Friday, May 10, 2013

"City Folks Just Don't Get It"

Television is inundated with commercials about dating websites and services. All promise to be better than the others or to satisfy a particular need. Aside from the usual and, there are sites designed specifically for gay individuals, Christians (, and even certain races (such as Therefore, I was not surprised when I discovered a dating site for rural folks. What did surprise me is that it has been around since 2005! The creation and success of the concept illuminate some of the various trends rural scholars have observed about rural communities. It touches on lack of anonymity, defining "rural" as a culture, and technological limitations. was founded in 2005 by Jerry Miller. Miller started the site after a farm owner complained about lack of like-minded people in her dating pool. in 2006, Laura Bruno wrote in USA Today about the site achieving the 200,000 subscribers milestone. In his interview, Miller recounted the rural reality of small town lack of anonymity. He said he "kept hearing the same thing: 'I know everybody in my church, everybody at the store, but I go on these big dating sites, and they just don't understand the lifestyle.'" In a rural town, you know everyone, and that is not a lot of people. This leaves individuals such as the divorcee who inspired Miller to be afraid they would not meet anybody new. "Lots of these people are really, really lonely," Miller said. "When you walk outside in New York, there are 10,000 people within three blocks. In some of these rural towns, there are three people within 10 miles. It's a whole different ballgame." Not to mention with everyone knowing everyone and everything, individuals are robbed of the opportunity to learn about each other. Further, you can't escape past mistakes (including those pesky exes).

The site uses the more loose definition of rural. Most define rural through population size or density.  However, others argue that "rural" is a set of values. This latter approach would exclude certain communities that are filled with city folks in a rural space. For example, exurbs are "region or settlement that lies outside a city and usually beyond its suburbs and that often is inhabited chiefly by well-to-do families."  It "is not the same as an outright rural area. It is where the edges of a metropolitan area blend with a rural area, resulting in a semi-rural character." While it's distance and population density may qualify certain exurbs as rural, the culture of the area is closer to urban than rural. has but one criteria for membership - individuals who embrace small town values. Because after all, "city folks just don't get it." A person does not need to be farmer. One "could work at a restaurant, or the feed store, but are looking for someone who has those values." In fact, Miller said that he has a few urban users instead. Most often, they are rural transplants in urban concrete jungles. They  "grew up in the country and dream of moving back to country ... Dreamers that want to get out."

Unsurprisingly, technology is the most challenging part. When they launched in 2005, "everybody had phone modems," Miller said. "Connections were slow, so we had to keep it simple." While things have gotten a little better, rural areas continue to struggle with internet infrastructure (see past Legal Ruralism posts on the subject here, here, here and here). Even rural areas that have broadband, individuals are simply not as familiar with how to navigate the internet highway. Miller admits that the most challenging part of the venture is showing people the roles. He noted, "the learning curve is a lot different for us." In fact, he "spent thousands of hours coaching people on how to use the site, send messages—even just teaching them how to upload their photos."

The cost of the service is rather low. Users only pay $15.95 per month, or $49.95 for six months, to find a like-minded match on the service. However, rural areas are more likely to struggle with poverty. In fact, the Carsey Institute finds that "one-half of all rural poor are segregated in high-poverty areas." Therefore, the cost may be prohibitive. But for those that can afford it, Miller reports there have been plenty of success stories of couples who married after they met on the site. The service provides an innovative way for individuals to make a small town a little larger, without loosing the small town values they hold so dear.

No comments: