If you're single in Barcelona right now, you’re in good company. Along with the outdoors lifestyle and buzzing nightlife, the changing makeup of the city's residents is also working in your favour. Just as in the rest of Europe, people here are getting hitched later and starting to enjoy more single years than ever before (the average age at which the Spanish marry rose from 28.9 for men and 26.8 for women in 1995 to 36.2 for men and 33 for women in 2012). And, over the last few years, migration has brought about some key sociodemographic changes in the city. According to studies by Antonio López Gay of the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, the number of singles in the city is on the rise: while 80 percent of people that leave the city to settle down elsewhere live with their partner, the same is true for only 50 percent of those coming to the city.
So, for those singles with one eye out for a lasting relationship, it should be easier than ever to find a mate in the city. And yet, as singleton Rachel from the US says, "It's slim pickings out there. The guys I meet who I click with and who have potential seem to always just be in town for the weekend. There are the study abroad guys who are usually too young or they're too wasted to take down my number correctly. Then there are the sleazy types who I see making their way across the dance floor and immediately grab my friends to escape outside for some 'fresh air'". So, what's a single person to do once being single has lost its shine? Should they be sitting inside looking for love on their tablets or would they be better off taking the old-fashioned route of hitting a bar or joining a club? And, if they're foreign, how should they navigate the local dating scene? It seems there's no fit-all solution, but there's certainly no shortage of options.
Ostensibly to make things easier for us, a multi-million-euro industry, offering a plethora of new technological tools, has sprung up to help us find our soulmate. Any stigma once attached to online dating is long gone as today's twenty-somethings grew up with technology at their fingertips. Some of these websites and apps are focused on fleeting encounters, others claim to help you find your perfect life mate.
If you do choose the online route take heart that, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), over half of single Spanish people are right there with you.
In fact, Spain is one of the best markets for Meetic, one of the top three dating sites in the country which, in just over 11 years, has amassed a huge nine million users. According to Meetic the emphasis here is on forming friendships and lasting relationships. It is free to create a profile and browse the site but certain services require a subscription. Once you have paid your fee (from approximately 30 euros per month depending on your subscription type) you can, amongst other things, write to other members, have unlimited use of instant messaging, and see who has viewed your profile. This is also one of the few sites that offer some kind of guarantee. Not, alas, for eternal love, but you do get your money back if after one year you haven't met anyone half decent.
Other similar sites are Parship.es and Edarling.es which also have subscription charges. You'll need a little patience to sign up for Parship as, in order to help them help you, you have to fill in an 80-page questionnaire. They guarantee you a minimum of five contacts in six months or they'll give you back your subscription fee. Edarling is considered the most 'serious' of the top three. Subscribers tend to be a little older and the focus is very much on finding a long-term partner. Again, it involves a comprehensive questionnaire.
OKCupid is a free online dating service that uses an algorythm-based matching system. The user answers a series of questions and also rates how important each question is to them. Their match percentage is then calculated and appropriate matches are recommended with a compatibility percentage. Perhaps not the way that Cupid himself would have operated, but commendable for at least trying hard. Unfortunately, this site hit the news in the US this year for 'experimenting' with their users. The experiment consisted of telling people that incompatible people were, in fact, highly compatible, with the predicable result that people did indeed find them compatible. OKCupid's own research has also revealed, again not surprisingly, that even the most complex algorythm in the world is no competition for an attractive photograph.
And, if you can't be bothered with long surveys and algorythms, you can always take the bull by the horns and opt for one of the apps that make selecting a date as easy as ordering a pizza. They are free, instant and hugely popular. Criticised by many as being shallow and looks-biased, these apps are undoubtedly more suited to finding fleeting liasons rather than anything long-term. Although you could strike lucky in the love stakes, it's worth remembering that many of the people you meet up with are definitely not looking for a soulmate. King of the dating apps is the love-it or hate-it Tinder which allows you to search people in your local area using your profile data from Facebook. Tinder matches potential candidates based on where you are, number of mutual friends and common interests. You simply browse through pictures, swipe right to like or left to pass. If they like you back then you can start chatting and potentially meet for a date.
Jim, an English teacher from London who has lived here for five years, feels that Tinder creates disposable, short-term connections. Despite that, he is a self-confessed Tinder fan. He says the app “is not only an effective time waster for when you are bored, but also serves as an ego boost for when you are matched with someone you have previously ‘liked’”. After this online pairing comes a short conversation. These run the risk of petering out quickly as the user knows there is always another person waiting to be matched.
Rachel has a different opinion on the app. "Tinder is not for me. I am not a person who plans a one-night stand. And that's all Tinder is: a means of finding a hook-up with as little effort as possible. I get annoyed when I hear people trying to make it out to be more than that. Tinder only exists because straight singles were jealous of how much sex the gay community was having due to Grinder."
For people too sensitive to deal with the idea of people dismissing them with one swipe to the left, then Badoo is a more gentle way to meet people in one's local area. With over 24 million members worldwide, this is one of the fastest growing social networks for meeting new people and although it isn't marketed as an online dating service, it certainly acts as one. The basic service is free, allowing you to chat, upload photos and videos and connect with people that live in your area. There are also premium options available such as Spotlight and Rise Up, allowing your profile to be seen more easily and by more people.
A few years ago, before online dating really took off, speed dating and singles' nights were all the rage in Barcelona, with multiple events taking place each week. Perhaps not so popular as they once were, dating events are still alive and well and have some obvious advantages over online dating. They are time efficient, they go beyond the photo and many people appreciate meeting others in a safe and commitment-free environment. Dateclubconnect.com was founded in 2005 and arranges singles' events in Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga. An evening of meeting new people with Dateclubconnect will set you back €22. Curiously, the company sets slightly different age brackets for men and women. For men the ages are 30-40 or 39-49, whilst the women are between 28-38 and 37-47 for the same events. Dateclubconnect justifies this by saying that placing age restrictions helps to avoid disappointment. Their website claims that during an evening of speed dating—which consists of a series of five-minute dates—you will meet around 15 singles. Dateclub members are 60 percent Spanish/Catalan and 40 percent international.
Katy, 32, an English teacher from Birmingham who attended a speed dating event last year, said: “I wasn’t expecting much and my Spanish is pretty terrible, so five minutes felt like five hours with a couple of the men. I found a lot still lived at home with their mum and it seemed like speed dating was almost like an excuse for them to escape for the night (and meet some girls in the process)."
For others, the experience can pay off. 42-year-old Carmen from Valencia met her partner Frank, a 43-year-old hotel manager from the UK at a speed dating night. Both Carmen and Frank had used online dating sites with little success. "I was really tired of going on dates that turned out to be a waste of time. I wanted to meet potential partners but without the one-on-one stress of a proper date," says Carmen. Frank agrees, "I found internet dating very difficult and you know that so much depends on if the other person likes your face. Actually meeting someone before reaching any conclusions saves an awful lot of time and gives you an idea of who they actually are, not just what they look like."
There are other speed dating companies in Spain. Among the websites on offer here are www.happydates.es, which organises dating for straight as well as gay singles, and www.datingbarcelona.com, a local company that offers a range of events including slow dating (similar to speed dating but in small groups), singles travel and dinners.
For other events for singles, www.meetup.com has plenty to offer. Barcelona Social Singles holds various speed dating events each month and has a mixture of local and international residents.The group currently has 719 members.
A new meetup that started in September is Barcelona World Singles. This group welcomes all nationalities and ages to its Saturday night dinners.
Being a foreigner in the city certainly adds an extra twist to the already complicated world of dating. Like in most places, many locals meet their partners at university, work or through family and friends. Family ties are particularly strong in Spain and, to a foreign singleton, the city can feel empty on bank holidays as people get together for family gatherings.
Rachel also feels that the temporary nature of most foreigners' living in the city makes other people wary of long-term relationships with them. Her experience has been that many potential partners either shy away or assume that the relationship will be shortlived. "I have had numerous Catalan guys tell me that the instant a girl says she's British or American, two things come to mind: she must be easy and she'll be gone after the weekend. Even if you currently live here, that mindset is always present. And that attitude makes it difficult to be taken seriously by a potential partner. It's a hard reality to overcome when trying to make a real relationship work in the city".
John, 40, a business owner from Surrey, UK, who lives outside of Barcelona says he values the direct nature of women here and prefers that honesty. “I, myself, have become much more direct. You could say I have 'gone native' but really, the reason I feel comfortable here is because my real character, to which I am ever more true, is more similar to the local one than the typical English one. All I can say is that finding love in Catalunya is an increasingly easy and enjoyable process for me."
Jayne, a US-born Barcelona resident has also been lucky with her local dating. She has been married to her Catalan husband for eight years and they have two children together. Before meeting her husband she had a three-year relationship with another local man. "I don't remember feeling stereotyped in any way and my experience dating here was generally pretty positive. I was already 30 when I arrived here though and I was dating men in their thirties. Perhaps it would have been different if I'd been younger."
It's true that a lot of an individual's experience of dating, both online and offline, will depend on their age and the age of their ideal match. According to a recent study by online dating portal mobifriends.com, 52 percent of Spanish 20 to 29 year olds register online to ligar rather than find stable relationships. This drops to 42 percent in the case of people in their thirties.
The increase of foreigners in the city makes intercultural couples like Jayne and her husband more common and helps to reduce stereotyping.
The number of social groups, such as the Meetup ones, that are a mix of foreigners and locals, indicates that, not only are foreigners looking for effective ways to build networks and connect with people, but also that there are many locals that would like to connect with people from all over.
Like all big cities, when it comes to finding love, Barcelona has its pros and cons. For anyone without their family, school or university network close by, there can initially seem to be more cons than pros. Real-life social lives may seem to be reduced to foreigner-only circles and the online options can be overwhelming and badly suited to expectations. Getting over the obstacles takes some judicious use of online tools and investigation into social activities that bring you into contact with like-minded souls. Once you've moved passed the cons, there are plenty of pros to enjoy. Online dating is stigma free, the city is getting more and more used to folks from afar, and, of course, there's that outdoors lifestyle and buzzing nightlife. Surely enough for anyone to stand a chance of success in the world of dating. Whether it leads to romance or just some fun is a matter of personal choice.
Dating sites with subscription fee
Free dating sites
www.PoF.es (Plenty of Fish)
Singles meetups at www.Meetup.com
Barcelona Social Singles
Barcelona International Club
Barcelona World Singles
MY STORY by Polly Casson
"I met my current partner eight months ago via the website Meetic.es. I had previously experienced five years of largely dissatisfying dating here in Barcelona, but before I met Mark in January this year, I had changed my mindset sufficiently to be on the lookout for a whole new type of person.
I had entered the New Year with a new focus, and decided to restart internet dating. A friend was having some luck on Meetic and recommended it to me. Inspired by her colourful experiences I plunged right in. I began by signing up and paying for a three-month subscription. I met up with about six guys over a one-month period. I stuck to daytime coffee dates which changed the dynamic considerably.
All of the dates, bar my boyfriend Mark, wrote numerous in-depth emails regaling me with elaborate background stories. For me, they had all fallen into the trap of listing their virtues, and what they did or had done, rather than who they really were. They were largely from surrounding towns, and either lived with their parents, or if independent, seemed to lack worldliness and insight.
When Mark popped up in my inbox with a one liner of an email, I was thrown. To add to this uncertainty, he was 10 years younger than me, Bolivian and lived with his family! His photos held my interest (I am a sucker for trendy glasses and dark hair). His profile and self-presentation was simple and unadorned.
On the Friday of our first date, he casually asked me out for a drink at around 9pm: a sign of his relaxed, spontaneous nature. Three dates later he took me out for my birthday. Four dates later I met his best friends.
The irony of our situation is that out of all of the men that I met, Mark had the right energy and education and made me feel relaxed and encouraged. He also worked on the same road that I live on, and had been there for seven years: a nice coincidence to throw into the mix. I don’t believe that we would ever have met if it hadn't been for Meetic, which is food for thought. I smile thinking that he was down the road throughout my time in the neighbourhood, but that we just didn’t have the opportunity to cross paths.
I think that the nicest thing about our union is that it challenged some of my preconceived ideas about what I wanted or needed from a relationship. I was obviously open to having them challenged, but it’s refreshing to think that we can be so different in so many ways (culturally, lifestyle and character wise) and yet be compatible. He has added that extra dimension of sentimental happiness and satisfaction to my already wonderful life here in Barcelona.
My advice if you are looking for romance in Barcelona, would be to give yourself a little talking to about what you need, rather than what you think you want. Change long-standing patterns of behaviour when it comes to searching for a partner, and adapt yourself to what’s on offer in the city, social events-wise. Be brutally honest with yourself about your own ambitions love-wise, and the results should be positive."