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The Rules Redux: Language Barrier Love And The Surprising Advantages of Dating Someone You Can't Understand

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Is communication the key to long-lasting relationships? Not according to Sean Connery. The former James Bond star credits the language barrier for the longevity of 30-year marriage to his French wife, Micheline. Though no paragon of husbandly virtues, Connery may be on to something. 

As a dating coach I see over-communication spoiling relationships far more often than lack of communication, particularly in the early stages of dating. A language barrier is an extreme - though highly effective - means of preventing you from opening up too fast.

I learned the surprising advantages of language barriers in love when I met a handsome Brazilian surfer. At the time Raphael's English was limited, and to this day I can barely speak a word of Portuguese. Such lack of fluency might seem like an obstacle to deep rapport, but I credit the language barrier for fast-tracking the relationship to proposal and marriage within a year.

Counterintuitive, I'll grant you, but consider the benefits of constrained communication: 

  • No man-terrifying "relationship talks."
  • Fewer heated debates about stem cell research and Oscar predictions.
  • Less ambiguity about date logistics (aware of the language barrier, he nails down date/time/place to avoid any misunderstanding).
  • Exotic charm of endearments uttered in a foreign tongue.
  • And most importantly: less conversation, more kissing.

 Of course, language-barrier love is not without its drawbacks:

  • It can promote over-emphasis on physical (vs. intellectual) compatibility. 
  • Silences can stretch out longer than you may like. 
  • No way to eavesdrop on his conversations with his mother or friends. 
  • And last but not least, the things you thought you understood about your partner may later not turn out to be true. 

Moreover, while a language barrier can fan a romantic "spark" into an abiding flame, it won't substitute for that initial physical attraction and its underlying, ineffable, almost spiritual connection. Worse, a language barrier can backfire when a woman pursues a man, becoming the all-purpose excuse for why he didn't call when he said he would, forgot Valentine's Day, hasn't introduced you to his friends, etc.

Consider the story of Kate, who met and developed a wild crush on Antoine while vacationing in France. A can-do media executive, Kate decided to "make it happen" with Antoine, getting him a job stateside and plunging him into her elite social circle. Antoine was grateful for the help, and happy enough to sleep with her. But even as his English improved, and Kate became eagerly fluent in French, he never managed those most basic expressions by which relationships evolve, such as "I love you," and "Let's not see other people."

Even when a man initiates the relationship - you can easily turn him off by pestering him with questions, pouring out your heart, or complaining endlessly about your problems. When you both speak the same language these pitfalls can be hard to avoid - especially when he prods you with overly-personal questions on your first few dates. Fortunately, you don't have to feign a thick foreign accent to reap the benefits of a language barrier in love. Give these few tips a try:  

  • Don't talk so much on dates. "Men fall in love with your essence, not with anything in particular you say," observe Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, authors of The Rules. So don't feel the need to rack your brain to come up with witty conversation.
  • Banish uncomfortable silences - NOT by filling them up with forced chatter - but by learning to be comfortable with quiet.
  • Don't treat a potential mate as your therapist, revealing details of previous relationships, your illnesses or emotional issues, job problems, etc.
  • If angry or hurt, wait 24 hours to air the issue with your partner. This waiting period will help you respond (vs. react) while separating important conflicts from inconsequential disagreements.

 Those of us (bloggers in particular!) who love to express ourselves may have a hard time grasping the benefits of saying less -- let alone an outright language barrier. But just as printing too much money can diminish the value of the dollar, so can speaking too effusively diminish the value of what is said. Edward R. Murrow would be the last man to dismiss the importance of communication, yet even he recognized its limits when he observed: "People say conversation is a lost art; how often have I wished it were."