Chicago skyline (Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune) (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune )
Recently I did this crazy thing.
I moved to Indiana, which, for a person whose family nickname is "Big Fancy City Girl," seemed like a rather ridiculous move. But after five years of living and loving Chicago, I was ready to go back to school, and Indiana was calling this big-city girl's name. But while I was prepared for the lack of public transportation and the slight southern drawl of southern Indiana, I was not quite ready for the drastically different dating environment. It's not that dating in a small town is worse, or better, than in a big city—it is just different. Really freaking different.
Big Obvious Difference No. 1: Small towns have fewer people, and significantly fewer single people, especially of the skinny-jeaned, beard-wielding variety. At first the lack of my usual type was daunting. How can I find Mr. Perfect Hipster if I have only four options and two of them are married, one lives in his mom's basement and the last is in a "fluid" relationship? On the other hand, having less of my "type" at my disposal has forced me to stop being such a ridiculous ninny and start dating people, not just their record collections.
Big Obvious Difference No. 2: There are fewer bars. Fewer bars mean fewer options for first dates, which means more chance of running into previous dates when you're with your new date, which means serious awkwardness. Of course, there are not just fewer bars but also fewer coffee shops, grocery stores and falafel huts--meaning you WILL run into some ex-date at some point every week. The plus side of this is you get used to the awkward; in fact, you embrace it. Your past will show up in your present on Friday night, so you learn to treat your past with a little more kindness and grace.
Less Obvious Difference No. 3: Everyone one is married or married-ish in small towns. OK, not everyone, but there is definitely a different mentality to dating. In small towns, people are looking for long-term partners, while Chicago was home of the short-term hookup. Chicago often feels like land of wild oats, and Indiana is land of wheat bales, where everyone scrambles to grab those newly domesticated oats and tie them up while they still can.
But big city or small town, the pressures are the same: the pressure to conform to the dating norm--whether that be long-term dating or short-term mating, going to the clubs or going to church, whether it is talking about your latest sexual exploit or your latest kitchen remodel.
The struggle is figuring out what you really want and how you are going to get it. It is figuring out how to find the magic and not settle for boring sports bar dates with sloppy law students--or boring one-night stands with sloppy law students. It is about trying to find the magic despite the pressure to find the status quo. It is about trying to find what your soul truly desires, putting all your grace into getting it, and clenching your heart and struggling through if you just can't seem to find your magic just yet.
Niki Fritz is a RedEye special contributor.
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