YK Dating Dilemmas: The Guide

See you in two weeks, I hope

Over the years, we’ve learned there are a few dating complications that seem to only happen in our little northern city. From waking up on a houseboat to scheduling your love life around a two-week rotation to being in at a dinner party with more than three of your ex-partners, we’ve done our best to lay out some of the most typical dating issues a Yellowknifer might face, so you can rest assured: it’s not just you.

The Javaroma date

It’s a good idea to pick a well-populated place to meet up with a stranger on a first date, and a coffee with someone new is a time-tested way to get the ball rolling. It’s cheaper than drinks at a bar, with less potential for drunken embarrassment.

And so there you go: Javaroma, where YK goes to first-date: it’s right in the middle of downtown, a good halfway meeting point for most. Its large, open plan and Franklin-facing windows make it ideal for people-watching. 

Just be aware that watching goes both ways here. Everything from your awkward greeting, to your introductory small talk, forced laughter and blush at the first graze of a hand when you both go for the last piece of the scone can be noted, by the guy breezing through for his coffee refill and the student behind their laptop in the window booth. You’re their soap opera. They’ve already made up a storyline for you in their head. And they’re all watching to see if, months from now, you’ll follow through with the safe break-up coffee at Javaroma as well. That’s not paranoia. That’s how this town works.

Dating within your social circle

Dating among friend groups is like an incestuous middle-school dance at the best of times, and things get complicated when you’re trading partners back and forth. 

We all know that too much talking about an ex with a new love interest is a mistake, for instance. But what if that ex is two seats away at every social gathering? What if your current squeeze already knows everything about your most recent partner because they talked about your relationship while the ex and you were dating? 

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Some even suggest that the Friend Code (which states: dating a friend’s ex is forbidden) doesn’t hold in YK, because it’s nearly impossible to find an unconnected connection. You may just have to get used to the fact that you’re frequently going to be in a room with several of your exes and you’re going to have to play nice.

Just make sure your dating roster doesn’t start to look like a game of musical chairs, and keep in mind that you may start to run out of chairs if you keep things in the FWB grey zone.

Getting serious with co-workers

Office romances can easily go from an adorable Jim-and-Pam situation to an obnoxious Kelly-and-Ryan or disastrous Dwight-and-Angela mix-up. A cute office crush can lead to passive-aggressive memos and awkward meetings in a matter of months, or even days. This is a universal problem, but one that crops up a lot in our tiny dating pool. In a town where nightlife is a limited resource, office propinquity is a big romantic motivation.

As everybody’s know-it-all elder sibling says, healthy separation between work and play is a good thing. While you may think that you might as well date that handsome devil you’ve been spending so much time with, be aware that without firm ground rules laid out, leaving work at the office will be a continuous challenge (goodbye neutral dinner conversation) and keeping personal stuff out of the workplace can be near impossible (as noted by the rest of your coworkers).

One of the few exceptions for coworker dating is if one of you is about to leave for another workplace, but even then, in a city this small, watch out.

The winter shack-up

Both the real estate and dating scenes in Yellowknife tend to change once wintertime hits. The best low-cost way to keep warm when it’s -50? Spooning. The major relationship step that is cohabiting is often fast-tracked when the windows get sealed, darkness sets in and the heating bill climbs. You may find that this seemingly practical and slightly crazy decision becomes just plain crazy once cabin fever sets in, though. Did you get a chance to discuss how bills and responsibilities were going to be split before the snow fell? Because it turns out Jimmy likes long showers, and Jill likes to leave a ¼ inch of milk in the carton before putting it back in the fridge. The delights of cheap rent and spooning tend to go out the window when it’s too cold and dark to go outside and it’s been too cold and dark to go outside for weeks now and the mere sound of hearing your partner breathe across the dinner table begins to make you eye the steak knives.

Summer mania

So you started dating someone in the fall, shacked up with them through the winter, and no one died or was cast out into the snow. Congratulations! Yet: you’re not sure if it’s because that the sun now never seems to set, but you’re starting to feel a little restless with the arrival of the warm temperatures.

Yellowknifers pack as much activity as possible into their very short summer season, panicked at the idea of the sun setting again. They’re outside, on the water, hiking, camping, attending festivals. There are just not enough Saturdays to be able to fit everything in. The FOMO is real, and so is the inclination to jump at something new when it comes along.

There are new people in town every summer, with students returning and adventurers here for seasonal work. The trouble is, with the mania of summer it’s easy to forget that the mysterious banjo-playing stranger you’ve just met is perhaps an unstable drifter leaving town next week. If you’re in the market for a summer fling, the endless summer nights in Yellowknife can suit your bill perfectly. As long as you don’t have expectations once the days shorten.

Camp Life

For some people, the two-weeks-on/two-weeks-off relationship is ideal. But while there are plenty of success stories, there are also some tales-gone-wrong particular to this common northern work schedule.

We’ve heard about partners who suddenly become ‘single in mind’ when they enter the insular camp world. Camp connections can get intense, with workers sharing close quarters in a place removed from most of the outside world’s distractions, and prying eyes. Camp can be a second home, and relationships there are often prioritized just as highly as those back home.  

Then there’s the partner left behind in town, keeping up an active social life, filling their days with plenty of extracurricular activities, at best, or developing unhealthy solitary habits or substance abuse issues at worst. They may start out wishing their loved one was present, but often end up resenting them for their absence. Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but can also lead to exhaustion and alienation.

The 2WI/2WO lifestyle also creates a wildly swinging imbalance, with two weeks of intense longing, suffering through choppy Skype attempts and misinterpreted messages, followed by the panic of fitting in every couple-like thing before the camp partner is back in the bush again. Let’s not even get started on the impact a rotational schedule has on conventional family life and relationships.            

It’s absolutely workable for some, of course. Even preferred by a few. That two-week break can be a breath of fresh air, but rotation often takes tremendous strength from both partners in a relationship. Navigate carefully.  

Love long-distance

We’ve all heard a story or two about someone who moved up here with a significant other back home, either with the hope of frequent Skype dates and holiday visits keeping things going, or with their online dating profile already filled out at the airport. Chances are, they’re not going to make it to that holiday as the cold weather and desire to snuggle up to someone (anyone) sets in, and their blindsided partner inevitably discovers their Tinder activities. If that’s not enough, the cost of airfare is prohibitive enough to kill any kind of long-distance dream.

There are plenty of Yellowknifers who choose to keep their love out of city limits, however. Our social media age makes it easier for couples to maintain relationships through distance, but can also lead to a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication (hint: never read through someone’s message history. You will always find something you’ll misinterpret and won’t like).       

There are also plenty of exceptions when it comes to long distance, and that usually involves two factors: knowing your mate, and knowing your end date. If your relationship has strong communication skills and respect to begin with, and if you both know the distance is only temporary, well, you just may be the exception.

The bar scene

You may be thinking this isn’t particularly a Yellowknife thing, since the bar scene in any town has never been an advisable starting point for dating. It’s just that, in this town the ‘bar scene’ equates to about, what? Seven or eight places?

Your love story might go something like this: 1. There were some fun things going on at the Monkey Tree patio after work, so you joined up with a few friends, which led to a cab downtown where you 2. checked out the new Kilt & Castle for a while before you got a text saying there’s a group hanging out at the BK, so you 3. planned to just grab a few pints and laughs there when you locked eyes with a cute stranger across the bar; 4. and then while on your way out of Twist to visit another friend, you collided with said cute stranger again who was on their way to The Cellar for some music, so; 5. after listening to some open mic at The Cellar and, under the influence of a few more drinks you decided on 6. Harley’s. 7. Someone asked if the Gold Range was still open as the group started pairing up for some two-stepping, before reaching the inevitable 6. sweaty, sweaty shots at The Raven to end the night, followed by questionable decisions and waking up to a mysterious phone number in your contact list. Just like a fairytale. Repeat, change the order, and you’ll probably end up with the same result.

Happy couples meet in bars all the time, and if that’s your thing then keep doing your thing. Just be aware that your highly visible Bar Star activities may start to precede your drink orders as you traverse the infinite loop.      

Bonus: Houseboating

Yellowknifers love houseboaters. What’s not to love? They are some of the toughest, yet most laid-back Yellowknifers you’ll ever meet on or off the land. Just know that houseboat dating, much like houseboat living, is not going to come without complications. From your first morning waking up and having to ask for a row back to shore instead of being able to sneak away quietly in the night, to sorting their underwear among the loads of laundry you’ve started doing for them within the first few months of dating, you’re committed to the lifestyle as well as the person. Nothing says love like dumping a honey bucket together. Forever.

Check out Laura Eby’s look at the quirks of online dating in Yellowknife.

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