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Know the West

You can’t hurry love in the rural West

  An intriguing piece of mail showed up in my post office box. It was a newsletter from the alumni association of my graduate school inviting me to a Denver-area event called "speed dating." For 30 bucks, "singles get to meet several age-matched counterparts for timed (and discreetly chaperoned) encounters" among graduates from a select group of universities.

I won’t lie: Small-town living in rural western Colorado had left me curious, and a night of speed dating would introduce me to more "age-matched" single women in three hours than I regularly meet in three months. But crossing the Rocky Mountains requires five hours on the interstate, which is pretty far to drive for a $30 "timed and discreetly chaperoned encounter." I figured even if I met a metro-Denver woman I really liked, she probably wouldn’t return with me to the West Slope where the traffic light nearest to my town is 30 miles away.

Friends of mine have scattered to New York, San Francisco and Atlanta to meet similarly refined ladies. But they’ve taken to Internet dating even though they live in cities filled with active social scenes and unmarried girls older than the Olsen twins and younger than Madonna. I visited one of the sites my friends surf, typed in my zip code and turned up four available girls within a 60-mile area. A friend in Manhattan can turn up over 200 women within a one-mile area on the same site.

Without the help of the Internet, I’ve met lots of beautiful women in my town. They’re all dating or married to my friends. Quite a few are having babies. At times, I wonder if it’s more to taunt me than a sincere desire to start families that they’re in meaningful relationships.

The small-town romance game is only negligibly better for the ladies, from what I understand. Yes, there are more single men in the ski towns and resort outposts so girls have their choices. But the problem is that single people are single for a reason. Or as a ski resort spokeswoman put it to The Denver Post in an article about the surplus of bachelors in Colorado: "The odds might be good, but the goods are odd."

Why do some of us choose to linger at the foothills of desperation in these rustic pockets of the West? What is it about these communities where the dating goes slowly and the people are odd? My town of 1,500 people has a hard time getting year-round fresh produce or first-run movies, and there’s barely a poorly lighted bar in town where I can even meet a new girl. Instead, we have Western Family canned and frozen foods and a video store that closes at 8 p.m. Single women are hard to come by, but at the same time, anyone else who learns my name defeats my precious small-town anonymity.

But I can pick fruit off the trees in the fall and catch independent films during a Cabin Fever Festival at the local theater on winter evenings. My stripped-down lifestyle feeds a curious fascination with the eccentrics in the coffee shops and the aspen on the mountain slopes, both of which are better appreciated when I’m alone. I live 30 miles away from a traffic light for a reason — sometimes my own.

An unexpected solicitation from the cosmopolitan Front Range can stir a momentary regret about my bachelor state. But after contemplating an orchestrated series of romances, I realized I’m devoted to the slow and the wild of my small town. Otherwise, I would just move to the city, live at an intersection with a traffic light and spend my time at the megaplex and blind date tournaments.

It hasn’t come to that; small-town romance struck first. Ironically, it developed in a small town other than my own (and, no, I didn’t meet her over the Internet). I began driving the steepest mountain passes in search of romance. And there I found her — in a poorly lighted bar in an isolated town. I commuted five hours on icy byways to go see the girl during the winter, but this week spring hit, melting some snow and making driving less of a slog: I think I’ll skip this round of speed dating.

Josh Zaffos is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Paonia, Colorado.