There are more blunt reasons. I can be jealous, moody, stubborn, selfish, obnoxious (on balance I disagree with this analysis, but I’m reporting what I’ve been told): poor boyfriend material to any sane, balanced woman (the women I go out with however are rarely sane, and never balanced). My beauty, I’m often told, is more of the unconventional kind. I can crack a joke (at least when I take a girl out she seems to spend a lot of the time laughing…), can hold a conversation, and don’t have much of a problem with shyness. But I’m a crap cook, a bad dancer, can’t play the guitar, and have none of the other marketable skills that you put on your relationship CV when you apply for the job of someone’s life partner.
Yet I greatly enjoy the company of a woman, and enjoy dating. The thrill and excitement of meeting someone for the first time, inviting them out, getting to know them, flirting, teasing, provoking, discovering them: these are life’s joys.
Icelanders, as in most things, have their own unique approach to all this. Dating is something that has never quite caught on. Alda Sigmundsdóttir writes about it in her ‘Little Book of the Icelanders’, explaining how it’s not uncommon to “go home, sleep together, then figure out the next day if you really like each other”.
The Icelandic “fuck now, talk later” school of courtship has its own very obvious merits. It’s not so unfamiliar either: at the end of a night out in my home city of Leeds in the UK, leaving a club without a girl is rather like leaving a bookshop without a book.
But dating is an art, a slow seduction that requires a steadiness of hand and a sureness of touch. It is a sport that rewards its boldest competitors. Romance is a pleasant conversation over a drink, a few flirtatious texts, a couple of long late-night phone calls before bed, a dinner out in town, a walk in the park—before eventually getting on with what you’ve spent weeks, months or years putting off.
But the sex is in another league when you feel truly close to somebody, when you’ve slowly got to know them and what they see when they open their eyes and look at the world. I don’t particularly like drunken sex with someone the same night I meet them. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, as I know that a sizable portion of the girls I’ve slept with would never have dreamt of it had they been sober. But when I’m drunk I’d rather just cuddle than awkwardly fuck someone for a few dispassionate, yawning minutes. One-night stands simply lack poetry: perhaps I’m just too awkward and English, but I find it difficult to talk sincerely about a girl’s deepest hopes and dreams right after she’s asked me to call her a filthy whore.
The women of Iceland are formidable and they know it; they don’t need my endorsement. Their marble statuesque elegance matched with that Viking facial structure is a captivating combination. Their confidence and boldness appeals to me: I’m not one of those men attracted to doe eyes and pathetic-ness.
Like the girl in Austur on my first night out in town who came up to me as I arrived, embraced me and kissed me, announcing: “It’s my birthday. Are you going to buy me a drink?” (I thought it best not to ask which birthday; if there was anyone checking for ID, I don’t think they asked her either.)
Or the one who I, let’s say, became acquainted with shortly after. One evening, with bittersweet irony as I was enduring one of those post-crap drunken fumbling “let’s stay friends” chats over a burger and a beer, this flame spotted me at the other side of the room. The waitress came over to our table and said to me, “Excuse me, one of our clients asked me to bring this to you,” handing over a torn scrap of paper with a smiley face drawn on along with the words “Hello! From some1 here… find me”.
Women are the superior sex and always have been. Men talk about things, and get lost in dreams and projects of their own fancy. Women get things done. But in Iceland the contrast is even starker. Many are the times I’ve been told by women who’ve travelled that Icelandic men are hopeless (their words, not mine), too shy, too drunken, too unromantic.
Gents, I have sympathy. These women scare even me. What do I do when, as again on my first night out, I see a girl at the other end of the bar at Faktorý eyeing me closely before simulating oral sex at me with her bottle of Heineken? (She may have just been enjoying her beer, but if that’s how she normally drinks from a bottle she must frequently get lockjaw.) But you men are anything but hopeless: prove to them what you can be.
And ladies, if you don’t make a man work hard for what he wants from you, if you let him take you home and worry about the details when you wake up, then it stands to reason he won’t learn anything and he won’t grow to be the man and the lover he can be.
The only solution I have returns to my theme: go out and date. Iceland isn’t in the eighteenth century any more: you don’t have to go and sleep with whoever you can find when you go to a social gathering just because you might not have any social contact outside your house for another year. Courtship, the long-game seduction with all its subtleties and nuances, its musical cadences and crescendos, is artistry and an education in one.
And if you’d like me to elaborate on my argument and prove it to you personally, e-mail me your number and I’ll be in touch for a drink and perhaps dinner.