I grew up 15 miles from New York City, spending my formative romantic years in the suburbs that would one day be made famous on Real Housewives of New Jersey. After four years of college in Massachusetts, I spent a mostly single half-decade in Manhattan dating people from every borough -- but it wasn't until I moved 350 miles away to the absolute middle of nowhere that I found a dating culture richer, more fun, and far more enjoyable than anything Manhattan had to offer.
Redwood is a 600-person hamlet along a tiny speck of road 10 miles from the Canadian border in rural New York. This is the "North Country;" a term for an outlier region of the state beyond the tundras of Syracuse, Albany, and even Rochester. This label draws a geographical line in the sand between here and the misnamed "upstate" provinces of places like Westchester and the cultures therein.
North Country is more Alaskan than Manhattanite: people here travel by ATV or truck, hunt and garden their way to full bellies, and feel largely intolerant of annoying downstate legislation like gun control.
An uninitiated city girl without friends (or SO potential) in this new world, I picked up a two-night-a-week gig slinging $2 beers and well drinks to the locals at one of Redwood's gin mills. I'd never tended bar before, and loved listening to people's stories while pouring them generous shots of clear and bronze liquors; snapping metal caps off Genny Light and Busch bottles; and dutifully scribbling notes in my reporter's journal behind the bar.
What I didn't realize at the time was that I'd just sidled up to a front-row seat to the dating culture of rural America. And I got its lessons, in abundance.