For once I feel like I need a disclaimer for this post. Suffice it to say that the views expressed here are my own and based on my own observations and research.
The Spanish as a nation are extremely direct. As one Spaniard said recently ¨I am not trying to intimidate you, I just need you to understand what I mean¨.
According to one poll I read, Spain is the second most sexually satisfied country. Certainly, the Spanish are very demonstrative when it comes to romance. On sunny days you will often find young couples entwined in the public parks and even the older generation can be seen strolling hand in hand and are not averse to kissing their loved one in public.
Knowing how open and direct the Spanish are, it still came a s a bit of a surprise to me when I was approached in the university library by a guy who asked me whether I would be interested in us becoming “Amigos especiales”. I naively thought initially that this was a request to meet and exchange language – a common arrangement between students. However after a few minutes I realised with increasing embarrassment that this was not at all what was on offer. Amigos especiales is certainly not a Spanish term for bff!
As a foreign student on my own I was quite likely seen as a soft target by this particular person. Sadly, (and Spain is not alone in this) the level of sexual harassment and abuse suffered by women students, particularly from people they know, is alarmingly high.
Having realised my error I thought I should google the term “amigos especiales” to see exactly what it meant and I came up with some interesting information.
There are some important rules and rights around this type of relationship – it seems that there’s a lot more to it than just a friendly hook up arrangement. Although the arrangement is sexual, the parties are friends and have an open and frank relationship in which they don’t judge or lay claims on each other and are able to discuss virtually anything.
The parties are free agents and may see whomever they please aside from their amigo. A very firm rule of no jealousy exists as does no trashing the amigo on social media. The parties meet when and where mutually suits and for many who don’t wish to have a serious long term relationship, this type of arrangement may work really well.
However for lots of people I can imagine that what starts out as fun can lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction for either one of the parties if they start to want a serious relationship, or if one party wants to end the arrangement. It’s also possible that persons with abusive or sociopathic traits of personality would find this type of relationship quite convenient.
One thing for sure is that this would only work out if both parties are emotionally mature and able to cope with the boundaries set. This is perhaps a slightly different facet to the various dating and hook up apps out there. Certainly Tinder is alive and thriving in Madrid and seems to be one of the most common ways to meet people in this cosmopolitan city. With so many people staring at their phones in public places, I can’t help but sneak a peek at people on the metro and wonder if they are swiping left or right!!
For many women in particular coming to Spain from foreign parts, these types of apps can however lead them into potentially difficult situations. For example, it’s still not seen as socially acceptable by many Spaniards for women to drink a lot especially if on their own. Women, particularly young students coming from different cultures (e.g. Britain, NZ, the United States) where drinking is viewed differently can potentially, without realising it, send out a very different message to the very many predators out there and land themselves in difficult situations. This is not helped if there are language issues as well. Whilst the universities do issue general advice on how to stay safe, in my view a lot more could be done to raise awareness of the abuse that goes on and help vulnerable young women stay safe.
With such an open culture it’s a good that things like contraception and the morning after pill are easily accessible here. It’s also reassuring to see clinics such as Open House, who are able to offer, support, advice, anonymity and prompt results for those worried about STDs.
For dinosaurs like me however it seems that whilst the quick and easy hook ups or amigos especiales may take a lot of the angst and uncertainty out of forming a relationship, they do lack romance, an important precursor to love. I wonder whether the serial tinder users or amigos especiales will in the future be able to form long term loving relationships at all and if not, where does that leave us?
For now however, I guess most people using these tools are just having fun and who can blame them for that?