Midlife fish, teeny tiny pond.
January 8, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with dating in a tiny village of 6000? I'm 38.

After nearly two decades building our careers so we could live where we wanted to, my partner of 6 years and I moved to a place where we both had always dreamed of living. It had everything important to us: family, recreation, family, culture, art etc. After being here 3 years, I was the happiest I'd ever been. I could, and can still see growing old here.

My partner and I came to a crossroads in the relationship 6 months ago. His moving out and out of town was pure heartbreak, and the hardest thing I've been through in a long, long time. I'm telling myself it was for the best based on his alcohol abuse, his lack of investment in the relationship, and his certainty he didn't want children.

Now that I'm coming out of the fog of the breakup, I realize that I'm still actually very happy here. I have my dream job, I'm healthy, my friends are incredible and my family is close. I've had a lifetime of ambivalence about kids. If I were in a great relationship, I would want them, but I don't want my happiness (now or future) to rest on that factor alone.

At 38, and where I'm living, the dating prospects are completely dismal. Its a 4 hour drive to the nearest town which is only a few times larger, and a 2 hour flight to get to a real city.

Every day, seemingly all day, I'm conscious of the gap in my life where a relationship once was. 95% of my friends are in couples and raising young children. I stay active and social with different age groups, am volunteering, started a new cool hobby, am training a new puppy (very social), and am planning trips to see old friends. I still love it here.

The lonliness is painful, but not excruciating because I've got so much else to be thankful for. How do I know if I should stay, force myself to keep being socially outgoing, and hope that fate lays down a relationship card? How do I know if or when its time to move to a bigger pond?

I'm expecting your answers are going to say it depends on how badly I want to have my own kids, but looking at graphs of how fertility declines with age just doesn't seem to match up with the mishmosh of things that seem to affect my happiness. I don't want pregnancy as a sole, at-all-costs goal, but I also don't want to look back feeling I'd not given myself a chance to be in a relationship that could support that as a (shared) goal, and wish I'd done (x).

The dating pool is so tiny here, that everyone single seems to have dated/divorced everyone else. Is there even any such thing as casual dating with the gossip mills and history around? Would it be wierd or unethical to date online outside of this zip code? Everything from dating strategies to how to set or make big life decisions on what seem to be arbitrary timelines, would be useful.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it would be weird or unethical to date online, and why does zip code matter? I've heard plenty of stories about person X meeting person Y online and at the time X lived in Maine and Y lived in Shanghai. Just be honest in your profile about where you live, hell you could even make the same joke about your teeny-tiny pond. With the telephone, email, and webcams (and Skype and Google Video Chat) you have lots of avenues for getting to know someone before either one of you has to venture onto a plane.

I would not recommend moving just so that you can improve your chances of finding a mate. There are lots of lonely single people in big cities and if you're happy where you are I'd try the online-dating thing before uprooting yourself.

As for children, you don't necessarily need a partner (though I completely understand why you want one) you could always adopt or even use a sperm donor.
posted by blue_bicycle at 7:24 AM on January 9, 2010

I was just about to post what blue_bicycle said in their first paragraph.

Although I don't have much wisdom to offer about your specific situation, I definitely think it's a great idea to try not to fixate too much on making a "big decision" — leave, or completely reconcile yourself to your situation — because that can be paralyzing. While you're pondering that big life decision, there's no harm in also doing a bit of tentative online dating, or planning a weekend trip to some city you've always liked, just to see if you could envisage living there, or for that matter going along to some local club or organization in your village that you'd never considered attending before. You can do all these little things, and you can start today, without it meaning that you are committing yourself in the long term to going or staying. (I'm not suggesting you ignore the big decision, just that you take a twin-track approach.) Just plant some seeds almost at random and see what takes root.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2010

I can't help but think that if you are really sure you want to stay in that small town no matter what, moving to find dates isn't the answer. (Look at all the people in big cities who can't find dates, after all.) Not to mention that if you date big city men, they might not WANT to move to your town. Are you sure that every single guy who lives in 6000 is a no-go? Have you tried them all? Or are you literally the only single female in town? (I keep thinking of those "bring women to Alaska to meet men" things, but somehow I don't think it'll work the other way around.) I'd try all the fish in your pool before you resort to the dreaded online dating.

If you're ambivalent about having kids, don't drop everything to go chase after a babydaddy. Even if you were baby-crazy, this is probably not something that you can do as a rush job, given the situation. I think you should take advantage of the ambivalence. If you somehow meet a guy you can have a kid with (and decide you want to) within the next few years, fine, but if not, you'll be fine with that too. Or there's the possibility of (hopefully awesome) stepkids or adoption too. But if you're not in a babymaking rush, don't feel like you have to be, and don't let that force you into something you don't want to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2010

Would it be wierd or unethical to date online outside of this zip code?

posted by The World Famous at 1:09 PM on January 8, 2010

I grew up in a town half the size of yours! That said, if I still lived there, I would probably do online dating. Be honest about where you live and how frequently you're comfortable with traveling. There may be someone two towns over who feels like they're in the same boat and doesn't mind an hour's drive.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:20 PM on January 8, 2010

How far away are these other zip codes? If they're not massively far away (like fifty miles) I don't see any reason you should rule them out. Considering you call 3000 a "tiny village" (more like "sizable town" to me) I'm guessing that you're not in the Australian outback and that other towns are pretty big and close by.
Summary: Don't limit yourself to your zip code.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:39 PM on January 8, 2010

correction: it's 6000, not 3000. 6000 counts as a metropolis where I'm from. given that I wouldn't even worry about rumors in your town, although you shouldn't hold off other towns.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:42 PM on January 8, 2010

I'm not sure why you're pinpointing kids as the deciding factor when it isn't even your primary objective. Dating outside of the zipcode: why not? I don't see what is unethical about it. And why are you even considering moving? From everything you've said, it sounds like you have no real reason or desire to do so. Even if you lived in the largest metropolis, there is still no guarantee of finding lasting love! It sounds like you're doing all the right things to put yourself back out there- don't consider uprooting your entire life simply on the chance that surrounding yourself with more people would mean finding a new partner.
posted by Eicats at 1:52 PM on January 8, 2010

If you're looking for a needle in a haystack, it makes sense to start in a small haystack rather than a big one. Or something.
posted by The World Famous at 2:02 PM on January 8, 2010

Online dating is perfectly acceptable. I've lost count of the number of my friends who met their partner online or in the newspaper personals.
If kids aren't a big issue for you, then don't worry, either it happens for you or not. I speak as as couple who couldn't have kids and found it brought us closer together.
posted by arcticseal at 2:20 PM on January 8, 2010

I will probably be hung by my ankles for the advice I am about to give.


It should go without saying that you don't need a man or a child or anybody else in your life to lead a deeply fulfilling, vibrant and meaningful life. But that isn't the question is it? It sounds like you pursued the life you imagined, laid the groundwork for its success, and when that situation no longer worked, you made what was probably an exceedingly difficult decision to set sail by yourself for better or worse. That it didn't work out is no reason to doubt the validity of your dream. And now, it sounds like you are doing everything that a reasonable, thoughtful person would do in an attempt to make the best of your situation and take care of yourself.

But this hole...I know it. And its echo.

Life is so short, and can be so unpredictable, you just can't wait for the universe to deliver your happiness to your doorstep. I have lost family and friends in the prime of their lives...just as they were about to settle into their lovingly feathered nests. Here's the thing...you never fucking know. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow. You can wait, and hope. Or you can go get it. Do your best to make it happen.

The one thing you know, is that your town is not going to pick up and move while you are gone. Neither will your family. Or friends. I love that you are so passionate about loving the place where you live despite its remote location. I'm sure it is rich in ways I have never experienced. But if it promised the life you wanted, you would not have written this question. Don't let your history write your future. Don't let fate roll the dice with your happiness.

Of course you can do the online dating thing. But don't wait for someone to be delivered to your screen anymore than you would sit in the house and wait for Dashing New Stranger to knock on your door. Go get your happiness. Put yourself in the best situation you can. Don't shut doors on your own potential. They are hard enough to keep open as it is.

Trust your gut. People should support you in your search for happiness, however you define that for yourself. Your town will be there to welcome you back, a full sack of happiness over your shoulder.

Best of wishes to you.
posted by nickjadlowe at 2:25 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sheesh, yeah, I live in a town of 800! [NOT TOWN SIZE-IST]

Anyway, I don't understand why you wouldn't try online dating services. Tell people up front where you live, and let them make their own decisions. Some people aren't into long-distance relationships, and other people are fine with it.
posted by ErikaB at 2:26 PM on January 8, 2010

I can see why it would feel like you already know every male between the ages of 35 and 50 in your town. Statistically speaking, it can't possibly be true (that's over 700 people) but practically speaking, if someone's interested in the things you do, you'd think you would have met them by now. Is that true? Who knows - the world can suprise you sometimes. I know the feeling of being uninclined to date any guy in my community (even if the community isn't the whole town), and the sort of glee with which any change to that population can be regarded; for me, the best move was to look outside that community. It really improved the way I felt about relationships in general when I didn't have to feel like I had a limited palette to choose from, and when I opened up to the idea that a strong emotional connection will find a way to work even if it looks improbable (distance, different social circles, etc.) to start with. I think the internet is a really fantastic tool for a situation like yours.

6,000 is small enough to have gossip non-stop with or without anything you do; it's a local hobby that you don't have to take personally. Two people that the old biddies know, dating each other, is twice the reason to talk than one person dating somebody out of town is. Would dating someone from outside cause a stir?? I kind of doubt it - you might feel odd as a 38-year-old looking to internet dating, but I can guarantee that the 20-year-olds who grew up there had already met all their peers, and dated everyone they wanted to date, by the time they finished high school, so if they didn't marry the high school sweetheart, are either S.O.L. or expanding their horizons. A profile on match.com can't possibly be an anomaly that would make you the talk of the town. Another high point of the gossip mill is that if it comes out that you're starting to date people, some old biddy will remember her nephew, who hasn't been able to be at activityX because he does Y on Thursday nights, and it will become clear that you don't, in fact, already know everyone in the county.

You're wondering how to know when you're "done" locally, and it's time to start doing your looking elsewhere, and frankly, we can't really tell you that. You're done when you say you're done, but maybe some internet meetups would influence how you feel one way or the other.
posted by aimedwander at 2:28 PM on January 8, 2010

On second thought, I can't disagree with nickjadlowe. When it's time to go, you go. Only you can decide when it's time, but if you want to use up all your tools before you go, use the internet.
posted by aimedwander at 2:30 PM on January 8, 2010

I should add that my point is to say:

Don't discount your idea of happiness whatever that may be. And of course there is no need to move unless you come to feel like you would have to trade it or compromise it to stay. My reading of your question left me feeling that despite the good in your town and life as it is presently painted, it was not ultimately proving to be complete in the way you still hope for.
posted by nickjadlowe at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2010

I can be three zip codes away in like 20 minutes. Unless you have geographically huge zip code zones or think half an hour drive is long distance, don't worry about dating outside of your immediate area.
posted by spaltavian at 2:47 PM on January 8, 2010

I live in a town of 5000 and I moved here from a town of 2000. My boyfriend is from MetaFilter and I didn't meet him in either one of those towns though he does live somewhat near my family, a few hours away.

Unlike you I didn't want kids. My boyfriend has a son however, so that's been sort of neat. So I guess you have to untangle some of this

- do you want to be part of a family or do you want your own biological children?
- would you consider being a single mom?
- how concerned are you about fitting in to the town?
- how sure do you feel that you really want to stay there?

Like you, I love my town and I basically decided I wanted to stay even if it meant being single. Didn't work out that way. I was also out of a relationship of five years and after six months I still wasn't even doing that great at getting out of bed, so go you! A few things helped me adjust here

- I travel for work, to see my boyfriend, to see family - I'm known in town as "that wacky gal who travels" People know I'm not married but they don't seem to care much because I have a bigger personality than just being "that single gal"
- I have a role in this community. I'm good with computers and have a job where people can come to me to learn to use them. People come by, I learn about them, I have a skill that is lacking, I fit. The fact that I'm a 41 year old lady with a nose ring who lives "Behind Ronni and Jean's place" and doesn't go to church doesn't matter so much.
- I talk about the life I do have, so people can know that I have a boyfriend, I met him on the internet, I go see him, sometimes he visits. He comes up here for some holidays, I go there for some holidays and some we don't spend together. That works okay.
- I was on OK Cupid for a time and found that even in my teeny town, there were a lot of guys within an hour or so. Some had families, some had weird stories, some seemed neat and some seemed not so neat. Dating outside of town never seemed to be a problematic idea. I just didn't do it because I am shy.
- Being a person in town without little kids means I am a decent resource for people with kids. There are ample babysitting and kid hanging out opportunities. I take advantage of some of them and skip others.

I went through an awful lot of "what the HELL am I doing with my life?" thinking after my breakup and I still do a little bit of it now. It's natural. I found that my anxiety about what might have been was sort of toxic and I tried to limit it and think about short range "how do I envision myself over the next few years" scenarios. I'm not religious but I have a really purposive view about live and I feel that I'm serving my purpose in some weird way and that pleases me. I hope you get to a pleasant place for yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 2:47 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older How can my wife and I learn to live with our...   |   In search of...personalized free online form Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.