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Being Single in a Small Town

In the movie Doc Hollywood, actor Michael J. Fox plays a doctor who performs community service in a small Southern town after he loses control of his sports car while trying to avoid a cow on the road, and rams through a farmer’s fence.

Being an unattached single, he quickly becomes the most eligible bachelor in town. In one scene, he resists the advances of an attractive woman (played by Bridget Fonda) whom he meets at a restaurant. He later goes over to the mayor’s house for dinner, and finds out an embarrassing truth: The flirt is the mayor’s daughter.

The movie illustrated the pitfalls of being single-and an outsider-in a small town. I’m speaking from experience, even if I probably won’t get Fox (he’s too short), Rob Lowe or another 35-plus actor to portray me in a movie. As a newspaper reporter, I am highly visible, if not universally loved, in the small towns where I have lived and worked. My experiences could apply to other singles who become visible in their communities and make names for themselves: doctors, lawyers, CPAs, bankers, real estate agents and the like.

The single newcomers may fall in love with their towns, find Mr. or Miss Right, begin families and dig in roots in their communities. Others, such as me, don’t plan a long stay and try to make the best of their circumstances. Those circumstances can be awkward and lonely. Small towns (generally 30,000 or fewer people) tend to have shallow gene pools and little to offer single adults. The cliché is that the social life in a small town for singles consists of bars and churches. If you don’t drink or praise the Lord, you are out of luck.

Singles events tend to draw the widowed and elderly set-if they draw anybody at all. A women’s club in my community last June conducted an auction of bachelors and bachelorettes-or tried to. Several eligible singles (including yours truly) signed up to get hooked up. In the meantime, one man who applied to be auctioned married a colleague in my office. His new wife said she would bid for him. She did not have to worry about anybody else making advances on her beau. Fewer people showed up to make bids than men and women who offered to strut on the stage.

Leaders of the club blamed timing (on a Sunday) and lack of publicity (the newspaper ran at least one story), but I believe the event failed because the town was not ready for it. By contrast, singles auctions have drawn sizable crowds-and bidders-in bigger cities.

Being in the public eye has its advantages. I became acquainted with a grand jury member while I was covering a controversy at city hall years ago. I knew that she had become engaged to a prominent attorney, but she apparently was not engaged for long. She surprised me with a call at home and asked, “Are you single and do you date?”

She wanted me to take her to the annual Democratic dinner to hear a speech by former California Gov. Jerry Brown. I politely declined, saying I did not want the rumors to start flying. Instead, we agreed to meet for dinner and see the animation festival. I could not keep it a secret long. We bumped into the city manager and his new wife at the theater.

I have dated only two women locally since I moved to my current community a year and a half ago, and have met few others whom I would approach for a date. I prefer to go out of town for a social life, and I have attended some singles events 180 miles away. But wherever I go, I can rest assured. I won’t bump into the mayor’s daughter–because he doesn’t have any.

©1999 Bruce Butler