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How to Date Later in Life If You Live in a Small Town

Professional matchmakers offer advice for when the dating pool seems underwhelming.

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Tina Gregory is ready to put herself back out there again. Her ideal dating world would be a sunny, coastal town, but logistically, this is a bit of a challenge. 

Tina lives in a small, rural town in Oklahoma where she’s the single mom of a first grader. She adopted Liam as an infant, and he’s pretty much the love of her life. So even though she thinks about escaping to that beach from time to time, she stays where she is because she has family, support, and a good paying job. It works for her — except when it comes to dating. 

Tina is not against meeting someone in town, if fact, that is what she is hoping for. It’s just not as easy as opening up a dating app and swiping right or left. “I feel like every few people I come across is either someone I know or work with,” she says.  

So how do people in small towns actually date? And what are the best ways to find love outside of your community, network, or bubble? We went to the mom and daughter matchmaking pair, Carly Spindel Rochkind and Janis Spindel, to get some tips for Tina and anyone in a small town dating rut to tackle this tough challenge. 

Cast a wide net.

“Dating in your backyard is easier, but it’s always a good idea to expand your search,” says Carly. “The wider your net, the most chances of meeting the one.”  

The unknown can feel scary, but according to a Yale study, uncertainty is a good thing. It stretches our brains and opens us up in great ways, and this can definitely be true in building relationships, too. Just by opening up your expectations a bit, you could discover a new person. So open up your filters to people who live a little further away than you normally would travel — maybe even try expanding your age range, too. 

Be open to dating when you travel. 

On that note, dating should not be limited to times you are in your home town only. In fact, Janis says meeting people when you’re traveling is the, “Greatest idea ever! You never know where your significant other will come from, and you should be open to anything goes!” 

Janis is also a big believer in telling people to pick up and move if it’s just not working where they live. But she also realizes this doesn’t work for everyone, so she recommends looking for dates when you’re visiting other cities. To start, look at the closest major cities where you live. She says to be open and direct about your situation — some people are more willing to try long distance than others — but this is definitely an era where it’s much easier to date someone farther away. 

Try new activities. 

“Doing different things increases your chances of meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right,” says Carly. “Pick new venues and try exploring them once a week. The more hobbies you have, the more people you’ll meet.” 

This is a practice you can apply anywhere you live. Sure, there might be more events, classes, and hobbies in a larger city, but there really are social activities everywhere you look. Perhaps it’s time to go to that cooking class, try a new kind of workout, sign up for that book club, or just hang out with a different crowd. Even if you don’t have that variety in your own area, look at websites like MeetUp.com or the Facebook events section of the closest city. Because as Janis points out, you really could find love anywhere. 

Set small goals. 

Janis understands that dating apps can be overwhelming. When you first sign up, all the profiles seem to run together, and it can be really hard to know who is worth striking up a conversation with. As a solution, she encourages her clients to set small goals. 

Make an agreement with yourself that you’re going to meet and chat with a certain amount of people each day or week. It’s up to you to set the number, but be sure to stick to it. Really put in the effort to talk to the person and have a conversation. Then move through them a little at a time! 

Mix it up. 

Janis offers just a little bit of tough love when it comes to dating, which is “If it’s not working, fix it.” 

It’s so easy to get in the same routine — to make the same mistakes and fall for the same types of people over and over again. If this is happening to you, it might be time to have a tough conversation with yourself. “Step out of the box. Get out of your comfort level. Be open-minded,” she says.  

Remember that it takes work. 

It’s easy to think that “the one” should just fall into our laps. That’s how it works in Disney movies, right? But in reality, relationships can take time, effort, and work. Carly says, “It takes a lot of effort, patience, and hard work, but it makes the heart grow fonder.” 

She also reminds her clients that you can’t underestimate the value of quality. Just about anyone can go on a bunch of dates, meeting person after person, but it takes time to really get to know someone deeper. This is essential in finding out if they’re a good fit — yes, it takes work. 

Don’t write off your town altogether. 

Even though you think you know what’s out there in your own small town, Janis says not to dismiss it completely. Because you really never know who might pop up on your dating app or come into your circle. “I just pushed a girl doctor who lives in a rural, small town to get on Match.com, and she did,” she says of a recent client. “Now she’s going out on date number five with a handsome, fabulous great man in her small down that she never would have met otherwise.” 

These days Tina is starting to open up her dating app when she’s out of town and trying to accept that dating can take time and effort. Her Bumble is currently sitting with 50+ people who have matched with her. This can feel overwhelming and give her anxiety, but she reminds herself that she can only take it one day (or person) at a time. 

“For me, it’s not about meeting all these different people from different places,” Tina says. “It’s more about finally meeting that right person. And then we’ll figure out where that right place is together when the time comes.” 

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