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Making friends in a small, rural town - easier said than done!

(91 Posts)
PaxUniversalis Fri 17-Nov-17 10:05:18

I’m new to MN. I’m 49, DH is 58. Married for 19 years, no children.

We moved from London to a small, rural market town in the Home Counties 12 years ago. I’d always thought making friends in a small town would be a doddle. I was wrong.

I’m self-employed and I work from home. DH commutes to work. His place of work is not in the local area so DH leaves home early and gets back late.

I travel for business every other month or so, anything from 2 to 6 days per trip (may include weekend work). DH travels around the UK for work regularly and he stays away 1 night per week. DH and I also go on holidays abroad or weekends away a couple of times per year, so we’re not always in town.

We like this town and we love our house. People are very friendly and the town looks pretty, BUT: we find it difficult to make friends here.
We’ve met a number of local people since we moved here 12 years ago, but there is only 1 other couple we actually meet on a regular basis (once or twice a month). We also go out for a meal with a group of other local people 2 or 3 times per year. All of these people are in their mid-50s to early 60s. Most of them have adult children and some of them have young grandchildren.

The town consists mainly of 1) families with young children, 2) schoolchildren & teenagers and 3) retired/elderly people. The local community is very oriented towards traditional families, SAHMs and retired people, and the community caters for them. There don’t seem to be many childfree people our age around (as far as we know).

DH and I enjoy living here and we have no plans to move, but on a social level life here can be pretty boring. Meeting a new person rarely develops into a firm friendship – they usually remain ‘casual’ acquaintances. A lot of people around here tend to lead quiet, regular lives and keep themselves to themselves. This town isn’t exactly ‘buzzing’.

We’ve lived here for 12 years and I’ve not made one friend the same age as me - I’m not joking. I’m 49 years old and I’m always the youngest person in the group when DH and I meet up with people. I don’t even feel 49 in my head yet! I’m grateful for any friendship people offer me but sadly I feel I have little in common with the people we know around here.

My interests are: good food and wine, dining out, countryside pubs, UK and foreign travel, reading, local community events, museums and art galleries, 20th century art & architecture, NT & English Heritage, photography, social history, listening to music including going to gigs and music festivals (early 1960s US soul, R&B, ska, rockabilly, some metal, some punk rock, some 70s/80s new wave, goth bands), buying & collecting vintage vinyl records.
Generally speaking I am an open-minded, inquisitive and creative person.

I’d love to have some friends in their 30s-40s (women and men) who – ideally - share my interests, and with whom I could meet up regularly for coffee or a meal, have a chat, have a drink in the local bars, go to an art/photography exhibition, maybe go to a gig at a music venue or pub, or see something historically or culturally interesting, or perhaps go on a day out.

It’s not that our town is full of middle aged or elderly people only. I see loads of 30- and 40-something women in town when I pop out to the local shops; a lot of them are mums with babies and toddlers in tow. Yet I never meet people of this age group in social situations. I really feel like I’ve been missing out on meeting local people my own age group.

I think I have more things in common with people my own age or a bit younger.
Or, with people of ALL AGES who are young at heart, who share at least some of my interests (e.g. my taste in music, modern art and architecture, photography), and who are equally inquisitive, open-minded and interested in the wider world, i.e. things happening outside their family bubble or the beyond the village limits.
I also tend to get on well with people who are a bit quirky and unconventional.

I sometimes wonder if our stagnant social life is related to us not having children, is it age-related, personality-related, or simply a matter of local demographics? I just find it really bizarre that I never make friends my own age here. Sometimes I wonder if we have chosen the ‘wrong’ town.
What do you think?

mindutopia Fri 17-Nov-17 10:39:06

I live in a very rural area in the south west. I would say this is unfortunately somewhat par for the course in rural areas, if you aren't from there, and I imagine especially if you don't have children. We've lived here going on 7 years (I'm not from the UK originally, moved from a large city overseas, my dh moved from Guildford). We are fortunate that we have friends elsewhere, but all are about 1.5-5 hours drive from us here. We plan weekend trips or have then down for the weekend to see them. In the time we've been here, the only friends we've made locally is one friend through my dh's old employer (he's now self-employed) and then through NCT classes when we had our dd. We're both essentially self-employed now (I do work for an employer, but remotely at the moment as my employer is 3 hours away, so we both basically work from home and don't have opportunities to make local friends through work). Our closest local friends have come through NCT/preschool/school because of our dd. Otherwise, nearly everyone who lives in the villages around us is probably 60+. We moved here in our mid 20s (now mid 30s). So there is just no social circle for us here of people who are where we are at in life. Everyone is mostly retired and keeps to themselves. People are friendly and of course, say hello and we know them well enough in passing to have a quick chat when we see them, but I wouldn't consider them friends (and I don't think they'd have much interest in being friends with us, as we are at a very different place in life). I think it's easier if you move back somewhere you grew up. If we lived where my husband grew up (also rural), we would have more friends. But most of the younger people I do know tend to live in towns. They don't live out here, and the only places I've really met them are activities related to our children. I'm perhaps it's possible to join other groups (sports teams, ramblers, the church, local theatre group, yoga class, etc.) to meet other people, but because we have children, we've never had the time. It might be worth a try if you have something you are really passionate about? I think it is just hard in rural areas, unless that's where you're from. People tend to keep to themselves more, but also frankly everyone is just really old, so if you are younger, it's hard. Sorry, not much help, but just wanted to say I don't think you're alone in this.

hellsbellsmelons Fri 17-Nov-17 10:46:25

I agree.
49 here.
Moved from W London to Home Counties 12 years ago (spooky)
Although I live in a village not a town.
I've not got one good friend here.
You find out who your friends are when things go pear shaped and although I know loads of people, none are true friends.
Once I can get out of my mortgage I shall be moving back to W London.
Can't bloody wait but unfortunately it will be a couple of years yet.
I do like it here but there's nothing keeping me here now.

FinallyHere Fri 17-Nov-17 10:46:29

I get that it is hard. We are on the outer fringes of London and I still struggle with the exact same issue.

Getting involved in interest groups can be one route to widening your circle of friends, but I found that the activity which produced the most friends turned into a bit of an obsession. When I stopped the activity, all but one friend also dropped away and, well, they are lovely but spend all their free time at the activity so i feel bad about suggesting meeting more than, say one or twice a year.

It just seem to take forever to grow friends in adult life. Sigh. Thank goodness for message boards.

Zaphodsotherhead Fri 17-Nov-17 10:53:03

Can you look into starting a group? Something that plays to your interests (book group/dinner club. something like that?). Sometimes everyone is just waiting for someone else to get the ball rolling..

PaxUniversalis Fri 17-Nov-17 10:56:29

Thank you for your replies. It's hard, especially as we really like the look of the small market town where we live, and we love our quirky house, so we have no plans to move at the moment. Visually this town and the local area is a lot more pleasing (i.e prettier and cleaner) than the neighbourhood in London where we used to live (quite run down, litter everywhere - our neighbours were friendly though) but socially it's definitely not all that. As I said, people here are really friendly and courteous but sadly I feel that I do not have a personal 'connection' with any of the people we know around here, even if they are nice people. We just do not seem to be on the same wave length.

PaxUniversalis Fri 17-Nov-17 11:01:52

I know my first post was really long but perhaps I should have also said the following (sorry, but don’t wish to drip feed):

DH recognises the fact that we don’t have many close friends here (as opposed to ‘acquaintances’ or people we say a casual hello to in the street) but it doesn’t bother him much. DH tells me that, if I want to meet new friends, I have to go out there and make friends. Easier said than done!

I’ve been thinking about possible reasons for our lack of a social life:

-We keep ourselves to ourselves (unintentionally). We don’t belong to any social groups, local associations or clubs. We rely on meeting new friends ‘naturally’ – the way we made friends when we were kids.

-We both focus on our jobs/careers and we both travel for work regularly.

-We go on holidays & weekends away a couple of times per year and, combined with the travelling for work, we’re not around all of the time.

-DH leaves home early for work and gets back late. He’s too tired to do anything other than eat, watch TV and go to bed at 10.

-DH does not have any hobbies/interests, other than reading (lots) and watching TV. He gets home late from work so he doesn’t have the time or desire to join local groups in the evenings.

-I work from home. Not a lot of face-to-face interaction with other people.

-We’re not on social media (we both spend an awful lot of time in front of computer screens for work so in our spare time we try and do things other than staring at laptops or smartphones).

I also think if people have my postal address, my email address, my landline and mobile numbers, then they have the tools to keep in touch. We all managed to keep in touch with friends and family before Facebook & Twitter existed. I prefer face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with people to managing friendships online.

-We don’t have children so no contact with local families, schools, etc.

-We live in the historic, ‘touristy’ part of town whereas a lot of people in their 30s & 40s (especially families with young children) live on the modern developments, i.e. new houses with all mod cons, front and back gardens, driveway, garage, etc.

-We don’t go to church so we don’t belong to a church group.

-We don’t volunteer. We concentrate on our paid jobs instead.

-My personality? I ‘m friendly and sociable, but I tend to get bored quickly if I’m forced into listening to/engaging in long conversations about topics that don’t interest me. I imagine people can tell from my body language, facial expressions or short responses that I ‘switch off’ (I was told once, in a jokey way). I always try to be diplomatic with people but sometimes I can be quite ‘direct’ (I was told) and I speak my mind more often as I get older.

DH and I do go out and about at weekends. We sometimes go for a walk locally, we visit coffee shops, we regularly go to neighbourhood pubs and restaurants and we attend community events (e.g. village fêtes) when we can. I like to go for walks in the local park to keep fit, and I’m thinking of joining the local gym.

There’s a local walking group but most of their members are people aged 60 and older as opposed to people my age or younger. There’s a group for wine enthusiasts in the next village but, again, a lot of their members seem to be older folk. (Actually, quite a few of the local social groups have mainly older members.)

I do like living in this town – it’s pretty, friendly, clean and safe - but everything seems to be oriented towards either traditional families with children, SAHMs or the large retired community. As someone who doesn’t belong to any of these social categories I increasingly feel like I’m the odd one out.
The population of this town does not seem as diverse as I’d hoped it would be when we moved here, whereas in London I used to meet all kinds of people.
What about single people/couples in their 30s and 40s, what about other childfree couples our age, what about the BGLT community, etc. Where on earth are they hiding???

ILookedintheWater Fri 17-Nov-17 11:06:06

What have you done to engage?
Most people in their 30s/40s do have children to deal with, but there are also lots who don't.
You cite good food and wine, dining out, countryside pubs, UK and foreign travel, reading, local community events, museums and art galleries, 20th century art & architecture, NT & English Heritage, photography, social history, listening to music including going to gigs and music festivals (early 1960s US soul, R&B, ska, rockabilly, some metal, some punk rock, some 70s/80s new wave, goth bands), buying & collecting vintage vinyl records. as your interests: these aren't (mostly) particularly social things. Is there a local history group (though I musty say our local one is populated with retirees)? Is there a local social/sports club that has bands on...that one does seem the most likely bet based on your list of likes. Volunteering is a great way to engage with the local community. You say you like community events..have you volunteered to get involved there? Certainly our local summer fair meetings take place in the pub, which is nice and social.

ILookedintheWater Fri 17-Nov-17 11:10:14

Cross posted...so you don't engage with the local community at all. There may be lots of others in your position with whom you could be friends but they are staying at home and not engaging as w just like you!
If it bothers you then you need to bite the bullet: you can't make friends in the same way you did as a child if you don't get outside and play with the other 'kids'.

duriandurian Fri 17-Nov-17 11:15:20

Well, as someone who has just moved to a small market town (and is planning on swiftly moving to nearby regency university town due to lack of any obvious avenues for deep friendships/book clubs), and as someone who has moved around a lot and just come back from living abroad, I am inclined to be sympathetic /suggest acquiring a dog (my plan, despite having kids).
BUT in the few months we have lived here I have, separately, by multiple people (bearing in mind that I don't actually have many friends yet) to avoid two women. One is v easily offended and one is super spiky apparently. Everyone still smiles and is friendly, but wouldn't pursue more of a friendship and recommend I am careful.
So it might be a good idea, if you can bear it, to take a gentle look at how you may come across to people who are potential friends but may not be an exact intellectual or intrest fit. Tbf I am also influenced in this my parents who, despite being generous hosts and interesting and outgoing people who meet tons of new friends, also lose friends annually over rigidity in opinions and lifestyle/plans.
Just a thought and may be off target but it might be worth considering if this would make a difference in your case?

sunshineinabag Fri 17-Nov-17 11:19:22

Have you tried Meetup? Considered opening a small coworking space? Ask local pub if you can host a weekly board game night or something?

PaxUniversalis Fri 17-Nov-17 11:22:13

ILookedintheWater, thank you for your message. Two observations: my interests are varied and yes, some aren't exactly 'social', e.g photography and reading (these are solitary activities). But others, such as dining out, country pubs, going to museums and art galleries, visiting National Trust & English Heritage sites, going to gigs and music festivals are very social things, wouldn't you agree? A music festival, for example, is very social and fun, especially if one can go with a couple of like-minded friends/music enthusiasts. Perhaps there are loads of people out there who share my interests, but the people DH and I know and socialise with in this town, would not necessarily come to an art gallery or museum exhibition in London with me for example. I recently mentioned the possibility of going to a gig in London but no one seems to be interested/bothered.

HellsBellsnBucketsofBlood Fri 17-Nov-17 11:24:16

I lived in my town for 5 years before making any friends - and friendships only began when I had kids. But that wasn’t unexpected and I worked elsewhere and was barely part of the community.

If you want to make friends you need to get involved. How best to do it will depend on where you live and what you do. Is there a local business group that you could join? Rotary or Lions club? Would you be willing to help the pta for your local school (you don’t actually have to be a parent)? Are there local campaIgns that tally with your interests that you could join in with? Have you got the MeetUp app and are there groups for your area? Is there a set of evening classes at the local high school you could attend (needs to be something practical and not academic so as to allow plenty of time to chat and make friends)?

HellsBellsnBucketsofBlood Fri 17-Nov-17 11:24:49

Or a book club at the library?

MyOtherNameIsAFordFiesta Fri 17-Nov-17 11:25:18

Is there a village hall or community centre? Sometimes they run classes on things like local history. Even if you're not massively interested, it could be worth signing up, even for a while, to get to know a few people.

Don't rule out the church just because you don't go - they often have lots of activities that aren't "church-focussed". For instance, my parents live rurally and Mum goes to a craft group that meets in the church, but there's no religious content - it's purely sitting around, chatting and knitting.

Trailedanderror Fri 17-Nov-17 11:30:17

You've ruled yourself out of most of the ways people meet people.
No Social Media
No volunteering
No church
Is there an annual event or local cause you could get involved with?

PaxUniversalis Fri 17-Nov-17 11:38:43

Hi everyone, thanks for all your suggestions. I have looked into joining local groups or attending evening classes but what holds me back is the fact that I have to travel for work regularly (and not on set days of the week). At the moment I work away 2 - 6 days every other month but, as business is picking up, this is set to increase in the next year. So I may well have to work away once a month for 2 - 6 days. This means that, if a local social group meet every Tuesday night, for example, I will miss out on meetings. Same for evening classes. Same for getting involved in local community projects. I'd like to join a group of people but it would need to be something where can dip in and out.

ProfYaffle Fri 17-Nov-17 11:39:41

I'm in a kind of similar situation. Moved to a small rural market town 17 years ago, now mid 40s with dc. I struggled to make friends at first, I think mainly because I worked in the local Big City so made friends there through work. When I became a sahm I realised I didn't really know anyone locally. Baby groups etc didn't really work out for me, didn't meet any like minded people.

What made the difference for me was joining/starting up local groups based around my existing interests. Found a group of people I clicked with and several years on they're now my closest friends.

I agree with pp, you have to put yourself out there into the community to meet people. The 'natural' way doesn't seem to work once you're older.

Don't dismiss volunteering, I've done a lot of it. Not for altruistic reasons, it's a great way to meet people and explore your interests. If you're interested in history what about volunteering with NT? Or a local Museum? Or is there a community archaeology group? If one group doesn't float your boat move on to the next. Sometimes you have to try a few out before you find one you like.

TalkinBoutWhat Fri 17-Nov-17 11:42:21

Well you've pretty much answered your own question, haven't you?

You've made no real effort to make friends. In an environment where you aren't going to easily meet lots of people around your age who don't have the responsibilities of childcare (because quite frankly, I'm your age but looking at your list of what you like to do sounds too much like bloody hard work to do on top of the child based activities and spending time as a family group).

I'd likely find you an interesting person and in other circumstances would want to be your friend, but I just wouldn't have the time to do the stuff that you find interesting. Not for at least another 5 years when my youngest DS is old enough to not need me around quite as much.

So stop feeling sad and DO SOMETHING about it. Join a bloody group for heaven's sakes!!!! You clearly have the time. You seriously need to give your head a wobble if you thought making friends in a small rural community was going to be as easy as in London. The fact is, I, and most of my friends, moved out of London when we had children. We lived the London life in London. In the rural area we want a family based life.

TalkinBoutWhat Fri 17-Nov-17 11:43:57

Oh, and in all the groups I did join, and the people I know who do join groups, all miss out a or 2 a month. Very few get to meetings/activities every week.

So join, don't let being away 1 week in 4 or so stop you.

CryptFascist Fri 17-Nov-17 11:45:51

I had a lot of success attending local folk/acoustic open mic evenings. Met lots of arty bohemian types who welcomed me into their fold. Is there anything like that where you are?

lovelysunnydaysss Fri 17-Nov-17 11:53:08

How about starting a Come Dine with Me group?

https://www.ovenu.co.uk/throwing-your-own-come-dine-with-me-dinner-2/

And/or book club?

Try putting notices out to your local community.

NoSquirrels Fri 17-Nov-17 11:53:31

You know what the problems are - you have listed them very eloquently. You're just not quite willing to make the effort.

I do sympathise - I am often one of the younger members in social groups. In 30/40 age bracket, people are REALLY BUSY. And just like you, they might be working away, too tired late after a commute etc etc.

Have you joined any networking events if you are based at home? If you're not joining things because you work away sometimes you'll never get anywhere.

PaxUniversalis Fri 17-Nov-17 11:56:06

TalkinBoutWhat, thanks for your post. Joining a local group may be the best way forward but, as I said earlier, because of my work pattern, I am not always around so will need to dip in and out, and I'm just wondering if this would annoy other group members in the end (getting involved in a local community project or volunteering is a group effort, after all). Even my own DH, who is 58, and who I love to bits, does not necessarily share my long list of interests. Music, for example. I got an email this morning saying that tickets for Jeff Lynne's (ELO) concert at the O2 in London are now on sale. The concert is next year (a long time to wait, I know). I suggested to DH we buy tickets and go the the concert. He said no, even though he likes ELO. He just finds it hard to make the effort to go a London-based event and even though we could stay the night at his sister's place. BTW, I am going to another gig in London on my own in a couple of weeks. DH was, again , not interested (but still annoyed that I'm going solo).

ProfYaffle Fri 17-Nov-17 11:58:54

It's the nature of volunteering/community groups that people dip in and out. It's not paid work - people can't be compelled to come! I agree with pp, you can't meet people without making some sort of effort.

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