What do dating apps bring to the rural matchmaking table?
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Amber Littlejohn describes dating in rural America as fun and exhausting. The key, she said, is perseverance.
“I think it is definitely fun to meet people in a slower-paced setting where the pressure isn’t as intense,” the 29-year-old Lander, Wyoming, resident told the Daily Yonder. “I think it can be exhausting because there will be weeks and months where I don’t go on any dates, even though I am actively looking. I do meet really solid men from my friends as set-ups and I love getting to know another person, even if it doesn’t work out for a relationship. Dating in rural America has allowed me to appreciate all kinds of potential partners.”
Dating in rural America can be different than in other parts of the country where you may not know the person whom you’re going to meet. In rural areas, there’s much more of a sense of getting to know someone through friends and relatives.
Littlejohn, for example, has used Bumble and a Christian dating app called Upward.
“The difficulty with Upward is there are not many people in my county on that app. I think there were three people in my county and I already went on a date with two of them,” she said. “In my town, Lander, Wyoming, there are many transient people with the climbing community and people enjoying the Wind River mountains, so it’s difficult to find someone who is sticking around during the winters.”
She added that she has met some nice people from the apps but most of them were long-distance meetups and some turned to long-distance relationships, which, she said, is a tough way to start a relationship. Many of the people she met on the apps were in other states, like Montana, South Dakota, and Colorado.
Tristan, a 29-year-old living in a rural part of Florida, said distance and a relative lack of places to socialize and meet people are barriers to dating in rural America. Tristan, who asked that his name be changed for privacy, also said his county was dry until recently.
“So such establishments that facilitate socializing on the weekends or whatever are a few towns over in other counties,” he added.
A positive, meanwhile, is that social circles are often not too far apart in rural areas, Tristan said.
“(It’s) very common to find that you have mutual friends or acquaintances with someone new you are meeting,” he said. “Rural folk tend to have similar value systems and often share similar aspirations on what an ideal home and lifestyle might look like.”
Like Littlejohn, Tristan uses apps and calls it a “mixed bag.”
“They are nice because they can span the distances that spread people out, overcoming one challenge of rural dating,” he said. “However, they promote shallow surface-level interactions and put a lot of pressure on a handful of pictures and a paragraph of text to convey your personality to someone.
“I feel that with women my appearance as farmer/rancher and working in the ag industry delivers connotations of right-wing ideology stereotypes that I do not personally align with that I have to go out of my way to signal somehow that I am not ‘like that.’”
Tristan, who is bisexual, said that on gay/bisexual dating apps, he doesn’t broadcast his identity too much.
“First dates from any online interaction are pretty much at a public place of some kind,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t share my number with them until after the first date, depending on how that goes. Social media messaging apps are used as an intermediate step in between the dating app and sharing my cell number with someone. I try to be very cognizant of safety concerns for women that I am meeting for the first time, suggesting activities in environments that would be comfortable for them.”
Kelly Sayre, an author and a dating safety and situational awareness expert, offers some best practices for people looking to date in rural America.
First, ask around about someone, she told the Daily Yonder.
“Everyone tends to know everyone or relatives or friends, so on and so forth,” Sayre said. “What are their impressions of them? And take note if there are different perspectives on your date based on whether you’re hearing from a female or a male.”
Another thing to consider is how fast it will be known in the community that the date happened, and what level of comfort does someone have with that.
Finally, she said to always trust your gut.
“Your intuition is so important. It’s always in response to something and it always has your best interest in mind,” she said. “But listen to it, pay attention to it, don’t disregard it.”
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