Loneliness is something people struggle to talk about. There’s a stigma around that.
There’s a great line in the movie When Harry Met Sally – one of many – where Sally’s friend Marie, played by the late Carrie Fisher, expresses her relief at finally mating with Jess (Bruno Kirby) and to leave the dating world.
“Tell me I’ll never need to be there again,” she begs.
Jess reassures her, “You’ll never need to be there again.”
Over 30 years later, it would be interesting to see what Marie would do with Tinder, where people are “out there” on a whole new level.
Online dating is often seen as the preserve of city dwellers, metropolitan singles who hop from one bar or cafe to another.
However, it also opened up a whole new world for those looking for love in rural Ireland, bringing with it a different set of challenges.
It’s a topic explored by Liadán Hynes in his new book Courting: Tractor Dates, Macra Babies and Swiping Right in Rural Ireland.
As a journalist, Hynes has a lot of experience telling the stories of others.
Originally from Dublin, she also relished the opportunity to explore the world of relationships in rural Ireland, interviewing people across the country about their different experiences.
“The starting point for the book was how online dating has really changed the way people meet and the technicalities when you live in a small community.
“It can be very difficult to meet someone. The community is smaller, so you stretch your parameters more broadly, but then you have the logistics of like, ‘I’m going to date, but they don’t live in the same town as me, I need to find a place to stay overnight” and all that kind of stuff.
“It’s not an aspect of dating and dating that we had heard much about,” Hynes says.
The people she spoke to for the book ranged from Erica, a farmer from North Cork, a 67-year-old trans woman, to Sophie, a 23-year-old farmer whose mother is deaf, and Graham, a gay man living in Inis Meain.
She says once people opened up, they were eager to share their stories.
“I talked to people about the most personal things.
“You might think dating is a pretty fuzzy topic, but I’ve found it to be one of the hardest things to get people talking about.
“It was a big request and I’m really so blown away by how generous people are.
“There are 21 stories in the book and in their own way, each enters a completely different world, whether it’s living on a farm and being 23 years old; being a woman in her 50s who moved to an island; or being a woman in your late thirties and going back to where you grew up and not wanting to have kids.
Hynes says that while older generations may still struggle with the idea of online dating and the privacy and security issues that come with it, it’s no longer a big deal for people looking for a relationship.
“When I told people about this book who had never done online dating, they kind of reacted in horror, but if people are dating online, they’re very hands-on about it, it doesn’t There’s more shame in that, it’s just the way people meet.
“Logistically, for people in rural communities, it’s tricky, but it also opens you up to all these people you never would have had access to.
“Apps are a kind of necessary evil, like everything on the internet, it’s good and bad.”
Hynes found there was a reluctance in particular to talk about the issue of loneliness, which has been heightened during the pandemic.
“Loneliness is one of the hardest things people have to talk about. There’s definitely a stigma around it,” she says.
Hynes herself knows what it’s like to expose her vulnerabilities, having written about her own separation in her previous book How to Fall Apart.
She has since met her boyfriend, who is from Cork.
“I went through a breakup and was single – sometimes now when I tell people I’ve met someone they say ‘Ah, great’ and what they mean is ‘Oh , now you’re fine’. And I think, ‘Well, I was fine before, I was fine’. So you also run into these societal biases,” she says.
However, Hynes says the experiences of the people she interviewed show how, in general, things have changed for the better.
She is also keen to dispel any notion of rural communities as being out of step in any way.
“For example, I spoke to Erica, who didn’t come out as a trans woman until she was 63.
“She talked about the reaction of her neighbors when she came out and went to the market or the bar afterwards and was accepted as herself.
“It looks like something that might not have happened anywhere, urban or rural.
“I don’t buy into this idea that rural places are lacking – I haven’t found that at all.
“I actually found the sense of community to be the strongest thing and actually people were more likely to know each other and therefore accept each other.”
While this sense of closeness can lead people in rural communities to date someone they already know or are connected to, Hynes said most people don’t find this a problem but rather a good one. thing, especially women who were more concerned. on their safety.
“I’ve definitely found safety to be more of an issue for women. That’s why they’re so much slower to swipe right at someone – they’re looking for signifiers in images and stuff, whereas men will swipe on everyone,” she laughs.
“But what people were talking about the most was that feeling of ‘knowing’ someone.”
Hynes also tells the stories of those who have struggled with online dating, preferring instead to connect with “IRL” (in real life) people through organizations such as Macra na Feirme.
As the organization’s president, James Healy, put it, “Who needs Tinder when you can join Macra?”
“The guys I spoke to for the chapter on Macra said they found communication online very difficult and they felt this pressure to perform and be really funny.
“They said meeting people in person at a Macra event was so much better because they found it easier to be chatty and charming.
“John, who was in Kerry, told me he wanted to meet someone in his community and that was the thread that became the big focal point for me.
“There was this tension of ‘Am I going to find someone in my place’, whether it was the family farm, an island or whatever.
“It was so important to people, it really struck me that it was such a beautiful thing to have in your life, to live in a place that really meant a lot to you.”
Ownership of the land and the obligation to keep it in the family was, unsurprisingly, a big consideration for those featured in the book.
While it was recognized that farm life and rural life had their challenges, Hynes said no one she spoke to had considered leaving the land to find love.
“It was remarkable – maybe it was the people I met – but it was really a calling, they all ridiculed the idea that the pace is relentless.
“They also talked about how lucky they were to be able to spend so much of their lives outdoors.”
Hynes says the theme of finding connection is one that will resonate with everyone, whether they’re from an urban or rural background, in a relationship or not.
“Writer Doireann Ní Ghríofa described it as a tapestry of how love really happens in modern Ireland, which was so nice to hear, because that’s exactly what I had in mind. .
“People have different experiences and stories, but there’s a universality of emotion in it all.”
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