Mar 25, 2009

Tried everything - can't make friends

We moved to our mid-sized town 6 years ago, our two children are in primary school and I am a housewife. We simply haven't made any friends here. I have joined groups, helped out at school and with local organizations and taken day/evening classes. I've invited people for lunch and dinner, had dozens upon dozens of children to play at our house and helped lots of people when they needed a few hours childcare or other support. Hardly any of this has been reciprocated.

My husband works very long hours, so he can't really contribute much. So, we have no social life, I have no one locally I can call a friend and - worst of all - my kids have hardly any social life either. (My children are polite, well behaved and fairly popular at school, so they aren't causing the problem.)

I know for sure that other people have good social lives and that their kids do too. The only time we make it on to the "A" list is when people need someone to look after their kids for a few hours. Sadly I keep saying yes because I want my kids to have their friends back to the house as much as possible.

In the last couple of months I have become quite withdrawn and feel I can't bear to make the first move again, for fear of being rejected.

We can't move away, so I have to find an answer to this. I didn't have this problem before we moved here and (thank goodness) I still have many long-distance friends.

Somewhere I have gone really badly wrong, but I just don't know where. Can anyone help me work out what the problem might be and how I can try to solve it?

Thank you.

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Don't let this stop you

When you move into a small town like you did, no matter how hard you try in the beginning, you will be seen as an outsider.

You bring in something which can feel “different” to locals and that’s what they tend to naturally reject.

The main difference is simply that they have deeper roots in the area than you have.

If you move to a foreign country, this response can be even multiplied. People tend simply to be protective of their own space and territory. They simply don’t let you influence what they had in control till now.

People who travel a lot know this dynamic quite well and simply tend to mix with a community of expats. This community of expats becomes their social circle.

I think that what you are experiencing is something similar but on a smaller scale.

What to do? As you say: you tried everything. Congratulations with that. You did put out lots of good will and I am sure people got the message.

Now, instead of reciprocating your action, they are using you without giving anything in return. They simply do not validate what you are giving.

So, what to do?

Keep on participating on the local activities you started. If you repeat the message, it will eventually sink and you’ll become part of the community but in my opinion, it can take a few years. Do things because you want to, not because you expect something in return.

Another thing you can do is set up new boundaries. If your neighbor ask you to take care of their children, don’t always say yes, as if you had nothing else to do. Ask them as well for something every now and then when you need to: simply dare to ask: “Hey our lawnmower just broke up… Would you mind if we use yours today?”

This might challenge them but will send as well a clear message: It’s not just about taking… It is about giving as well. You have to educate them with that.

What I see happening behind the scene is simply a conflict of power. They are in charge and want to make you feel you are not.

I would definitely keep on insisting. Do not push them but don’t let them stop you. Keep on going the way you went with your activities and do not withdraw. Do not isolate yourself. On the contrary! If you respond to rejection by shutting down, you loose the “battle”.

Learn to create your own space and roots in that community.

You keep on doing what you want to do. Don’t let anyone stop you.

Do all this without expecting too much in return, but dare to ask when you need something from someone. Call another parent when you need an extra info about school. Keep on taking small steps like these.

Keep your other friendships alive as well. Email, cards, visits. This gives you another type of roots and support which does depend on your local community.

Connect with nature and the surroundings. That’s another way of truly establishing roots with a place. Go on hikes, explore and get to know the region.

When you have a chat with a local, tell them what you like about this town. That way, they’ll recognize that you “vibrate” on the same level.

When you start with something new, it’s natural to get rejected at first. Simply repeat the message and look beyond. You eventually strengthen yourself immensely. Use your conquering power with that, not to get validation from the locals, but simply to break through whatever is trying to limit you right now.