Love & Sex

Five Things I Learned from Dating a Midwesterner

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A New Yorker confronts her own biases.

I cried the day my family moved to the suburbs. I couldn't walk down to the bodega for milk anymore — I had to drive. Like most people who grew up in cities, I was biased against anything away from New York; even something as close as the Jersey Shore seemed alien to me, a bona fide vacation spot as exotic as beaching in Miami or Cancun. So imagine my culture shock when I fell — hard — for an Iowa boy. I met Scott at my best friend's wedding in Lake Tahoe; he was the groom's brother. He was funny, sharp, and sexy as hell. I left that weekend smitten and forlorn — there were 1,700 miles between us.

Four years later, we're still making it work. Now, I've managed to explore several cities in the heartland, from Chicago to Cleveland, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Omaha. And I've discovered that many of my preconceptions were actually misconceptions. Here's what I've learned from dating a Midwesterner:

1. East Coasters can be snobs.
In the four years we've been together, I've noticed an East Coast snobbishness I was blind to — and a part of. When I first started talking about the Midwest, people seemed in awe, as if I was talking about a foreign land. I then started to notice prejudices both silent and vocal when I'd mention going out to see him or contemplate relocating there. Polite people did a lot of um-ing and ahh-ing, but others asked, incredulously, "Why would you leave New York?" I realized how arrogant I myself could be during an early visit when Scott, who hunts and fishes, offered me deer meat. I thought to myself, "Don't you mean venison?" It's the same thing, but in New York, we feel the need to dress it up. Out there, it is what it is.

2. The Midwest is more liberal than I thought.
During 2008, on the drive out from the airport and through various towns in southwest Iowa, I saw as many Obama/Biden lawn signs as I did McCain/Palin. I was forced to admit I'd imagined gun-toting conservatives camouflaged in the cornfields. And yet, I felt no one-dimensional thinking out there. You need proof? Same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa two full years before it did in New York. Take that, liberal coasts.

3. Guns can be kind of nice.
The first time I visited Scott in Iowa, Christmas of 2007, he showed me his rifle collection. Sometime later, he confessed that he'd been worried about sharing that part of himself, because I'd never been exposed to anything like it. And I confess I actually was a little freaked out. But the Midwesterners I've met are responsible and treat their guns with respect. I can't say I'm schooled in the difference between a muzzleloader and a .30-06, but it does appeal to me that we'd be able to survive in an apocalyptic future based on his knowledge. Sure, my feminist side turns up her nose when I say Scott makes me feel safe, but I dare her to spend a night alone in farmed terrain.

4. Good food exists outside New York.
I love food, and New York might have the greatest variety in the world. But food with Scott has been exciting and varied too. Along with my introduction to deer meat, I've had homemade brisket and pulled pork, barbequed for hours upon hours. And surprisingly, I learned to love sushi in landlocked Omaha's Blue Sushi restaurant. I introduced Scott to tandoori and curry at another Omaha place called Indian Oven. We've taken the drive out to Kansas City for ribs. There is a Mexican contingency in and around Iowa and Omaha, and I ate an incredible cheese enchilada at Nettie's. I've never had a better one, and I've been to Mexico.

5. Midwestern men are a different breed.
To put it mildly, there are few metrosexuals in Middle America. An ex of mine used gel every day, and I hated not being able to run my fingers through his hair. Scott is a button-down shirt and jeans kind of guy. It's refreshing. Granted, the silent part is a little harder to bear; while I frantically will turn my cell off and on and remove/replace my battery when I can't find a signal, Scott can spend a week on Lake Oahe in South Dakota without reception. But communication barriers notwithstanding, I've never doubted his loyalty to me even with his being so far away, and I've never felt that level of trust for past boyfriends who have lived within walking or driving distance. More than anything, dating Scott has opened my eyes to a version of the world I had blinders to. As we get closer to our next step, my love for Scott is worth a lot more to me than Broadway shows and subways. And if you ever get a chance to look up at the star-filled skies blanketing the Midwest night, I guarantee they give the lit windows of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings a real run for their money.