Dear Aunt Acid,
I’m a recent college grad who moved back home to a small town. I’m lucky that I no longer live with my parents and got an OK job fairly quickly. When I say small I mean really small; the only real social activities we have in the community are church-based and I’m not religious at all. I have no friends and I’m desperate to make some kind of social connection outside of my family. There are no bars, no coffee shops, no places where I could potentially meet people. I also have no previous experience with people in this community: my parents moved here shortly after I started college. I’ve made great strides in self-esteem and being at peace with alone time, but I still crave some kind of social contact. Moving is out of the question for few years and I’m afraid of the ever-increasing toll feeling lonely will have on my mental health.
–Down and Out in the Boonies
My goodness. No coffee shops I understand, but no bars? That is rough. I applaud you on your self-esteem strides, but having no friends is hard. Ishmaels needs Queequegs (“Call me Ishmael” — I just realized, over like a thousand pages, no one ever does). Abbis need Ilanas. Xanders need Willows or the world ends.
There are some ways to work with what you have, though. Let’s go through them:
You have coworkers. Size them up. You’ve probably done this; we all do this when we start jobs. We x-ray our new coworkers as though we are airport security, looking through their baggage to see if it matches ours.
Let’s be honest, though: most of the time we’re disappointed. Coworkers often have nothing in common with us. They’re too young, too old, too chirpy, too sullen, too into shows you don’t watch and Xbox games you don’t play. They go home at 5:30 on the dot to take care of their kids. They stay at work all night and make us look bad for wanting to have lives. They’re not like us; they’re just breathing the same recycled air and smelling up the next stall. We want office family like on “The West Wing” and end up with office frenemies like in Bridget Jones or worse, office strangers like Colin from Marketing on that episode of “Snap Judgment.”
You could still choose the likeliest candidate and ask them if they want to get lunch one day, though. Can’t hurt.
You have a church. Okay, you’re not churchy. But churches, especially in rural areas, have more to offer than Al-Anon and the only path to Heaven. Do they have Bingo nights? Book clubs? Amateur theater? Depending on how extroverted you are, could you approach some of the churchy people about using their basement on an off night to start a group that interests you?
You have a car. You must have a car, if you live in the boonies. Get out of the wackadoo Footloose-type town you’re in for a night, a weekend. Go ten towns over. Twenty. Where is there a community college, an ag school, a Radical Faeries’ sanctuary? Where does the local radio station broadcast from? Where’s the nearest place you can play pool? Google Map it and go. Gas is cheap and life is short.
You have flexibility. Does your job include travel? It could, right? Maybe? Get creative. Look up conferences. Affiliates. Figure out how, with a little initiative, you could get yourself sent to other regions of the country, of the world. Volunteer for these kinds of assignments. They Add Value and, for bonus points, they get you out of Dodge.
Capitalize on the fact that you have got the kind of free time and resources that only a single, child-free person living with their parents can have and volunteer somewhere. Hospitals, food banks, a library, a school, an animal shelter. Be a Big Brother or Sister. Lead a Girl Scout troop. Offer to babysit for a single parent on your block. Ask something of yourself you have always wondered if you could give.
You have the Internet. That means you have MeetUp.org or some equivalent way of finding—or instigating—gatherings of like-minded companions. You have, if all else fails, Craigslist. The Internet offers online community, too, which is better than a kick in the head. Its slogan, in fact, is making people feel less alone since 1995.
You also have the ability to plot your escape.
People make friends less easily in their post-college lives. It’s not fair, but it’s true. “Friendship networks peak and start to decrease as you move through your twenties, according to a 2013 study published in the Psychological Bulletin,” reports Fast Company. It only gets worse once people pair off and make like rabbits.
That being the case, maybe it makes sense to hunker down for a year or so. Watch TV, read blogs, listen to podcasts, Skype with your friends, and chill with your parents. Meanwhile, save that money, and search for jobs and apartments somewhere you already have community, rather than trying to assemble an approximation of it from scratch…
…and/or apply for a job on a whale hunting ship. You’ll never be lonely again.
Illustrator: Liana Finck’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Lilith, Tablet, and The Forward. Her first graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. Her webcomic, Diary of a Shadow, can be read on her website.
The role of Aunt Acid is played by Brooklyn-based know-it-all Ester Bloom.