In the summer of 2013, I moved from Boston, Massachusetts (population 4.5 million), to Hudson, New York (population 6,600). I made the move for a job, to become the managing editor of a startup print magazine and website called Modern Farmer.
In the beginning, I was all about the rural. I liked the silence. I liked all the empty space in my bigger, cheaper apartment. I liked the very short commute to work. I was working all the time anyway, so I barely registered the lack of people or bookstores or choice of restaurant when I went out to eat with my small band of colleagues. I went for long walks in the state park nearby, where I would listen to the birds, and occasionally stumble upon a stray wild turkey fanning its plumage toward the Catskill Mountains. My boyfriend, Greg, had started a new job in Houston, Texas (population 2.2 million), right around when I began mine in Hudson, and the distance sucked, but we were making it work.
For a while, anyway. Then, last March, we broke up.
After the requisite month of feeling bad for myself, drinking too many martinis and watching and re-watching Jane Austen-inspired movies on my laptop, I emerged from my depressive fog. And I realized, perhaps for the first time, how small Hudson actually was.
And as anyone who has ever dated knows, being single is a numbers game. Online dating has offered us the promise of solving the supply-and-demand problem, making it more efficient to match those looking with those available. But most people talk about Tinder, Grindr, OkCupid, Match.com, and others in the context of a city, with endless choice, infinite swipes. How could I approach dating in this tiny town?
In Boston, before Greg, I had turned to online dating, using OkCupid, and it basically worked. I went on some good dates, some bad dates, a whole lot in between. I loved reading other men’s profiles, comparing my narrative to theirs, imagining if they could ever intertwine. What I loved most, however, was that when a date was over, it was over, if I wanted it to be. I lived in a city and I prized my anonymity. Dating this way didn’t make me feel vulnerable. I felt free.
In Hudson, as a recently single 31-year-old woman, I couldn’t bring myself to type OkCupid’s address into my browser. I was a relative newcomer to town, but even so I felt sure I would recognize everyone with a profile. And the flip side of that: They would recognize me.
God knows I don’t have much trouble sharing my life with the general public. I’ve written a memoir and kept a personal blog. I’ve even freelanced about online dating before, an article that was the reason Greg and I met, a year and a half earlier, in the first place. But suddenly the stakes felt different. There was no hiding.
The first person I dated after my breakup I actually met IRL. We were introduced at the party of a coworker; we drank whiskey and chatted late into the night. He was also recently out of a serious relationship–a lost soul, but a charming one. “The old-fashioned way can work!” I thought… briefly. With him, it did not. (But he sure wasn’t gone. On weekend nights he tended bar at the popular watering hole a few blocks from my apartment. Oh, well.)
I turned to technology next, but technology that hadn’t been available to me when I last dated in Boston: Tinder, the location-based app that shows you little more than a couple of pictures, a line of text, and overlapping Facebook friends. No last names. No contact unless you’re both interested. No pressure. My city friends swore by it.
I downloaded the app onto my phone on a Wednesday night, and with a glass of wine in one hand, I spent an hour swiping left and right with the other, wholeheartedly enjoying the ping of adrenaline when I got a match. It seemed oddly closer to the experience of meeting someone in, say, a bar–all context beyond gut feeling and fast-track aesthetics removed–despite the fact that I was at home in sweatpants on my couch. When I encountered the picture of someone I knew from town, however, I freaked out and hastily deleted the entire app from my phone, only to download it again the following day. “Get a grip,” I told myself.
It didn’t take long before I ran out of men on Tinder. In fact only a couple of swiping sessions, within a couple of days. “There’s no one new around you,” the little red words pulsed on my screen. I expanded my search to include men from anywhere 10 miles around me. Then 15. Twenty. Thirty. I increased the top end of my age range to 40, and then 45. Well, this is depressing, I thought. I began to more carefully consider every single man, every single potential match.
In Boston, I was picky. I dated a certain type of man. But upstate Tinder was different than city Tinder and Hudson was not a place teeming with lawyers and doctors and PhDs in chemistry.
And so as I swiped away, I found myself both matching and connecting with men I would never have given a second thought in the city. I was disappointed in myself for being so narrow-minded. I also liked the challenge.
People tend to live upstate in towns like Hudson for a few reasons: to escape, to find the space for creativity, or for an unfettered love of the land. It wasn’t a stretch that these stories resonated: I love a good getaway! I’m a writer! The Hudson Valley is beautiful! It could work, right? I met farmers, construction workers, photographers, writers, and even a professor from Bard. I chatted with a law student in Albany who lived with his parents. I exchanged messages with an insurance salesman just passing through town.
If our choices on online dating sites have a lot to do with our perceived class, as this BuzzFeed story posited, that is a phenomenon that assumes great choice. Swimming in the upstate pool meant that, through the magic of dating apps, I could actually meet people whom I wouldn’t encounter in “real life.”
But Tinder’s location-based services brought up other issues. Namely: weekenders. I wasn’t really in the market for one-night stands with Manhattan dwellers, the likes of whom often looked at me with a bit of shock and awe when I told them that, yes, indeed I did live up here full-time. Weekend Tinder was filled with those men. Sure, that meant more men. But they were nonpermanent entities.
Of course that didn’t totally stop me. I briefly dated a tall, tattooed man who worked at an art gallery in Chelsea when he was in town for a week on a job. With him, I felt that tingle of possibility, one that I had forgotten could exist. When he left we said we would see each other soon. The city wasn’t that far away. (We didn’t.)
Toward the end of June, I met a man who worked as a freight train conductor. He lived in the next town over, in a log cabin he had built himself in the woods. We went on long walks along the river. He took me to his favorite restaurant, a tiny spot that served both Thai food and sushi. We talked about his daughter, my writing, and how much he loved the security of his job. It was easy with him. When he looked at me, I felt like he saw me, more than anyone had in a while. But he was worried. “You’re going to leave,” he said. I was a flight risk, he thought. I didn’t belong. He was right.
On one of my last nights in Hudson, before I moved back to Boston for another job, I went to the bar with some friends. The first man I dated post-breakup served us beers with a friendly hello. We took them to the patio, to sit in the humid dusk of an early August evening. Because it was summer, the bar was crowded with strangers. “Maybe I shouldn’t leave,” I thought… briefly. Later, I glanced up to see the tattooed art gallery employee, who had returned to town for another gig, across the room. We chatted. I went home alone.
One night after lugging my boxes into the Boston apartment about a month later, I logged on to Tinder. I swiped for five full minutes but I didn’t run out of men. The possibilities felt, suddenly, endless.