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Not That Kind of Romance

Not That Kind of Romance

How To Survive the Northern Dating Scene
By Miranda Booth
Feb 01
2015

I once went on a couple of dates with a tall blonde carpenter who showed up uninvited to my housewarming party. Karl gave off an urbane, yoga-practicing-environmentalist vibe, and though the memory of the inopportune departures of other eligible newcomers to the North was still leaving a less than desirable taste in my mouth, his clever conversation led me to ignore the fact that he would be heading back to his home of Montreal in a week, for good. We met up at Javaroma (one of Yellowknife’s two coffee shops) and set off on a picturesque fall hike around Frame Lake on what’s known as “The Trail” to Yellowknifers, of which I am one, through and through. 

Holding out for your Prince Charming or respective Cinderella in the North is like ordering gluten-free crust at Boston Pizza. It will eventually arrive, but you might be sitting there for a while trying not to drool while your friends devour their standard thick-crust pepperoni. 

Somewhat unwittingly, I spent the whole of that first date extolling the merits of living somewhere as beautiful, undeveloped, removed from the omnipresent hum and other accompanying side-effects of a dense population, with such extraordinary, uniquely ambitious, and talented citizens, where no one’s charging admission to the vast, crisp, and relatively untouched outdoors. 

Karl reacted by describing his life in Montreal, where he played several instruments in an African fusion band with other members of his “intentional community,” a group of likeminded individuals living together with a unifying goal of existing sustainably, collectively. I thought about how recently recycling and composting had begun proliferating in the North and how far they’d come within the last decade. About my own household full of energy-conscious yogis. About how easy it is to find help for a project, to borrow tools, expertise and time in this town, and about how most branches of our community are blended into one big happy, if not slightly dysfunctional and incestuous, family. 

Karl spoke of how Montreal catered to his love of swing dancing, rock climbing and other distinctive ways of moving his lean body, none of which were likely to involve sharing a bed with me.

It became clear: he was on his way out and I sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere. We were at an impasse. We enjoyed a couple more dates, but in the end, the ease of our repartee wasn’t enough. One awkward kiss later, Karl left town and I went back to being single, but this time, with a little more clarity.

Northern Kiss, by artist Nick Macintosh, was Inspired by The Kiss, a painting by symbolist painter Gustav Klimt

With all the mine workers, geologists, dentists, anthropologists, prospectors, journalists, doctors, explorers and countless other varieties of passers-through who touch down in the North for as short as a week or as long as three years (at which point they either leave or graduate to Northerner status), it’s a strong possibility that at some point, you’re going to go for someone who is on their way out. After each goodbye, I ask myself why I ever ventured to start any kind of romance with an interloper. It’s true, navigating around the emotional and familial ties that reduce our already tiny dating pool to one that’s, at times, excruciatingly small is a strong incentive. Usually when we step over the line that divides us from the South to see what we might find, we encounter someone who doesn’t have the right gear to survive the weather (or far too much of it), or someone who doesn’t know the lingo (or who uses it before they’ve earned the right). But if we’re lucky, it’s someone who is witnessing all the beauty and eccentricity of this place for the first time. Someone who reminds us why we’re here and why we stay, even though we might never find ourselves in a relationship as strong as the one we have with the North.

There will come a time when you will sleep with someone’s ex. On your bitterly cold “walk of shame,” you will see the total number of your Facebook friends dropping in real time.

I can only imagine what it must be like trying to date one of us. We are somewhat weathered by the long winters we spend alone or in temporary arrangements based on a mutual desire for comfort and warmth. We’ve grown weary of coexisting with our exes (sometimes even cohabitating), and we can’t help but mourn the loss of all those short-lived summer flings. If you wish to date us, we need to find you more desirable than the friend we’ve been too afraid to expose our feelings to for 10 years. We need you not to have dipped into our circle of friends and family. And we need an escape plan should things not turn out. Are you leaving town, or am I?

After sifting through years of empirical research, the evidence is clear: holding out for your Prince Charming or respective Cinderella in the North is like ordering gluten-free crust at Boston Pizza (a popular spot in Yellowknife due to its late hours of service and drink specials, that also seems to function as a restaurant industry training school for inept teenagers). It will eventually arrive, but you might be sitting there for a while trying not to drool while your friends devour their standard thick-crust pepperoni. 

What follows is my Valentine’s gift to you this fine winter—a compilation of what I deem to be the most important factors to keep in mind if you plan on taking a stab at the Northern dating scene. Some will apply to those born and raised in this vast land of few, some to the long-term transplants, and, for good measure, I’ll even throw in a couple for the newcomers, you poor souls.

Two ravens in love in Terry Pamplins painting, Couples

Before you embark on the onerous adventure that is dating in the North, here’s what you should know.

Don’t go to the coffee shop downtown with someone of your preferred sex unless you’re ready for people to start predicting your wedding day. Especially not in your usual parka. 

To date in the North you need patience, a thick skin and, for heaven’s sake, a sense of humour. 

Locals will feel slightly guilty for dating people from out of town. We feel we owe something to those who’ve also endured both the summer-highs and winter-lows for years, not the person who drinks beer out of the can at the Snowcastle when the unwritten rule clearly states thermoses only (come to Yellowknife in March to find out what I’m talking about). 

A newcomer complaining about the cold is unattractive to locals who line up outside the bar at -45C for a chance to go home with someone they’ve been turning down for a decade. Get a Snowgoose (a.k.a. Canada Goose) for God’s sake! 

Newcomers will say things like “You seem like a great catch, especially for up here.” You’ll cringe, but deep down you will know what they mean. Still, they’ll have lost any chance they had… at least until the winter. 

It’s safe to say that that one-night-stand of two years ago will eventually become your roommate. This might be hard to believe, but you’ll get past the awkward phase. 

You will develop a crush on someone because they haven’t dated any of your friends (i.e. new to town). Once they’ve dated all your friends, you will continue to like them for lack of better options.

Every time you go to the bar, be prepared to run into that person you rejected five years ago. Also, be prepared for them to ask you to two-step again, and again, and again. 

You will give up all hopes of becoming a polyamorist. Getting one decent date could take a year, let alone two or three. 

At some point you will be in a work meeting with every date you’ve had within the last two years. It will be the day your pipes froze.

You will go on another date with the person who puked on your mukluks. You heard they’ve been working on themselves. Heck, you haven’t seen them out on a Thursday in over a month. You’re also dying to find out if they really are taking salsa dancing lessons. 

Unless you want to know the details of the fetishes of family friends, co-workers, old babysitters, or the hardware store guy, don’t make a FetLife account. Stick to simple dating sites like Plenty of Fish—so you can keep track of all your friends and neighbours’ relationship statuses. 

Beware of the houseboat, cabin, or shack dweller who stays late at your party and show signs of wanting to spend the night. Though you may be chomping at the bit for a chance to get them out of those felt-lined gumboots, the appeal of crashing in your warm bed rather than making the trek home to a frozen house may be overshadowing any desire they have to embark on a romantic journey with you. On particularly cold nights, even your average apartment dweller may be guilty of employing this tactic. To avoid hurt feelings, boot that freeloader to the curb.

One day, you will be in the drug store complaining to a friend about a series of bad dates just as the person who rejected you a week ago because they “really needed to be single right now” walks by with their new partner. And yes, the couple will be headed towards the till with a bottle of KY Warming.

You will post a picture of yourself drinking coffee on Facebook. Several people will recognize a completely unremarkable coffee mug and assume you’re dating the cup’s owner. They will be correct. 

There will come a time when you will sleep with someone’s ex. On your bitterly cold “walk of shame,” you will see the total number of your Facebook friends dropping in real time.

Your new fling will probably meet your friends, family, boss, and dog way too soon. 

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To date in the North you need patience, a thick skin and, for heaven’s sake, a sense of humour. Remember, we’re all a bunch of parka-clad weirdoes looking for the same thing. This winter, if should you find yourself wishing for a Valentine in some Northern town—my advice: take yourself on a date. Find out what it is that makes you as unique and desirable as the town you live in. Once you’ve sorted that out, update your online dating profile and rock out. 

I’m exceptionally happy to announce that for the first time in four years, I actually have a date on Valentine’s Day. Originally from France, I would classify him as a long-term transplant as he’s been up here for six years. We met at a rave at the Snowcastle after the last session of a 21-day yoga intensive in which he was the only guy, and I was one of his many admirers. After the rave, we stumbled across the frozen lake to an afterparty on a houseboat and hung out with friends (several of whom I’ve either tried to date or rejected) late until the night. A week later, we were in love. Seven months later, we decided to relocate to Whitehorse where we’re now enjoying a life even farther removed from big city existence on an acreage outside of town with a view of the mountains. 

Trust me: I never thought this would happen. It’s true he hadn’t dated any of my friends, and he was crazy enough to move straight to Yellowknife from a suburb of Paris and stay, but how I managed to be distracted from the drama of the Northern dating scene long enough to notice the great thing that was in front of me is a bit of a miracle. I’m sure glad I gave him that can of beer (that a newcomer handed to me), and even gladder he asked me to dance.

Miranda Booth now lives in Whitehorse and is writing a novel set in Yellowknife. Some of her dating experiences may find their way into the book.