Tender, not Tinder

Delving into Public Displays of (Over)Affection

By Alyssa Yurasits

 

Swipe right for a one-night-stand, left for rejection: that’s the only type of dating I know.  In the concrete jungle where I’m from, Tinder dominates the love game. Most New Yorkers who are seeking a connection with another 20-something year-old know someone with a profile on the online hook-up app.  The Facebook-connected app shows you your potential love interest’s photo and you take it from there. The Tinder culture is built around smartphones and superficiality.

 

Typical Tinder ice-breaker. Photo courtesy of Meghan Gambichler.

Typical Tinder ice-breaker. Photo courtesy of Meghan Gambichler.

Sure, there are the beautifully-rare Tinder love stories; but they always seem to be prefaced with the typical “we met on Tinder, but it’s not what you think” disclaimer; because in Tinder-world, “Hey” means “You interested?” and “What brings you to Tinder?” is coupled with an underlying “Please say sex” internal plea.

And, of course, “I’m not looking for a hookup” means “I’m totally looking for a hookup” possibly in the back seat of his beat-down Honda Accord.

So it was a bit of a culture shock when I stepped into the fairytale-looking city of Prague to find it filled with lovey-dovey couples – and I’m not talking about the tourists. Czech boyfriend-girlfriend pairs seem to be everywhere: in the café, on the street, riding the metro, everywhere. They can’t seem to keep their hands off of each other. In a 15-minute commute, I ran into at least 10 of these couples – and that’s just in the morning.

At 8:40 a.m. I stand behind a couple having a private “conversation” between kisses. Is it really possible to say anything substantial when you’re constantly being interrupted by someone else’s face?

At 8:45 a.m. my body is squished against a cuddling couple in the metro. Praying for the moment to end, I feel someone’s hand stroking my back in an awkward case of mistaken identity. Have they ever heard of personal space?

At 8:55 a.m., I find myself playing Red Rover, slamming my body into a pair of love-birds and breaking apart their laced-finger grip as I rush past. God forbid they let go of one another for even a moment.

 

Photo courtesy of Dom (Flickr)

Young Czechs in love? Photo courtesy of Dom (Flickr).

So does all the Czech PDA actually embody something more? In pursuit of this inquiry, I turned to my go-to crew for insight into all things Prague-related: my ESL students at Czech Technical University. Putting the lesson plan on hold, I began my investigation.

“Has anyone heard of Tinder?” I asked the 16-person group of 20-something year-olds, testing the waters for love or lust.

“And, of course, “I’m not looking for a hookup” means “I’m totally looking for a hookup” possibly in the back seat of his beat-down Honda Accord.”

Silence and blank stares followed. After a quick explanation about the one-night-stand “dating” app, I received looks of sheer horror.

“Is that not how dating works in the Czech Republic?” I asked.

The room burst into conversation – stories, questions, and lyrics from familiar love songs – protesting this idea of lust replacing love. All 16 of the students insisted that they preferred to be in relationships, real relationships, as opposed to swiping right for hookups.

Alessio shamefully shook his head at the idea.

“A relationship is very beautiful, because you can share a lot of things with your partner,” he explained.

Alisher agreed, adding “it is good when you have someone near because a significant other is the perfect person to share your experiences with, to hold in your heart as well as in your arms.”

Jakub spoke about Katka – 21 and already living together – going on and on about helping her shop for gluten-free foods and loving every minute of their Wednesday movie nights together.

“Then, after a bit of hesitation, as if searching for the right words, Max spoke. With a shy smile on his face at all times, he turned the classroom into a stage for hopeless romantics. “I’m married to the better part of me,” he said.”

This whole idea of intimacy and being together kept coming into the conversation. But, my ice-cold heart was not buying it. I needed something more than togetherness to believe that the couples I had been seeing all over the place have a legitimate reason for showing so much affection.

When Vera mentioned visiting her boyfriend after class, I could almost imagine the non-stop I-missed-you-all-day-let-me-kiss-your-face-endlessly reunion.

Apparently aware of my skepticism, she smiled. “We’ve been together for three years,” adding an estimated date of their should-be-summer wedding before quickly explaining, “it isn’t about marriage; I just want to live my life with him.”

Then, after a bit of hesitation, as if searching for the right words, Max spoke. With a shy smile on his face at all times, he turned the classroom into a stage for hopeless romantics.

“I’m married to the better part of me,” he said.

The words cut through all of the other dating chatter. I glanced at the two folded hands resting before him, awe-struck at the gold loop circling his left ring finger. How had I not noticed?

Photo courtesy of MyDear Valentine (Flickr)

Saying yes to a life together. Photo courtesy of MyDear Valentine (Flickr).

All eyes on him, Max wiggled in his seat, his shoulders lifting up a little straighter. Unlinking his fingers and fumbling with his wedding ring, he continued. Her eyes, her smile, all the ways to make her laugh – he knew it all. He went on and on about their life together, winter days spent cooking, reading, and telling stories – he loved it all. No one could replace this woman. After all, she is not just his wife; she is part of his life, part of him.

“Wait, is anyone else married?” I laughed in my only defense against the love bug that was infesting the air.

Smiling back at me, they all shook their heads “no” before continuing to tell stories about first dates, nights ending with the perfect kiss, and the magic of moving in together.

I listened to recaps of family dinners, art museum dates, and surprise yellow flowers after a hard day at work. Every Cinderella story made it harder and harder to call this stupid PDA thing anything other than love. It was standing right in front of me in that classroom, just as it stands in front of me on every street corner in Prague. Only this time, I wasn’t rolling my eyes.

Alyssa Yurasits is in the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study Class of 2016. Her hometown is Massapequa, New York.

This article was adapted from an assignment for the travel writing class at New York University in Prague.

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Categories: Culture, Spring 2014 Issue Number 2

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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