I talk a lot in my speeches about how people bring their own work culture with them when they come to work in Denmark, but they also bring their own dating culture.
The way you expect to meet a potential partner, to flirt, to show you’re serious, to take the relationship to the next level, these are expectations you bring with you to Denmark from your home culture.
When you get here, you will meet Danes who have very different expectations.
Romance in Denmark
Denmark’s doing a big recruitment campaign now, trying to get young professionals to bring their skills to Denmark, and a lot of them are single when they arrive.
If they want to meet someone and don’t meet someone, and if they want a serious relationship and a family but can’t get started, they often go home again.
So, in the name of economic development, here are my tips on romance in Denmark.
Searching for a husband
Just a quick aside at first – you might wonder if I’m the right person to give advice on this. I don’t have a sweetheart at the moment, or a husband, for that matter.
Lots of people seem to wonder who my husband is, by the way. If you look me up in Google, the predictive text after my name is…Kay Xander Mellish husband. Apparently people are searching for that.
#metoo hit Denmark hard
But I am on the various dating apps, which is one of the two main ways people meet each other in Denmark these days – the other being friend circles, which as an international can take a while to get into.
People used to meet at work, but #metoo has made a big imprint in Denmark. It’s taken down both male and female business leaders and political leaders who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves at work, or at parties after work.
So, people are a lot more cautious around their colleagues these days.
Lots of skin and scuba-diving
On dating apps, generally you’re there to show your best side – but unlike some other dating cultures, in Denmark people don’t show off their wealth, their car, their watch, or their powerful job.
They try to show that they’re funny and down-to-Earth, that they can laugh at themselves.
I do see a lot of the Danish version of status-seeking, which is time off and the ability to travel to exotic locations and engage in extreme sports – lots of windsurfing and scuba-diving photos.
I also see a lot of skin, which, since I’m dating in the over-40 category, isn’t always something I want to see.
The line between sex and romance is ill-defined
But this is the tricky part about dating here, because the line between sex and romance in Denmark isn’t very well defined.
Some daters want to have sex right away and then decide if they’re interested in getting to know each other emotionally.
There’s no stigma to this the way there can be in some cultures – but it can be rough on you if you’re a sensitive person who’s really just looking for love.
“Kæreste” is a flexible term
One thing I find interesting about the Danish language is the flexibility of the word kæreste, the Danish version of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” which translates directly to “most dear one.”
Your kæreste can be same-sex or opposite-sex. You can have known each other for three weeks or thirty years.
But if someone is your kæreste, it means you’re not dating anyone else. You’ll often hear Danes talk about the time they became kæreste, which is the time they committed to each other monogomously.
You could go on and get married at some point if you like. Many people in Denmark do.
You can certainly buy a home and have kids without being married – the Danish government will even pay for your fertility treatment. The Danes don’t see a big difference between having a committed kæreste and having had a wedding ceremony.
A Danish first date
But – back to the beginning. You’ve met someone, either on the apps or via a social club or your school.
For the first date, you do not have to buy anything impress them. Flowers, poetry, a fancy restaurant – this will make a Danish person very uncomfortable. Compliments tend to make them uncomfortable.
I tell internationals that a first date in Denmark can always be a walk in nature and a cup of coffee. Or a beer, if you prefer.
Whatever it is, turn off your phone, give the other person your full attention, and talk. In Denmark, time, particularly free time, is the most valuable thing anyone has to offer another person.
If a man or woman is giving you their time, with their clothes on, they’re usually sincerely trying to find out if you have something in common, if there’s a spark there.
Gender roles undefined
Just a note, it is standard on dates for each person to pay for their own coffee or beer or even dinner. It doesn’t indicate that the date is going badly.
I know in some dating cultures, the woman expects the man to pay for things, make her feel like a princess, maybe plan the date and choose the restaurant, open doors, pull out chairs, and generally take the leading role.
Denmark does not have these fixed gender roles to the extent many other cultures do. It’s why, according to the OECD, Danish men spend more hours doing housework than men in any other wealthy country.
This lack of roles means you can basically define your dating relationship the way you want it.
How often you see each other, whether you live together, and crucially, how much time you spend with your partner’s family. If you choose a partner who has family near to where you’re living, expect to spend a lot of time at family events.
These family events are generally long meals consumed at long tables set with a lot of Danish flags. You will probably be seated next to your partner on one side, but next to annoying Uncle Henrik on the other, maybe across from Grandma Bente, and you will be expected to sit there and be entertaining for several hours at a time.
This is a bit easier if you speak Danish. Otherwise, depending on the age and education levels of your table companions, you’ll get some broken English or a lot of smiling and nodding and pointing.
The good news is, there’s usually cake at the end.
Anyway, if you’re a kæreste, you’re part of the family, and attendance at a few of these events is usually expected.
Not much PDA
Romance in Denmark doesn’t have many other rules. There’s not a lot of public display of affection, maybe some hand-holding and tender glances, unless you’re drunk. Otherwise, the general attitude is – hey, glad you two are happy together, now get a room. That goes for same-sex as well as opposite-sex relationships.
Once you finally find your Danish kæreste, it can be a wonderful relationship. Equality, transparency, trust. But romance in Denmark is tricky. There can be a few awkward hurdles in trying to get there.
Two of the most-visited posts on this website are from 2014, Dating Danish Women: A Guide for The Foreign Man and Dating Danish Man: A Guide for the Foreign Woman. You can see how things have – and haven’t – changed over the past 10 years.