I tried online dating in my small town but had to delete the apps after my nosy neighbors got too involved

I tried online dating in my small town but had to delete the apps after my nosy neighbors got too involved
Allison Nichol Longtin tried online dating in her small town.Allison Nichol Longtin
  • Allison Nichol Longtin moved to a small town and tried online dating after her husband died.
  • After her first date at a local restaurant, the server got too involved and tried offering advice.

I met my husband just days before my 20th birthday. Our great romance began in Montreal in 2006, long before online dating was a thing — when people met each other in "real life," and I could still get away with approaching cute guys in bars after a few drinks. That's not a strategy I would use now as a 36-year-old widow after the unexpected death of my husband five years ago. And it's definitely not a strategy I would use in a small town where everyone knows everyone's business.

Six months into the pandemic, I made the big move from Toronto to small-town Ontario in pursuit of space, quiet, and a fresh start. I often feel like an alien: I'm a city girl living in a small town, and I'm a widow before my time. I'm in a literal no-man's-land. Friends my age are coupled up and having their second babies; they're not dating.

When I did the scary thing and took the plunge into the online-dating pool, I quickly learned that dating in a small town means that you're always on display, so I've since deleted the apps.

I dove headfirst into the online-dating pool in November 2021

When I started out, I created a profile on two different dating apps. Status: vaccinated. In this strange, new world, it seemed my options were to date much younger men, toxic bachelors, or much older, divorced dads. Scrolling through dating-app profiles, I saw men in camouflage hunting gear holding fresh kills aloft — and wondered how I got here.

I decided to treat this new (mis)adventure as I do most things in life — like it's my job — and went on several dates those first weeks, booking them back-to-back, Thursday through Saturday. However, I hadn't yet realized just how small my new hometown was and made my first fatal error — booking all my dates at the same location, my favorite local spot.


I arrived at my first date early and ordered a mercifully strong old-fashioned. A few sips in, I heard the server, Dan, greet my date at the door. "Here's Allison," he said as he delivered my date, Evan, to me, correctly assuming we'd never met in person before.

After a relatively successful, wine-fueled first date with Evan, followed by a massive hangover the next day, I got a text from the owner of the restaurant, a guy I knew casually and who'd pulled my number from the reservation, asking if I meant to make another reservation for that evening. Yep — same restaurant, different night, different dude. When I texted back that it wasn't a mistake, I got this response: "We're in this with you, girl!"

It felt like the whole world knew I was out there, on the market, dating. Ugh. At least in a big city, people usually have the decency to pretend not to watch when two people are clearly on a first date. It's embarrassing for everyone. Look away!

In a small town, someone is always watching

In true pandemic-dating fashion, I started going on walking dates. But a few weeks and a few first dates later, I was back at my local spot with a new friend when the server (yes, Dan again) announced that I was "all the tea the other night." For the next 20 minutes, Dan went on and on about how everyone thought Evan wasn't right for me. Everyone?!? It's a tiny restaurant with only a few people working there, but he shared his and the kitchen staff's observations in great detail.

As Dan finally left our table, I worried that my new friend might think I was a serial dater with terrible taste in men — not the heartbroken widow still very much in love with her brilliant and beautiful husband. We were new friends at the time, and I hadn't shared my story with her yet. I bump up against this often, feeling uncomfortable with being single and wanting to add a footnote to that unfitting title; the truth is, I'm not just single, and I never will be.


Server Dan's detailed spilling of the tea meant that I was now running late to meet Evan — who I was still seeing — for a nightcap. I texted him to let him know I'd be late, and he insisted on picking me up. The problem was, I was still at the restaurant where I'd just learned that Dan and "everyone" had so many opinions about our budding relationship, and I was about to give them more to talk about. Inside, I panicked, but it was too late — soon, Evan waltzed in and walked right up to server Dan. "Hey, man, do you remember me?" Yes, Evan. Yes, he does.

Online dating under a microscope isn't for me

Later that night I got a series of direct messages from Dan; he'd found me on Instagram. He apologized for making things awkward for me, but not for his overstep. In fact, he continued his argument for why Evan wasn't right for me.

A year after a short-lived relationship with Evan, followed by a long and painful breakup, an even longer healing process, and a second round of dismal online-dating experiences, I decided to delete the apps. As of right now, I have no plans to get back on them.

From the outside, it might seem like folks in my new hometown are looking out for me by sharing their opinions on my dating life. Maybe they are; after all, it turned out that Dan was right about Evan. But it's been hard trying to start my new life under a microscope. I'm going to make mistakes. I just wish those mistakes weren't the main dish at my local spot the next day.