By Alexia Evripidou
WITH VALENTINE’S Day fast approaching, many men and women in their 30s know from bitter personal experience that love and relationships are in trouble.
They complain of loneliness and their inability to find partners and each cite the opposite sex as the problem. So what’s happened to relationships? Why are attractive, intelligent and willing 30 somethings struggling to find partners and turning to non Cypriots for solace? Once upon a time arranged coupling (broxenia) was the norm, where is it now?
Men accuse Cypriot women of being cold and unapproachable while women criticise men for being ‘un-approaching’.
“There’s quite a lot of anger about this situation from the men which creates a distancing phenomenon, and the woman have this protective front without realising that it’s keeping the men from approaching them. It’s a convoluted dynamic, which is very dysfunctional,” says psychologist Marianna Kofterou who specialises in marriage, relationships and family therapy.
“Women here act like princesses. They’re unfriendly. I’m happier to approach foreign women because they’re friendlier. Even if they don’t like you, they’ll talk to you and won’t be rude,” says anonymous Mr X. Many men, he says, are turning to the company of “German girls in Paphos, Russian girls in Limassol and English Cypriot girls in Larnaca” for dialogue and a confidence boost.
Meanwhile anonymous Miss Y points out “It’s very difficult to meet boys here, they’re reserved. They make a move with difficulty and feel strange and embarrassed starting a conversation. Cypriots who lived abroad or foreigners are more at ease with this part. Plus they don’t always know how to react when you show them that you like them.”
With such a small tightly knit community, it’s no surprise that people wish to remain anonymous when they talk about such personal matters. And here, we have touched on a core problem; a small community with an ingrained ‘narrative’ of how men and women ‘should’ behave.
“By narrative, I mean the rules and stories that we have been taught by the generations before us, defining how we should be living, in order to be a ‘good woman or man’,” says Kofterou. “The women have it in their heads that they shouldn’t be doing certain things to maintain this taught narrative and keep their ‘dignity’ and men are frustrated as a result. Times have changed but people are afraid to stray from the norms, they want to be accepted by their community.” Kofterou acknowledges that sex is still a big taboo here. Although many will indulge in one night stands or a series of dates, “they’ll do it, but they’ll feel guilty about it”.
“There’s a lot of guilt in the culture.”
So what solutions exist? Kofterou believes that people would benefit greatly both personally and in relationships if they addressed the ‘narrative’. They can do this by identifying their own values, principles, passions, needs and what gives them happiness, either with the help of a therapist or from books or the internet. This would give them clarity on who they are and what they really want and need from another on a less superficial level. Kofterou works in depth with both men and women to help them achieve this. She’s also started a matchmaking service within the context of therapy to help individuals understand their needs and identify suitable partners.
“Of course there are people here who have healthy and happy relationships; generally these are people who have explored themselves. You need a general level of awareness of your behaviours. You may be putting obstacles in your way or hurting others around you. You need to be able to see this on yourself if you want to improve yourself,” says Kofterou.
An anonymous source who ran one of the first off-line professional matchmaking services in Cyprus (hosting 200 clients on her books) adds “people are afraid of opening up to each other and being vulnerable because of the gossip level”. Again the ‘narrative’ rears its ugly head.
These judgements and out dated expectations within society start with grandparents, then parents and now people do it to each other within their own generation in order to fit in explains Kofterou.
“They even judge themselves. If they are not ticking off the boxes, they get depressed and will judge you. We are not friendly to each other. Of course we’re not going to approach each other and date, we’re far too busy being threatened and distancing ourselves from each other.”
Unfortunately, these narratives in people’s heads, clash with the times.
So how can this be tackled? In the past, relationships were organised and the ‘narrative’ was accepted. Most people didn’t choose their partners; it was ‘broxenia’, the system where relatives or friends chose a suitable partner for their loved ones.
According to anonymous matchmaker, it isn’t a bad idea. Kofterou also believes it’s coming back in fashion and Mr. X argues it never went out of fashion. “It can make women feel a little safer if someone they know, knows the man well and therefore be more approachable,” explains Kofterou.
This subject is vast and complex and here seems to be no right or wrong answers for dating or relationships but there are insightful suggestions.
“There are no top ten tips on how to have the perfect relationship or date, each situation is different, each person is different, it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true. One behaviour in one couple might be dysfunctional for them and for another; normal,” says Kofterou.
But she does believe in one common factor; responsiveness. If one is responding to the other in any sort of way, it doesn’t have to be calm all the time or intense all the time, just as long as people care about each other enough to sit, talk and listen for ever. This can be responding to touch, gestures, phone calls, messages of any kind.
So once a person has figured out what makes them tick then there are some dating tips from the professionals. Kofterou encourages men to be brave and approach women to chat with them, even if they’re reluctant. “Work through it and speak to the girl, the only reason the women seems to be cold, is because of the things before mentioned. And to the women to try and take it as a compliment if a guy approaches you, enjoy the attention and be responsive, smile; it takes a lot of courage for some one to approach.”
Matchmaker suggests “go on a second date because the first time there’s nerves. This first impressions last thing is just not right, it’s a cliché. Chemistry happens when both people are comfortable, when you’ve both let down your guard.”
Matchmaker also recommends asking questions. If you want to flirt with someone, ask those questions, listen to their answer and then ask them further questions. “Guys want to feel interesting and girls want to feel like you’re listening. Make conversation,” she says.
Maybe it’s time the singles of Cyprus, bite the bullet, smile and start a conversation with the next person they like, maybe the old ‘narrative’ manual needs upgrading.