For this American woman, the fantasy of the Italian man doesn’t meet the fantasy of Italy

Annamaria Borelli overlooking the Adriatic Sea in Bari.
Annamaria Borelli overlooking the Bay of Naples on the island of Ischia.

(Editor’s note: Annamaria Borelli is an American woman with Italian roots who left her New Jersey home for the dream of Italy 10 years ago. She recently moved to Bari, Puglia, where she works as an English teacher when she isn’t blogging or singing opera and jazz. She offers advice to anyone moving to Italy, particularly women who fall in love.)

BARI, Italy — One small country, one big move.  All my life I wanted to pack up and move to Europe, and finally it happened.  Italy has always intrigued me. I am an Italian-American girl from New Jersey who grew up speaking the language.  I remember going to Italy when I was a little girl. I went to Puglia to be exact (the region representing the heel of Italy’s boot), and was swept away by the beauty, the people, the food, the customs and, of course, the lifestyle. However, under the exterior of delicious cuisine, quaint countryside and fabulous beaches lie disappointment and frustration, especially when it comes to what attracts so many women: the Italian man.   

I thought, How could I get to this magical place and the answer, in my case, was attending university.  I grew up in the small suburban town of Long Branch right on the ocean.  It was a quiet life with occasional visits to New York City.  When the opportunity came to attend John Cabot University in Rome I had to take it.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime. However, real life and fantasy often don’t mix, and it’s difficult to make dreams a reality. It may seem obvious, but when dreams propel your very existence, when you want something so badly it is all you can think about, no obstacle can hinder the ultimate goal.  

In the Trastevere neighborhood during her 10 years in Rome.
In the Trastevere neighborhood during her 10 years in Rome.

If you are reading this, I am sure you can relate.  I eventually applied and got all of my documents together (which is content for another blog entirely). I was finally packed and on my way to Rome.  While at university I always worked with children.  I love children and teaching, so while at university I found jobs to make some extra money teaching children English.  I loved it and continue to love it today.  It is an extremely rewarding experience and it is so important for me to share my story, especially if it could inspire someone else to take that leap.

However, no one really tells you what to expect or that it won’t be like your little Puglia fantasy.  I was going to Rome, and it was a whole other world.  A big European city.  The only times I had really been anywhere huge was going to the theater in New York City, but that was just a day trip and we drove.  This was maneuvering not only a big city, but also a European one. With that comes a whole new set of rules, a new culture, in a country that I grew up admiring from afar.  Now, I was in the trenches.   After 10 years in Rome, I decided to change my life and move down to Bari, in the region of Puglia two weeks ago  

University and new cities were just practical reasons in order to get to Italy and eventually live there.  The real and deeper reason I came to Italy was the fantasy of the Italian man.  Growing up in the United States I never had a boyfriend.  My teenage years were very sad regarding this point and no one seemed interested in me.  In high school I could have walked through the hallways naked and no one would have turned their heads.  I then went to music conservatories and theater programs and those guys were taken, gay or awkward.  

In Piazza Spagna near the Spanish Steps.
In Piazza Spagna near the Spanish Steps.

I remembered my vacations in Italy and finally being noticed by men and it was exhilarating.   A woman likes to be admired for her beauty.  It is nice to flirt and Italians have a way of flirting with women that really gets you, especially if you are foreign and come from a different culture.  When talking to an Italian man he will comment on features he finds appealing.  

I remember when I was at the bank arguing with the clerk about a discrepancy on my account,  even in his frustration with me, he looked up at me and said, “Complimenti per gli occhi” meaning, “Beautiful eyes.” Ok, it does seem banal, but it was nice to hear.   I have always had the fantasy of this Italian man.  A man that would sweep me away with his Italian accent, fabulous style, charm and the general magic that I feel towards the Italian culture.  It was this feeling that brought me here to find my southern Italian man. 

The fantasy of Italian food, Annamaria learned, is very true. Here she successfully made orecchiette con le cime si rapa (ear-shaped pasta with turnip tops).
The fantasy of Italian food, Annamaria learned, is very true. 

The thing is, ladies, I did find him.  We met through friends in Rome, and when he told me he was from the town of San Giovanni in Fiore (pop. 17,000), Calabria, the region that forms the toe of Italy’s boot, it became my new favorite region. I looked up every possible fact or food I could find to impress him so he knew how much I was interested in his life.  

We were together for a little under four years living in Rome.  We traveled all over Italy together and met each other’s families. He even came to America, tasted Dunkin Donuts coffee and confirmed that he would never live in the States.  I already figured that out. It didn’t take much, but the thought of me living in Calabria for the rest of my life scared me. Calabria was his ultimatum, and I just couldn’t commit to that life.  He was a good person, and I did love him.  I wanted a life in Southern Italy on my terms and not on his terms.  

Italian men are sexy, from the bus driver to the lawyer to the businessman to the doctor. Italian men seem cultured and educated, even more so in the eyes of a foreign woman.  My advice: Take the fantasy out of it.  What went wrong in my relationship was there was too much fantasy.  I had too many expectations.  Just because he is Italian there are different rules?  Fall in love with the person first. If he happens to be Italian that is a plus.  

Come to Italy, and be in Italy because you love the culture and find a job that can sustain you economically and if you are lucky, a job for which you are passionate.  Go to the bars, drink the coffee. If you can, buy the clothes, go to the beaches, the beautiful cities, the monuments, the history, the music. Enjoy it all and take it all in.  Don’t try to be Italian.  Live your truth, in a beautiful place. Put yourself out there in a real way, and only in this way can you find a real man.  The fantasy is only a fantasy and overrated.     

I would not trade anything in the world for my 10 years here in Rome. It has shaped me into the person I am today. I am also looking forward to what my new experience in Puglia will bring.  The word I would say for any endeavor, especially coming to Italy, is perseverance.  Do not quit or give up because it is extremely worth the experience. The most important thing is to not get carried away by the fantasy.  If you live with that in mind you are sure to be disappointed.  Whether you are here one month, five years, or 10 enjoy every second of it, take it all in, and while you are sipping that cappuccino remember, la dolce vita is what you make it.