The Struggle is Real: Dating in America

The Struggle is Real: Dating in America

How American Immigrants Face Additional Hurdles in Dating

If you’ve been on dates, flirted with someone or downloaded a dating app, there’s a great chance you know just how confusing the dating scene is to navigate. There are rules, games and behaviors that can be so overwhelming, even within the boundaries of your own childhood town. Now imagine that chaos within a brand new country, having no prior exposure to the dating culture — daunting, isn’t it?

But that's the everyday life of many immigrants in the United States. Thankfully Hunt Ethridge, an award-winning dating and relationship expert, is currently specializing in what he calls the immigrant experience. Recently, he sat down with Ona to talk about the challenges many American immigrants face when starting out dating.


There are diverse and varied dating rules and expectations across the world — even across the country. Think about your last vacation. There were likely some cultural norms that were unfamiliar to you, and you may have even felt overwhelmed by these new firsthand experiences. That “feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” is called culture shock. It’s the daily reality of many American immigrants adjusting to a new life with new languages and new customs — and we haven’t even started talking about dating. That's why as Ethridge says many of his clients struggle to know how or where to begin finding a partner.

Having to guide yourself through the dating world in America when so many other ways of life already feel unfamiliar and unpredictable can be terrifying. Adrian Furnham, Ph.D. says, “Losing the power of easy communication can disrupt self-identity, worldviews and indeed all systems of acting, feeling and thinking.” On top of this, the freedom of choice and control that’s ingrained into the American psyche can take time to adapt to — especially when it comes to dating — if you have been socialized quite differently your entire life.

Ethridge notes as an example that “India teaches beta-male characteristics [which become] almost a secondary character in his own life.” It can be frustrating, trying to maneuver through changing cultural nuances, and even worse is that this confusion can take a toll on our sense of self confidence and agency. This compounds in American dating culture, where “success” is fueled by confidence and emotional intelligence.

This social anxiety that many American immigrants naturally experience can carry over into their romantic lives. Dasha Fayvinova, culture writer at Bustle, explains, “Everyone goes through a period in their lives when they want to fit in. Immigrants feel that same yearning, and then some. We always wanted to fit in, but our cultural background made us different. We're learning to love ourselves and value our uniqueness, but sometimes, every now and then, we feel a little insecure.”

That's why Ethridge sees self-confidence as the first step towards healthy relationships, and he focuses on this before working through dating struggles. “[You] can’t have confidence in dating unless you have confidence in yourself first,” he says. “We are all brands, as much as we don’t want to [classify] it in that sort of way. My brand is competing with every other male brand out there. What does my brand offer that other brands don’t? What is my competitive advantage?”

And according to Ethridge (as well as Andrea Bartz), “Confidence makes us seem more trustworthy — and when you’re out on the meat market, selling how great you are, confidence makes people accept your pitch.”

But Ethridge features a number of steps in his curriculum for clients with cultural barriers. Once confidence is developed, he helps his clients define their experiences and expectations. He wants them to hear themselves articulating their assumptions about American dating customs so they they can illustrate myths from realities.

For instance, Ethridge asks heterosexual men what they think American women value. Their answers may at first include more superficial qualities like looks, money and “a sense of humor” but then complexities emerge when Ethridge asks follow-up questions, challenging the men to rethink their expectations about women and dating norms. By teaching what Ethridge calls “umbrella skills” of dating — containing a multitude of social cues and behaviors like eye contact and body language — his clients are better prepared to exhibit a bold sense of confidence in their everyday lives.

There’s a reason Hunt Ethridge is considered one of the top in his field, and that’s because of his passion for helping people improve their dating experiences. He says that his “approach as a dating and relationship coach is to turn you into the best, most date-able version of yourself.”