The music pounded. We eyed each other across the dance floor. I tried to buy her a drink, but the credit-card reader crashed. The bar was out of most everything anyway. We were left to knock back each other’s jokes. Still, we were clicking. When the club began to clear, I asked for her number.
She smiled. “Take my Instagram down, it’ll last longer. I’m emigrating on Monday.”
Dating’s not for the faint of heart anywhere. In Caracas, the road to true love is paved with potholes—hyperinflation, condom shortages, rolling blackouts, tear-gas smoke—that can make you want to give up. Almost. I’ve seen people making out in flag-waving crowds at political rallies and while Molotov cocktails are flying during street protests.
But the hurdles are ridiculous. Of all of them, the mass exodus from the crumbling country, an incredible 10 percent of the population so far and growing, could be the worst. More than once, I’ve matched with someone on a dating app and after a few exchanges watched her location zoom out from 1 mile away to 1,000. Her profile suddenly says she’s living in Chile or Mexico or Peru.
My friends and I talk about it: What if you finally find the right one and her visa comes through? I know some couples who’ve braved the distance, though more often than not, romances are cut short. Sure, that can be sad, but on the other hand, it’s kind of liberating knowing that most everyone you’ve hooked up with is probably leaving. You’ll never have to see them again.
There’s a lot of reminiscing about the days when the dating game was played in the Italian joints and sushi bars of the Las Mercedes district, when lines of revelers formed outside raucous discos and salsa clubs and when a night cap included a drunken dash to a “love motel” like Dallas Suites or El Aladdin.
Now those with money to spare have to pack into a fast-dwindling supply of bars and restaurants. It can give this big city a weirdly small-town feel. Not long ago, my first time out with a crush at my favorite dive coincided with a pal’s last time out with his. We stayed, trying to ignore the muffled sounds of a breakup from the adjacent table.
There are other issues you don’t run into in many other places: One friend’s relationship came crashing to an end when she called her partner out for moving in with her just because she had regularly running tap water.
While rampant crime has battered nightlife—so many streetlight bulbs are out, it’s spooky to walk around after dark—there’s no stopping determined Caraquenos. The wealthy roll up to Las Mercedes’s remaining haunts in SUVs and armored cars; the less fortunate hoof it a mile from the nearest metro stop, the women trekking in high heels.
Movie theaters are still in business but often close before 8 p.m., so on one of my recent dates I suggested Netflix. We had a couple of slices of pizza beforehand. I didn’t even ask if she was planning to emigrate. When I went to start the film, we heard a crack—another power blackout. So much for that.
Eduardo Sandoval, 21, had a better idea. He was with his girlfriend on a bench in the Sambil shopping mall. It was hot; the AC was on the fritz. But they were happy just to people-watch and cuddle. A good date is whatever takes your mind off the mess outside. “At times like these, you look for any escape from the routine,” he said.
Besides, no one wants to face a crisis like this one alone.