The theme song of the old Cheers TV sitcom touts the advantages of hanging out “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” But what if you lived in a small city in an even smaller country where you can’t go anywhere without recognizing friends, acquaintances, and co-workers? Such is the case in Reykjavik, Iceland. The population of Reykjavik is only 199,000, and the population of Iceland stands at 322,000.
I was reading an interesting article on The Reykjavik Grapevine by Valur Gunnarsson entitled “Why Is There No Dating in Iceland?” according to which:
If you were to go out on a date with someone, say to the movies or a coffee shop, you would invariably bump into someone you know. Said person would give you a curious glance, perhaps followed by a smirk and then ask everyone you mutually know: “Are those two seeing each other?” The cat is out of the bag by now and your first and perhaps only date suddenly feels more like an engagement ceremony.
Much better then to wait until the lights go out, everyone you know has gone home, is too drunk to care or engaged in their own business. In other words, going out, getting hammered and then heading home with whoever happens to be standing next to you at closing time carries much less social penalty than meeting in broad daylight. It is widely understood that what happens at the bar doesn’t really count. Leave it until the morning after to figure out if you two really have something in common and if the same thing happens again next weekend with the same person, you have yourself a relationship.
One of the reasons the dating scene in Reykjavik is no notorious is that men and women can’t get to know each other in a social setting without being observed and commented on by their peers. Young Icelanders tend to hang out in bars and go home with one another for an “afterparty” around closing time. What happens at or after the “afterparty” is anybody’s guess, but the word is that it’s a pretty wild scene. There is even a book by the notorious Roosh Vorek entitled Bang Iceland: How to Sleep with Icelandic Women in Iceland, which is a popular item among the more randy international travelers.
(Allow me to say that I have had no such dealings with Icelandic women during my two trips to their country. I’m a respectable old man who needs his sleep.)
The flipside of drunken sex is that Icelandic relationships actually develop quite quickly. Whereas in bigger cities the whole vetting process may take weeks or even months while you are asked about everything except your bank statements and family history of mental disease (and sometimes even that), people here tend to jump directly into a committed relationship right after the second sleepover, or thereabouts. In fact, it is generally considered bad form not to. Once doesn’t matter, but do it twice without following through and you start to get a bad reputation.
This all goes back to point two again. The smallness. Dating several people at the same time is socially impossible. Everyone would know. Fistfights would ensue. Better to do the trial and error one person at a time, which is why Icelanders tend to have a series of either one-night stands or serious relationships, but no overlapping dates. So now you know.
One result of this non-dating sexual behavior is that there is a large number of illegitimate children born on the island. Fortunately, there is little or no stigma attached to a single parent entering into a marriage. It does have the advantage of stirring up an otherwise rather static gene pool. (In 2013, it was estimated that 93.44% of the population is of Icelandic ancestry.)