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Becky told me about a Marine she stopped dating after he told her he was “using a penis pump to get bigger for girls.” Now she sees him out and about all the time. “Unfortunately, New Bern does have that reputation,” says Natasha, a bartender, 29, “that most chicks in this town are trying to get pregnant to trap a guy.” Almost no one I met dates online, which makes sense: If you live in a small town, chances are you like a tight community where everyone knows your name, rather than internet strangers.

From what I could glean, the local servers, bartenders, and chefs in town just sleep with one another.

So for now she’s in a friends-with-benefits thing with a New Bern bouncer.

She’s pretty sure if she wants a relationship, she’ll have to move.

Had I not set a gigantic Tinder radius, I never would’ve met Jason, a smoking-hot 32-year-old who’d just moved to the area from England for work and had played semi-pro soccer back home.

He immediately struck me as sweet and affectionate — one of the only guys I’ve ever met online who wanted to talk on the phone first to make sure I wasn’t a bot and that we’d enjoy spending an evening together.

I’ve done enough self-reflection (read: therapy) to realize that I’m often the problem, the one who’s foregone intimacy for shinier and shinier objects. But now that I feel like I’m ready for something real, it seems like the only guys left in this town are perma-noncommittal, seriously disturbed, or so young they treat a visit to my apartment like an anthropological field trip into the lair of an older woman. So I accepted the assignment and decided I would try Tinder, Bumble, real-life pickups — anything in search of a good date.. No offense, men of Eastern North Carolina, but dating is scary enough without the possibility of being alone with a guy who shoots two rifles off his hips at the same time.

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“I can’t limit my options here; I don’t have so many.” She’s not kidding.“Downtown, there’s lots of friends with benefits,” says Paul, a 24-year-old sous chef.“The women are, what’s the word, well-circulated.” John, a 24-year-old bartender, says that he’ll often have more than one waitress friend come by after her shift and ask if she can crash at his place downtown, and he’ll just sleep with the one who asks first. That’s the feeling that rises up in my throat whenever anyone asks me the totally non-condescending question of why I’m still single, which I’ve answered so many times in so many tones (“Just haven't met the right guy, I guess! There was the guy who kept taking calls from a number he’d labeled “Happy Happy Fun Time,” which turned out to be his drug dealer. I've met guys in bars, at parties, while snowboarding, through friends, and online via Ok Cupid, Match, Tinder, Hinge, Happn, Bumble, The League, How About We, Coffee Meets Bagel, and even Nerve.com, a site for “literary smut” that hosted online personals in that early-aughts dark age before smartphones.

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