When I stepped off the plane in Santiago six months ago as a defiantly single, vagabond gringa, I stepped into a whole new sphere of relationships and dating--or pololeando, as it’s called in Chile.
Photo by Alfredo Pernas
Though I was single upon arrival, I was repeatedly told that it wouldn’t last for long. I balked at these predictions, stubbornly determined to retain my "sola-ness." However, I spoke too soon, as I later had to eat my own words when I found myself, indeed, pololeando.
The words pololo and polola actually derive from the Mapuche word for an annoying bug that buzzes around your head. Not only does the word mean boyfriend and girlfriend, respectively, but can also be turned into the gerund, pololeando. Little did I know how ironic that term would be in my forthcoming dating experiences.
I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to relationships: I like clear definitions in black and white. In the United States, there are clear stages of relationship intimacy. Whether we’re friends, dating, "friends with benefits" or engaged, knowing those lines helps define the phases of a relationship.
In Chile, however, pololeando is an all-encompassing term that includes all levels of seeing each other, dating and engagement. From my experiences, at least, it seems that kissing thrusts open the doors to this world of attraction, commitment and the consent to commence pololeando.
So, you might understand my confusion when not once, but twice I found myself unwittingly guilty of pololeando, first after a forced kiss in a park, and later after a drunken kiss at a Hare Krishna street festival. That said, gringas be warned: if only I knew what I know now.
Pololo #1: Mr. Forced Kiss in the Park
Mr. Forced Kiss in the Park and I met at a party and proceeded to hang out a few times. As we sat in a park one afternoon, observing the teenagers making out and rolling around on the yellow spring grass, he leaned in to ask, “Is it okay if I kiss you?” Before waiting for my “no,” he leaned in and did it anyway--and we henceforth commenced pololeando.
My month-long stint with Mr. Forced Kiss was followed by some fond moments spent watching him eat meat (I’m a vegetarian), laughing at the weekly Chilean television show he produces, and accompanying him in his car to Parque Arauco to shop for a Nintendo Wii.
That fairytale came to a demise when he deleted me from Facebook, after I'd failed to answer his 10 phone calls to my dead phone during a weekend vacation and a text message command that read, “I’ll call you at 2 pm. Please pick up the phone.”
I'd had the final straw, though, when he expected me to spend the night after the Metro had closed. When I declined, he refused to give me a ride home. I stomped down the hall, stewed and seethed on the 11-floor elevator ride down, hailed a taxi outside and never saw him again.
Pololo #2: Mr. Drunken Festival Kiss
I originally met Mr. Drunken Festival Kiss at a fonda during the Dieciocho festivities in Pichilemu. We danced together the entire night, but due to the loud music and our limited grasps of each other's languages, we didn’t get to know each other much. Luckily our mutual friends led us to find each other at the same parties and Hare Krishna festivals thereafter.
In comparison to Mr. Forced Kiss in the Park, the time spent with Mr. Drunken Festival Kiss was much more pleasant, including many happy hours cooking and laughing together as well as his band’s tunes often providing background music to our lives.
Other than his overly aggressive Facebook messages and comments, phone calls, text messages, interrogation about who was writing on my Facebook wall, and obsessively reading my text message inbox, pololeando with Mr. Drunken Festival Kiss was fairly painless. However, his band decided to go on a two-month South American tour, and with a recent memory of a rendezvous over Christmas with an ex-boyfriend still fresh in mind, I explained in limited Spanish that I would rather revisit "sola-ness."
Now I find myself here in Chile, rightfully single and alone, heading off to Semana Valdiviana over Valentine's Day weekend to meet up with my two travelin' soul brothers. I originally believed that with this adventure, I could escape from the Hallmark-fueled holiday that reminds us just how orgasmically great it is to be in love--and conversely, how unarousingly abysmal it is not to be.
But nostalgia for those kindergarten-era, construction paper and doily-hearted shoeboxes brimming with classmates’ Valentines reminds me that there's no escaping the desire to feel loved, no matter where you are. At the end of the weekend I’ll still come home and compulsively check my mail box, in hopes of finding a dog-eared manila envelope with a Valentine inside from a secret admirer or long lost love. (Cards from Mr. Forceful or Mr. Drunk, however, wouldn't be quite as welcome.)
With my recent experiences pololeando reminding me all too much of the word's Mapuche roots, to my nomadic sisters I give a word of extreme caution: Be careful who you kiss, because you never know when that seemingly innocent and handsome-looking boy will turn into an irritating bug buzzing obsessively around your head.