No one to swipe: Online dating isn't easy when you're in the 'middle of nowhere'
'There's always lots of opportunities to get involved — not so easy to date,' says one woman
Kelly Kuntz wasn't expecting to find love in her hometown of Qu'Appelle, Sask.
She'd moved back to the community of about 600 people post-divorce, a single mom of two seeking emotional support from her family. It wasn't a place blooming with eligible singles, but Kuntz ended up reconnecting with her high school sweetheart.
"He had never gotten married," she said, explaining that at 39 he had figured his time had passed. "He gave up on that — finding love in a small town. I tell him he was secretly waiting for me."
The two have been married since 1999, proof that romance can be found in small towns, despite the limited dating pool and distance from larger centres.
Fast-forwarding 20 years, some things have changed, including technology and the advent of dating apps.
These apps can be a "double-edged sword" for people living in small towns, according to University of Saskatchewan professor Sarah Knudson. She said her university students talk about connecting with people online and driving four or five hours to meet these prospective partners, but long-term, that kind of commitment is taxing.
"A lot of these tools, when they work, they work really well, but it's not always a successful thing in the sense that a lot of people don't want to move urban to rural," she said, pointing to the trend of urbanization as a challenge for rural dwellers.
Smaller dating pools, distance pose challenges
Lindsay Peters has lived in Norquay, Sask., for 12 years. It's a town with a population of less than 500.
After her marriage ended in a divorce that was finalized last year, she's tentatively dipping her toe into the dating pool again.
"It's easy to meet people if you're willing to go out," she said, pointing to volunteering, curling bonspiels and ball tournaments as mainstays of rural life. "There's always lots of opportunities to get involved — not so easy to date."
Peters calls dating apps "awful," saying that depending on the app, it seems the men online are either creeps, much older than her, or only interested in having a fling.
"I'm not dating for fun anymore and I don't have time to do it for fun," she said, explaining she's a busy mom and, as Knudson pointed out, vast geographical distances between Saskatchewan's communities make it harder to meet new people she has met online.
The closest major centre to Norquay is Yorkton, 100 kilometres south of the town.
"I'm in the middle of nowhere," she said. "So if I find someone I am interested in, then I'm driving an hour, an hour and a half, two hours to have coffee with someone."
Online, most people are up-front and honest about not wanting to date someone who lives a great distance away, said Peters. And while some might consider moving just for a wider dating pool, that's not a jump Peters is eager to make.
I have learned to be content in that this is where I am, and I'm happy here.- Lindsay Peters
"The thought crosses my mind when I'm lonely, but I can't beat the small town. I love where I live," she said.
"To leave just in the hopes of hopefully finding a relationship doesn't seem a good reason to uproot. If I met someone and he ended up being the person, I would uproot and move us. But for the dream of it, I don't think that it would work."
Other options for rural dating
Knudson said more traditional advertising in newspapers like The Western Producer or websites like Farmzilla geared towards rural populations can pay off for some singles looking for love, while others might find success in matchmaking services.
Her university students sometimes talk about dating as work, but as people get older, the demands are even more taxing, said Knudson.
"If you're a divorcee with kids, and you live rurally and you're trying to meet somebody, you have to balance those family commitments, those work commitments," she said. "And then dating becomes like a job."
Mental health is important to consider too, said Knudson, noting that research has shown that solid life partnerships are linked to better health outcomes.
Life is about more than love
As much as she would celebrate love coming into her life again, Peters noted there are other things that are important.
The friends who have been by her side throughout the roller-coaster of divorce are like family to her, and hold her close to Norquay.
"I have learned to be content in that this is where I am and I'm happy here. And my daughter's happy here. And I can put off having a relationship because everything else is going really well here," Peters said. "Obviously it's not my time and I'm OK with that."
For Kuntz, finding success in small-town dating may lie in keeping your mind open. People might think they need to go somewhere else to connect with someone new, but the love of their life could be right in front of them, she said.
For her, love turned out to be something waiting for her all along in the place that had always been home.
"Leaving for that little while, and coming back, suddenly it was, like, 'This is where I was meant to be all along,'" said Kuntz.
"This is what it was all about."
CBC News is exploring relationships, dating and sex in Saskatchewan in 2019. Here are some other pieces for you to check out.