The Amazingly Accurate Relationship Checkup

Words by Valur Gunnarsson
The Icelandic dating scene might at first seem like one gigantic free-for-all. But as any sociologist worth his salt will tell you, even the most anarchic system follows its own set of rules, however obscure they may seem.

While it is true that Icelanders have more sex partners than most people, or so surveys would have us believe, it still remains a fact that not everything is equally permissible. One may well go home with a different person every weekend, without the stigma that might accompany this in more conservative countries. This holds largely true for both genders, even if there might be some remnants of the old idea that what is OK for a man is somewhat less so for a woman.

Relationships here usually do start on a night out, whether the people involved know each other beforehand or not. Alcohol is usually involved. Chatting to someone while sober is usually seen as an act of desperation, while being exactly the right amount of drunk usually does the trick. Exactly what the right amount is, however, might be the subject of some debate.


So, assuming you have managed to stay acceptably drunk until closing time, neither too much or too little, and you have followed your Icelander home. This is where it gets tricky. While changing partners may be no big deal, Icelanders are actually more willing to jump into a relationship than most. There is little of the month long ordeal of wining and dining and other dating games until things start to get defined, as one might find in continental cultures.

If you go home with the same person two or three times in a row, it is usually assumed that you are having a relationship. At this point, seeing other people is frowned upon and might easily get you into trouble. Dating various people until you make up your mind is a sign of bad character, while sleeping around with different people every weekend is fine as long as you avoid repetition and the unspoken promises that this would entail.


This might seem confusing to some, but everything has its reasons. Icelanders get married late, if at all. People are therefore not usually going out with the ultimate goal of marriage in mind, which would call for a more thorough selection process. Icelandic relationships are, on the whole, easy to get out of. While breaking up is always hard, as country-western singers have long know, there isn‘t much stopping, say, a mother of three leaving her man if she gets bored with him. Single motherhood carries its own burdens, to be sure, but there is very little of the accompanying stigma that one may find in more southern climes, and the family will usually pitch in when help is needed

Icelandic relationships are on the whole easy to get out of, if so desired, and people rarely stay together purely for economic or social reasons. Perhaps because of this, and also because of the rumours prone to spread in a small town, adultery is relatively rare. If it takes place, it happens while on a drunken night out, almost as if by accident. While not accepted, this still carries less stigma than a long-term extramarital relationship would. An affair stretching over years—or even a second family, as certain French politicians are famous for—would be almost unthinkable here. Not to say that it can’t happen, anything can, but mostly, we have our own way of doing things. If you want someone else that much, you can just leave.

So, in the immortal words of Count Dracula (who should always be quoted in a relationship column): “Our ways are not your ways”. Have fun with the locals, love them if you can, but be respectful of the culture, however strange it might seem at first.

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