Whether you intend to move as soon as possible or meet the right man and then make your move, your first task is to choose a location to focus on. If you live in a large city, there are probably a dozen nearby communities that would be considered "country." That means outside the commute zone and beyond the suburban sprawl that surrounds our cities. Once you've passed suburbia and traveled about another hour, you're most likely in the country. It may take under an hour-you'll know you're there when you see farms, ranches, animals, and wide-open spaces. Your options will include both small villages and larger towns. Some will focus on agriculture or art, while others will have a pretty town square or an impressive courthouse flanked by attractive gardens and a wide expanse of lawn.
The first thing you need to do is decide on a "target area" that includes a town with a population of between two and fifteen thousand.
Look at areas with population centers of between two and ten thousand if you want a close-knit community. If a strong economic base is on your list of essentials, focus on towns with a population between ten and fifteen thousand. Towns are established communities, with social networks that serve the surrounding forty- or fifty-mile area. That's a lot of territory and people to cover, and you should spend a month or two doing just that. Each community will have things you like and other things you don't. You can obtain a variety of information about communities through the local Chamber of Commerce, mayor's office, nearby community college, extension office of the state university, library, bookstores, and individual civic and business leaders. Consider, too, whether the town has a cultural or art agency or is part of the national "Main Street" movement focusing on downtown redevelopment.
When choosing an area, make a "can't do without" list.
Be careful that you don't limit yourself too much, but be realistic: if you can't do without a cultural center or a homeopathic doctor, you'll have to cross certain areas off your list. Keep in mind there will be things you'll miss. For me, it was a large, well-stocked bookstore. On the other hand, our library system far exceeded my expectations. I can call up the regional library's card catalog on my computer, browse by subject, author, or title, check out books, and have them shipped to me free of charge.
Your "must have" list may include education, the cost of living, real estate, housing, or the local economy. While it's true you can't build a community on retail, you can build it on tourism, agriculture, and a factory or two. Many small towns are as proud of their industry as they are of their agricultural base or cultural center.
It's a good idea to make sure the area meets your needs before you fall in love with a town-or a man. You might also want to make a point of selecting at least two target areas to make the most of your options. Of course, my personal experience is that when you find the right man, everything else (as my country guy promised me) is "just details."
Once you've chosen your first target area, subscribe to the local newspaper. Arrange for a mail subscription and if that's not possible, find out where to obtain the newspaper locally. Small-town newspapers are usually published midweek, so if you can't pick up a copy till the weekend, make arrangements to have one set aside.
This is your best resource for discovering the economic, religious, and political climate of any small town. You can also catch a hint of the flavor of the area by reading the "Letters to the Editor," feature articles, and columns written by local people.