first person

What I learned (and didn’t learn) from my dating misadventures in Brazil

Dating sucks, huh? One day, you’re grabbing pizza with your bestie in workout clothes; the next, you’re in Taco Bell with a stranger pretending you don’t have seven mental illnesses. On top of that, underneath your coiffed hair, Curious by Britney Spears, and Spanx, you’re comparing the stranger to the five others you went on dates that week. “He’s cuter than that guy who took me to the ren fair, but not as cute as that guy who had pubic lice,” you think, assuming the sentence you’re thinking is universal and relatable. Finally, at the end of the night, despite having successfully concealed your new pimple and old alcoholism, you still end up getting pizza with your bestie again. Oh, and you’re 33.

Well, the world is changing y’all, and messed up people with pasts of accidentally sleeping with homeless men can have better lives. They can move to Brazil. I’m talking about me now. I was always talking about me.

While the pandemic uprooted a lot of American workers, it didn’t have the same effect on me. I’d been working remotely long before the day when Covid-19 first Kool-Aid Man’d its way into our lives. But I’d always been too scared to leave New York. Going nomadic, giving up your hard-earned apartment, abandoning the rat race … That’s all antithetical to the American dream. Covid changed me, though. Upon realizing that everything we’d taken for granted – eating out, intimacy, televised live audiences – could disappear at the drop of a Zoom call, I finally vowed to never let opportunities pass by again. As soon as it was safe, I set out to explore the world – and try my luck dating internationally.

Anyway, that’s how I ended up in Brazil. And let me tell you, dating is already hard enough when you don’t have to also learn an entire foreign language. Yes, a few gay Brazilians speak English … But if you’re queer, then options are already limited – so why c*ckblock yourself? Plus, going on dates in Portuguese is wild. I can completely bungle at least five sentences during a date – like, to the point where the guy literally says “Huh” – and yet still have some magical power over him that makes him think sentences like, “Let’s intend to kiss now, hot man” are sexy. Being a foreigner speaking with an accent is a superpower. Being borderline illiterate is a life hack.

I’ve also learned to relax and enjoy my dates here, instead of treating them like therapy fodder. (My therapy sessions are stand-up shows where I pay them to see me.) In Brazil, dating is simply part of life – its ebb and flow as natural as the waves that kiss Ipanema Beach. It’s not a chore or a side quest to find the One; it’s not an opportunity to prove oneself in the face of great evil. It’s a chance to live in the moment, to woo someone’s face off, to defy apathy and feel something. There’s less a question of “where is this going” and more of a question of “where are we making out.” In New York, I spent so many nights wondering if I could do better, when I should’ve just been appreciating that I was doing my best.

Brazil’s emphasis on the here and now can also lead to unforgettable chance encounters. One day, I was reading on some rocks in a secluded part of Florianópolis’s Mole Beach when, out of the corner of my eye, a stranger caught my attention. He’d been staring at me, so I looked back. He suddenly looked up; I dropped my gaze. Slowly, boldly, I lifted my head again. Within five minutes and a few pleasantries (literally four sentences), we were making out. Sea hawks circled overhead as the tide rose around us. I don’t remember his name. I’ll never forget the moment.

Of course, the downside of being immersed in a laid-back culture – for me, at least – is that planning can become pointless. If it’s below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, forget it. That Brazilian I was going to meet is not leaving his house now. And if his bus is taking too long, sorry. Our date is now next week. I just have to text a friend as a back-up plan. (But if that friend is Brazilian and it’s below 65 degrees … Well …) Needless to say, my patience has improved by leaps and bounds here in Brazil. And I’ve stopped viewing dates as appointments and started treating them more like adventures.

But if you thought that my romantic, exhilarating nights out were something special … Well, think again. Brazilians treat their dates like kings and queens, but they also treat their 500 other dates – as well as their sushi delivery man, yoga instructor, pharmacist, and flip-flops (like, not even the person who sells the flip-flops; like, the actual flip flops) — the same way. You might even have the best night of your life with someone, then see them with another man the very next day. And of course, you’ll be with another man, too. And you’ll of course wave to that guy that you were on a date with last night. And he’ll wave back. And then your date and his date will wave, because they were on a date last night, too. And then an adorable stray dog will walk over on three legs and bark and you’ll all be friends forever.

Still, with all that being said, I have encountered many of the same pitfalls here that I’ve encountered in the U.S. There are still self-hating men on Grindr with “macho 4 macho” splattered across their profile. And I was recently blocked on Grindr for being 5’7”. And I’ve avoided public interaction with at least five different guys who sent me pictures of their man parts. And last month I had to use Google Translate at my local pharmacy because I didn’t know how to say in Portuguese, “Help, I have pubic lice.”

I’ve learned a lot, and I’ll be taking these lessons with me forever – but dating is still dating. I may be in Brazil, but I’m still on Earth.

Evan Lambert (he/they) is a career journalist, essayist and short fiction writer who has written for Mic, the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, and most recently INTO. If you liked today’s piece, then give him a shout on Insta at @icantevannnn or check out his other work at