-boyfriend became sort of a stalker when we broke up. We were together for two and a half years, and lived together for a year and a half. I ended it. Right after breaking up, he went through a phase where he acted like the perfect man, probably trying to win me back. All his flaws had disappeared. When he saw that it wasn't working, he went crazy and started texting me that he wanted to end his life, until one night he came to my house. I was out with my friends, and he kept texting me all night — "where are you, who are you with, I see your car here, who picked you up?" The day after, he apologized and was all sweet again. He still switches between moments of being normal and moments of craziness.

Why did you break up with him?
Because we had nothing in common. We didn't see that at first, when the passion and involvement were strong. But after a while, when those faded, I realized there was nothing real between us. I also don't seem to be able to get past the two-year mark in a relationship!

Is it true that men don't court women anymore?
It's impossible to be courted by a man! I go out a lot now that I'm single, but the times that men come talking to me are like one in ten. I'm also very naïve, so I don't always get it when a guy is interested.

What type of guy do you like?
He must be funny. It may sound like a cliché but a guy who makes you laugh gets you. He must be a bit irrational and peculiar. I tend to attract the troubled type.

Are you happy to be single?
Sort of. Sometimes I miss having someone, but I'm not ready for another serious relationship. I cherish my freedom too much right now.

Marco, 35

Are you seeing anybody right now?
Yes. Well, we're beyond the phase of "seeing" each other. It's more serious. But we don't call it a traditional relationship.

Why not?
We're good as we are without the need to make it official, to define ourselves as "a couple." We don't have a formal commitment.

What do you do that is different from traditional couples?
Nothing, really. We actually spend a lot of time with her family. Because she's from the south of Italy, she's very traditional. So we go out with her family a lot, mostly with her sister and fiancé who are around our age. But also with her mother when she's here in Bologna and not back home in the south.

How is your girlfriend, or whatever you want to call her?
She's very peculiar. Let's say she lives life very passionately.

Do you mean she overreacts to things?
Sometimes she does. But I balance it out — I play it down, trying to convey my attitude of serenity toward life.

How do you impress the ladies?
My approach is very soft. It's definitely not the Latin-lover approach. It's not aggressive or physical. It's more subtle. I try to instill some curiosity about myself in the person I'm interested in. If I sense that we have some common points, I play those up a bit, maybe I act more compatible than I really am. I mean, it's like in advertising — you have to place the product you want to sell. After that, I proceed with the classic moves.

Do you find your soft approach is successful?
Yes, many girls have found it intriguing.

Some women complain that men fear approaching women now — they back out, they don't make their intentions clear. Do you think it's true?
Men have definitely changed. But that's because women have fought for and reached equality of the sexes. So men have had to take a step back, even two or three, so that women could take some steps forward. So women shouldn't complain. They should meet us halfway. Otherwise, where's the equality?

Do you mean women have to give it to men sooner?
No, I mean they have to give it equal to the men! There's this idea that men only think about sex, but it's not true. It's just that men are ready sooner, while women like to preserve their sexuality longer. I guess it's part of the nature of women, but if men could wait just a little longer and women anticipated a little then it would be ideal. And men wouldn't be thought of as perverts.

I guess it also depends on the type of relationship you want.
Yes, of course. For example, with the girl I'm seeing now, when I realized it could become serious, I was happy to wait. Also for me now, sex isn't the primary goal. It should be more like the confirmation of a good relationship.

Do you have any crazy exes?
Yes, I have one. We were together for three years. She just had a completely unrealistic sense of life. She was totally okay with not having a job and living off of her parents. She was a parasite toward everybody — she constantly used people for her own good. But at one point it became pathological. She didn't even appreciate what other people did for her. It took me a while to realize that it wasn't just a phase for her, that it was her way of being.

What's the nicest thing a girl has ever done for you?
It was from a girl who wasn't my official girlfriend because she already had a boyfriend. I'd been teasing her for a while about how she couldn't act like girls you see on TV — you know, very provocative, scantily dressed. One night she surprised me with a little show in her bedroom. She'd worked on all the details I had been testing her on, from her "non-clothing" to the rest. I had described certain things that I wanted and she provided them all.

Can we know what these things were?
Well, no! But she did it in a very ironic way, so in the end the funny part prevailed.

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