Dating In A Small Pond

If you’re gay and living in a small town, you may feel as if you’ve already dated everyone. Here’s how to deal.

By Maria Fontoura

o you live in a not-so-big city…or perhaps a very small town. And it’s beginning to feel as if perhaps you’ve dated every other gay person within a 50-mile radius. Then heed this advice for what to do—and how to expand your circle and find some fresh prospects.

Small-Pond Symptom #1: Everybody knows (or has dated) everyone
Jess, 23, and her girlfriend moved to Portland, Oregon, to start a new life: They’d even chosen a sperm donor for the baby they planned. But the couple broke up several weeks later, and Jess quickly learned that starting over would be tough. “On my first date with Courtney, we realized that her best friend was dating my ex,” says Jess. “We laughed about it… until we started seeing the other couple all over town—even at Courtney’s apartment, since her roommate knew them, too.”

Solution: Cast a wider net online
One awkward encounter too many doomed Jess and Courtney’s budding relationship. To meet people outside her social circle, Jess turned to online personals, and her options quickly expanded. “I found two women who live in the area but not right in the city, which was great because it limited the chances they’d know my ex,” she says.

Small-Pond Symptom #2: You can’t always tell who’s out
The more conservative the place, unfortunately, the more likely that asking if someone’s gay can be dicey. Sarah, 26, moved to Toledo, Ohio, for med school and struggled to meet new people. “I was reluctant to approach women at school because I didn’t trust my gaydar there,” she remembers. “I was afraid of possibly alienating new classmates.”

Solution: Use your resources
“You don’t have to go to bars to meet people,” says Patricia Farrell, Ph.D., author of How To Be Your Own Therapist. “Search online for activities in your area that you’re interested in, and you’ll find specific places for people whose hobbies — and persuasion — match yours.” Even small towns now have gay-friendly social organizations, while big cities boast gay and lesbian clubs for every type of hobby, from sailing to volleyball. Area colleges were a great starting point for Sarah: She contacted her school’s gay/straight alliance and found out about the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. “I had no idea there were professional groups that could also introduce me to potential partners,” she says—Sarah even met her current girlfriend at a GLMA conference.

Small-Pond Symptom #3: The gay scene can be limited
When Garrett, 32, was transferred to Orlando, Florida, for work, he was thrilled to discover a gay scene. He hit the clubs and bars regularly, where he met all the locals and lots of tourists. “It was fun for a couple of years,” he says, “But then I got tired of going to the same few clubs. I felt trapped in the life of a 22-year-old, even though I had just hit 30.”

Solution: Do what you like, with people you like
You’re not defined by your sexuality, so don’t limit yourself to places that are designated as being gay. “I started going to places because I liked the music or because my friends were there,” says Garrett. “I realized I was meeting just as many guys as I had in the clubs.” Finding a romantic connection at a mixed gathering is always a pleasant surprise that doesn’t have the pressure of a pick-up bar: Garrett met his last boyfriend at a birthday party for a straight colleague.

Small-Pond Symptom #4: It’s hard to hide from your exes
Amy, 28, brought a new girlfriend to a cozy wine bar in St. Louis, Missouri, where she and her ex had been regulars. Sure enough, when she entered, Amy spotted her ex at the bar. “I pretended I hadn’t seen her, but she definitely saw me,” remembers Amy. “She came up to our booth and snidely asked to be introduced to my date. It was definitely uncomfortable.”

Solution: Diffuse potential drama
Confronting awkward situations maturely and head-on is the fastest way to make them go away. “Just say hello, then move on,” says Farrell. “You don’t have to bring your new partner into the conversation, because that could bring up competitiveness and anger, but totally ignoring someone sets up a much more difficult situation.” Amy now makes a point of acknowledging any old flames she runs into on dates and avoids favorite haunts of her exes. Taking the high road, after all, is still easier than moving to a new city.

Freelance writer Maria Fontoura has written for Maxim, Cargo and Her own “small pond” once consisted solely of people she met at work. She does not recommend swimming in that pond.
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