Lost and Lonely
I'm a recent UGA grad who moved back home to a very small town. I'm very lucky in that I found an OK job after only two and a half months of searching, and that I'm living in my own apartment at a reduced rate, because my parents own it. Adjusting to post-college life was rough, but I won't bore you with that. For the first time in my life, I have a sense of security I only dreamed about in college, but there's a major part of the equation missing. I'm fully aware that no one can be totally happy or have everything going right in their life all at the same time, but my total lack of a social life is really taking a toll on my mental health.
I will admit my default setting is a shy wallflower, but my job requires a lot of face-to-face interaction, so I feel I have accomplished some real personal growth on that front. I can even approach strangers sometimes ("Hey that's a really good beer!”) or not get freaked out when someone does something similar. I know I have a lot of common ground with people my age: a love of most musical genres, a great grasp of pop culture, a love of books, in addition to some nerdy pursuits like comic books.
The problem, however, is small-town syndrome. My community is not very accepting of people who haven't lived here their entire lives. There are no places that would expose me to like-minded people or people close to my age. No local comic shop, no bars or music venues—even our small, chronically under-funded library doesn't even have a book club. Most social activity in the community is church-based, and I, unfortunately in this case, am not religious.
I've made great strides in self-esteem and taking pleasure in alone-time, but there's still the very human want in me to make a connection with a person who is not my immediate family. Moving is not an option for the next few years, and I have no idea what to do. Thanks,
Down and Out in the Boonies
You have my sympathy, Down and Out. Wanting a social life is not asking too much, and you’re right: It’s very human to want to be around similar people. I also grew up in a small town and returned there for a year after college. It’s not all bad, and you’re doing a lot of things right.
To make your current situation bearable, we’re going to focus on two things: the present and the future.
The Present: You’re in your small town for the time being and you need some friends in that general area. To that end:
• Recalibrate your idea of what your friends will look like. Until now, your friends have always been people your age who attend the same school or church as you. Now, your friends might be much older than you, have or not have gone to college, etc.
• Recalibrate your idea of what your friendships will look like. It’s easy to have near-instant intimacy with people you meet in high school or college. Your friendships now might not have that immediate connection, and that’s OK. You’re starting slowly, looking for people you can spend some time and become comfortable with. You will likely not find one best friend but maybe a handful of friends, all of whom have different aspects you enjoy.
• Look outside your small town. Is there anywhere within driving distance that has a bar, restaurant, theater, bookstore, etc.? Extend your radius to an hour’s drive. Because of your geography, you’re going to have to do a little work to find people to spend time with.
• Without taking on credit-card debt, make regular trips to visit college friends in other places. One of your college friends moved to Atlanta. Plan a weekend trip to visit him or her. Sooner or later, someone you know will end up in NYC. Plan that trip. Try to do these trips every three months or so. You need something to look forward to and to see and experience other places. Alternate plan: Take a trip with a college friend to a place you want to see.
• See if you can create some social opportunities in your town. You mentioned the lack of a book club. Choose a book you’re interested in and advertise the first meeting. Or start a running club. Or yoga. Or something to that effect. I know you don’t think so, but there are people in your little town who would be interested in something like that if it presented itself.
• Try online dating. Set your search radius as far as you’re willing to drive. Even if you don’t meet the perfect person, this is one avenue for you to meet people, go out and socialize.
• Use some of your free time to read The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke by Suze Orman and The Defining Decade by Meg Jay. Make good use of your time in this small town to save some money and make decisions that will point you towards the life you want.
The future: You say moving is not an option for a few years. I’m here to tell you that moving is always an option. So don’t tell yourself you must stay where you are for some indeterminate amount of time. Don’t quit your job and move without a plan, but do start looking. Now that you have a job, finding one will be much easier. Even if you do intend to stay where you are for two years, the time to lay the groundwork is now. Be deliberate about where you go. Once you have a little experience, you can afford to be slightly more selective. Think about places you’d like to live and focus your search there. Reach out to people in that area. Research options, and keep your ear to the ground. Something might come up sooner than you think.
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