What's it like to live in Durham/Chapel Hill?
October 7, 2017 11:10 AM   Subscribe

There's a good chance that I will be offered a job at UNC Chapel Hill soon and will have to make a quick decision about whether to take it. It's a dream job except that I'm unsure whether I'd be happy settling in in the Triangle. I'm mostly worried about finding a social/dating pool as a single 30-something woman with no kids or friends in the area who tends to be into creative types.

I've spent the past decade moving around the country and I'm hoping that my next move will be my last. I'm currently in Seattle and love the natural beauty and the arts offerings. However, I've found the dating scene lacking as a woman who mostly dates men- it seems to be high on tech/corporate types without much in the way of social/political consciousness, which is fine but typically not who I jive with romantically. I had wanted to settle somewhere vibrant, culturally rich, and metropolitan, like Chicago, New Orleans, or Portland. But there aren't many options for jobs in my field in those places, and if I'm offered this job, it may be too good to pass up.

I would really love to put down roots somewhere, have a solid in-person friend group, and find a fulfilling long term relationship. One of the biggest things that's gotten in the way of that is having to move every few years, and living in small cities where there just aren't many dating options. I haven't had too much trouble making friends, mostly through my jobs, although they're now scattered around the country. My new job would be in a 4-person setting with people who are older than me and all have families, so I'd likely have to work a bit harder than usual to make friends (I know how to do this so I don't need suggestions in this regard- I just need to know that I'll be able to find them if I try).

Also, on a related point, my biggest hobby is pole dance, and I'm concerned about finding a studio/dance community that doesn't have that weird "hey girls, tonight's the night you get to be FLIRTY" or #notastripper vibe. My current studio is super welcoming of all genders and bodies, and doesn't ignore/shame OR get overly precious about the sexual aspects of pole dance. I've looked around a bit on Yelp, so I know that there are some options, but keeping up with this is important to me and is something that I want to make sure is available where I settle.

Any experiences with living in the area, particularly around social/dating aspects, would be welcomed.
posted by deus ex machina to Travel & Transportation around Chapel Hill, NC (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you'll be fine, but I might be a little biased. I've lived in the Triangle for almost 20 years, mostly because I got three degrees from UNC and worked at a few non-profits before law school. I'm plugged into the local music and burlesque scene as well as a few social justice movements, and I humbly suggest it's more vibrant and cosmopolitan than you might think. Also, Asheville is not that far away!

I know you aren't asking advice about how to make friends, but if you do find your way down here, I'd be happy to make some introductions. My sister also went to UNC for undergrad and currently lives in Seattle, so feel free to PM me and I can get her take on things going the other way.
posted by Schielisque at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how you personally define "metropolitan", but Durham is a majority-minority city with large immigrant communities, particularly East African, South Asian, and Central American. It's a former factory town with a sort of gritty reputation that is now being over-run by luxury condos like lots of other places. Both Duke and UNC host a wealth of cultural opportunities, the usual college music, galleries, etc. Among the coolest is the American Dance Festival, which takes over Durham for 6 weeks every year, providing more opportunities to see modern dance and interact with the artists than anywhere else I've ever heard of. I don't know anyone who does pole dancing, but I have a friend who is very involved with aerial silks at the Durham School for Ballet, and there are a couple other aerial/circus places. There's also an active experimental theater scene in both towns and tons of weird little indie galleries. The (publicly owned) Carolina Theater of Durham has several great film series and festivals every year.

As far as the social/dating scene, Durham and Chapel Hill are both completely full of extremely socially conscious and politically active people. In addition to all the people who live there because they love living there and who are involved in all of the above, businesses in Research Triangle Park employ a ton of young techie types. And there are always grad students. SOOOOO many grad students. Obvious places to go and be involved if you want to meet people are Durham Co-op or Weaver St. Market (join the co-op, live the co-op), the farmers markets, Indivisible, DSA, etc.

I live in Atlanta because that's where my job is, but my heart is still in Durham.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:15 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I moved to Durham from Seattle, then moved 20 minutes away to Chapel Hill! I really like this area, but I'm concerned that if the guys of Seattle weren't lefty and artistic enough for you, then Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill won't fit the bill either. I will say that because of the culture, it's been WAY WAY easier to make new friendships here in NC than in Seattle (thanks, Seattle Freeze!).

Have you looked into Asheville in western NC? It's gorgeous little town and a borderline artist colony, but also with small colleges in the vicinity.
posted by Drosera at 12:20 PM on October 7, 2017

I moved to chapel hill without knowing anyone or having a job when I was 25 and just fell in love with the place. I had no problem with dating and met my now wife when I was 30 (although she was not in the chapel hill area). everyone I knew (mostly from the grad school and music scene) was pretty lefty and we had our places where the fratty types rarely went.
posted by noloveforned at 12:41 PM on October 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Asheville is more than three hours from Durham at the best of times. As someone who lives in Asheville but whose son is in Durham, I’m the jealous one. Durham is so much more cosmopolitan and diverse. It’s also a place you can build a life. Asheville is more of a move-in/move-out community unless you retire here.
posted by rikschell at 3:33 PM on October 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think you will absolutely find some of the most progressive, socially conscious people in the US in Durham and Chapel Hill, especially if your social circle stays pretty much within the University scene. As far as the pole dancing goes, I don't know if they will meet 100% of your goals, but my wife is looking forward to taking classes at Aradia Fitness. From her research and from talking to people who have gone there, it sounds like they have a philosophy similar to yours.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:31 PM on October 7, 2017

I adored my time in Chapel Hill when I was in my mid 20s. I have gone back to visit several times and many of the people that I knew then are still in the area. I moved to CH to attend the Legacy Center and I met so many diverse and loving people. The area is AMAZING. Hiking, art, music, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen (I'd move back for this alone), highest per capita PhD degrees in the US... I've lived all over this country and I can say without a doubt that I enjoyed the people the most in the RTP area. HANDS DOWN! You're going to love it.
posted by phytage at 7:52 PM on October 7, 2017

Hey, how YOU doin'? ;)

But seriously, the biggest issue, socially, in the area is physical sprawl. You will meet all sorts of amazing people in the Triangle, but all of them will live 20 miles apart, so you'll either have to drive EVERYWHERE, limit your friend circles to one city, or make a conscious effort ahead of time to find a midway meeting spot and have that be your thing. There are walkable/bikeable areas of Durham and Chapel Hill, but limited options between them, and Raleigh is a whole other thing, huge but diffuse.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 6:05 AM on October 8, 2017

I moved to Carrboro three years ago from D.C. and love it here. Based on your description of yourself, I think you would too.
posted by melodykramer at 11:47 AM on October 8, 2017

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