Finding love in a small town can be awkward but being friends first can help

'Focus on making that other person's life the best it can be.'

By Denise Waldron

Juanita Miscio has given up online apps. Photo: Juanita Miscio.

The reality is that it can be tough to pursue new relationships in a smaller community where everybody knows you. But whether it’s through a dating app or a good old-fashioned personal encounter, local singles keep searching. And they’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

Like, for starters, that it’s pretty hard to be inconspicuous on a first date in a small town.”

“If you post anything on social media, even if they’re just in the background or something, everybody knows who it is,” said Alex Moores, a single, 29-year-old education assistant from Lindsay.

“Sometimes you get a DM (direct message) ‘Is that so and so?’” she said. “Everyone is so nosy.”

Another refrain among small-town daters is the distance they often have to travel to find a match. 

Alex Moores.

Moores found that many local men sent her creepy dating app messages or they only want a hookup. She has extended her dating range for more choice and has found matches three or fours hours away. “That does not seem realistic to me.”

If daters travel to a sizeable city, they can visit hundreds of clubs, events or venues and may not run into any of the same people — ever.

There isn’t much of a buffer in Kawartha Lakes. People you date or know will be at the grocery store, the farmers’ market, bars, the post office or the convenience store.

Juanita Miscio bumped into a man she knew at a Jack and Jill dance the weekend before the pandemic lockdown of March 2020. The two met in high school and their families knew each other. There was a romantic spark after seven years apart.

While the two were cutting a rug, a fight broke out on the dance floor. The fisticuffs separated them. “I was worried about him when I got home,” said the 27-year-old bisexual female from Fenelon Falls.

She tracked the man down on Facebook and the two dated for 10 months. They still see each other now and then. “We have not had the talk about ‘what we are’ yet,” but she is glad he is back in her life.

Miscio grew up at a resort near Haliburton chatting up the guests and honing her social skills. “I’ve never been afraid to talk to others.”

Her six-year-old son plays hockey. While pucks bang off the boards in frigid local arenas, the aspiring photographer, who owns her own cleaning business, warms up to the subject of potential mates in the local dating scene. “I’ve always been successful in getting dates in the Kawarthas.”

There is an assortment of online dating sites with mobile apps to help find casual matches or something more serious. Miscio said many men seemed nice online, but she soon found that most just wanted sex. She has strict rules and has to get to know them first. “I don’t even kiss on the first date.”

Miscio has given up online apps after a date put his hands on her throat twice while drinking. She says alcohol can break the ice but can also encourage physical violence, depending on the person. The incident left her with post-traumatic stress, so her new mantra is to only date people she meets in real life or through others. While Miscio has met some men online who became friends, she is leery of “stranger danger.”

Family and marriage therapist and psychotherapist Brian Farmer says online dating is popular, given that people don’t gather as much as they used to. “When they do, it is more spectator events and not interactive social dates,” he said.

While he is not against online dating, he cautions there are many pitfalls. “You don’t know who is on the end of that profile or call, or how the service screens types of people who are undesirable,” he tells the Advocate.

Farmer, who is also a pastor at the People’s Full Gospel Church in Lindsay, says the focus on meeting online  means that people are not developing the social skills to deal with someone in person. “There is evidence that younger people don’t pick up on the cues if someone is being dishonest, as others did when all of their interactions were in person.”

The Lindsay therapist says a constructive way to find someone is participating in a social activity of interest to the dater. “If someone really enjoys curling or some type of activity, they could meet other people with a similar interest and have something in common.”

While some rule out being set up by friends or family, Farmer says people should not discount it as many end up with partners, thanks to these familiar connections.

Farmer suggests being friends with someone before getting into a serious relationship. “Our culture has put this mystique around falling for this person who makes your heart pound and you have that visceral reaction as being the ultimate sign that person is for you.” 

He said studies behind that show it is not the case. “We can have a push towards that attraction to people that are not suitable to us, simply because they meet all the checkmarks we have subconsciously put up in our minds.” He adds it is not to be dismissed totally, but it’s not the only marker. “Ultimately a long-term relationship has to have both attraction and friendship to be solid and viable.”

Donna Medland.

Donna Medland has used a long-term friendship and online dating to explore romance at 82.

The Lindsay senior entered a profile in the digital world and soon noticed a man familiar to her — they had gone to school together. They met for lunch and her date instantly reacted badly to her level of mobility. “I get around fine but use a walker,” said the widow. Things went downhill from there. He let her know he was seeing a woman in Montreal and was hoping to date a much younger woman he had just met at a drug store. “He thought he was the cat’s pyjamas,” she laughed.

Medland is a traveller and wanted a companion to share warm breezes on a Caribbean cruise. After she came up empty, her three daughters asked her to consider an old family friend. They had gone to kindergarten with Bruce Sapsford’s children in Scarborough. The two families were friendly and went on holidays together. “Bruce and my husband Bill were good friends.”

Bruce Sapsford.

She called Sapsford, and they picked up where they left off. “We always have something to talk about and he takes me for what I am.” While their conversations were frequent and enjoyable, Medland said inviting Bruce on the cruise felt a bit scary.

Her potential cruise partner took up Medland’s offer to visit at her home for three days in March. While she wanted to see him in person, she had ulterior motives. “I wanted him to meet all of my friends in Lindsay and get their approval,” said Medland. They gave him a gold star and the two are sailing off into the proverbial sunset from Florida for 19 days. “We’re just friends and will see how it goes. I have no expectations.”

Emily Stewart, a 24-year-old municipal worker from Bobcagyeon says her generation has unrealistic expectations. She says Gen Z daters feel an obligation to get married and time is running out. She dated someone for five months from Bobcaygeon and they wanted her to move in with them. “It was all too fast,” she says. “People are rushing things. The person you marry may not be the same person in 10 years.”

She finds the sentiment also applies to sex. “Lots of men say they want a relationship but they only want fun and quick with no strings attached,” she adds. “People need to be honest upfront about what they want.”

Stewart hosts the podcast 2 Broke Canadians with a female friend. She says men gravitate to the episodes about sex and think that is who she is. “I am so much more. We cover aspects related to life, the world, drugs, love and personal health.”

Emily Stewart.

Despite being open about what she wants, Stewart finds it disappointing that many men are not.

Colin Jacobs asked us not to use his real name because of the advocacy work he does in the community. He is always open with his dates, such as the fact that he is pansexual and monogamy is not that important to Him. The 30-year-old student from Lindsay lets his dates know he is not limited when it comes to biological sex, gender or gender identity. “Transparency, honesty and support right from the start is needed,” says Jacobs. While he is upfront with dates, some don’t subscribe to the lifestyle and bow out. Others are appreciative and stay.

The aspiring wildlife technician says he has no filter when approaching people. “I am very successful at finding dates through student groups at Fleming,” Jacobs says. He takes part in events and goes intending to have a good time with no expectations of dating or meeting someone. “Every conversation will not lead to a date.”

While Jacobs is open to meeting dates anywhere, he says singles’ events are antithetical to his philosophy of dating.

Variety is a tremendous part of his life. When looking at his social, romantic and sexual needs, he says it would be unfair to expect one person to fulfil these needs. “I’ve had sexual experiences with men, but I don’t call it dating, and my serious relationships are with women only.”

Jacobs is a believer in what he calls “dating anarchy.” He looks for relationships based on needs and wants rather than traditional expectations, such as marriage. Dating anarchists tend to believe in freedom, non-hierarchy and open communication.

His best advice? “Put yourself out there, be honest and respectful and get tested.”

Denise Smith, the local health unit’s manager of health protection and the sexual health clinic’s manager, says routine screening for sexually transmitted infections  is important for early detection and treatment to limit the transmission. The clinic also offers free condoms, low-cost birth control, free pregnancy testing, emergency contraception and more. Confidential sexual health information, counselling and clinical services are also available.


Local therapist Brian Farmer’s best relationship advice:

“Focus on making that other person’s life the best it can be. You will get the best response from someone if your focus is to make their life better and their focus is to improve your life. You will overcome the difficulties with much more ease.”

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