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June 2, 2009 4:35 AM   Subscribe

How do you make friends in a small town?

My boyfriend and I have recently moved to Paris, TX (we'll only be here for the next couple years). It's got about 30,000 people and one quiet Junior College. As the more extroverted half of our rather introverted relationship, I've been trying to meet people to turn into friends. It's not going well.

My usual approach in a new city is to start on Craigslist, meetup.com or local websites and find events to go to. Craigslist doesn't really exist out here, and I haven't found any local (or regional!) communities. I've checked every bulletin board I can find at the grocery stores and the junior college. Only found one posting for an anime club, and we don't watch anime. Facebook doesn't even recognize Paris, TX as a real location, so I can't find gatherings that way.

Plug 75462 into Meetup.com and the results are... not encouraging. The closest Metafilter meetup is in Dallas - that's a 3 hour drive one way. I can't run one, can I? I'm really quiet here. Is there anyone nearby to come?

I haven't ever had trouble making friends before - it always just sort of happens when you're around a group of people, yaknow? :) Plus, I can strike up a conversation with almost anyone, given the chance. My problem is that I can't find any nice non-religious groups. This town is REALLY into their churches, so I suspect that social networking starts there. I don't want to join a church!

Little bit more background - we're 25ish, college degrees, and tend to be environmentalists and liberals, but not argumentative about either topic. We like hiking, kayaking, board games, and the occasional alcoholic night. Where should I look for new friends?

Bonus difficulty: Up until the last election, it was a dry township. I get the impression that these folks look down their nose at alcohol when in public, and voted through the change in private.
posted by WowLookStars to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Churches and bars are two traditional favorites.
posted by box at 4:42 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: What about volunteering?

How to get involved with the Paris Community Theater
if you can start up a conversation with almost anyone, you might enjoy the company of the theatrically inclined
Volunteering on the Trail de Paris
You mentioned interest in environmental issues, this bike trail extension project might put you in contact with other like-minded folks
posted by pants at 4:46 AM on June 2, 2009

Note: I found both those links through your municipal website
posted by pants at 4:47 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I think the internet is the wrong approach for a small town. Go to a non-chain bookstore or coffee shop or cafe and as you're paying tell them you're new in town and you like it here and ask when and where there are things going on such as local shows. Maybe join a local theater group and help out - you'll actually have to interact with people there.

Are you and boyfriend there for work? School? Just tell someone there that you'd like to get out once in a while and to keep you in mind if there's ever a kayaking trip of a board game night or anything at all, since you're new in town. That's totally normal to do.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 4:47 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: How about work, school, or whatever took you to Paris?

I went to school in Sherman, and Lake Texoma was very popular. It's too far from you, but perhaps this is true for a nearby lake area? Lake Gibbons?

Here's a list of volunteer activities in Paris. Some are in Texarkana, but a surprising number are in Paris.

There's a community calendar here, and some of those activities might interest you and your future friends.
posted by Houstonian at 4:55 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: We had a hard time meeting people when we moved from Boston to Nebraska. One of the problems was that everyone in our age bracket (late 20s) was already married with children, so they tended to spend most of their time at home or with friends at their houses—neither of which was conducive to meeting us.

What I found is that it took a lot of concentrated effort to be particularly outgoing when going anywhere social—and a lot depended on the locale. If you live in a dry town, your best bet will be church, your second-best bet will be community activities (the church will likely have a list of things going on in the community that might need volunteers).

One big selling point about being an out-of-towner is that young people will naturally be interested in you because they presumably want to get the hell out of town ASAP and thus enjoy talking with outsiders.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:00 AM on June 2, 2009

As a person from a small town (pop. 800) 30,000 is not a small town. Small city, yes. You should have no problems.
However, I wouldn't be starting out on the Internet- that might be the thing to do in a huge city where people don't dare make eye contact, but in your situation I would advise meeting people in meatspace. Bars and clubs aren't necessarily a bad idea, either- Are there shows or concerts being put on?
posted by dunkadunc at 5:06 AM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This previous AskMe might be interesting.

I moved to a town of about 5000 people last year, and more than anything, it's taken some serious time to make friends. It's only from about nine months in that I've felt I have multiple real friends, as opposed to a group of acquaintances (which are good too), and I met the friends through a combination of work, sharing houses, and getting involved in things like the arts festival and film club. They mightn't be joiny groups so much as events or volunteering, but getting involved in things that interest you (and trawling hard to find those things!) will help. Also, festivals and parades and town events where you can meet up with colleagues/acquaintances will probably lead to you being introduced to more people.

Also, I'm not the world's most easy-going, spontaneous person, but being open to trying new things or acting on whims (gardening, sea swimming, etc) has been a good way to develop friendships. You will obviously not want to sound desperate, but it's ok to be open about not knowing anyone, and casual conversation might turn up leads for things you can do with people.

I was really wondering if I'd failed a few months ago - ready to ask a similar question but doubting there was anything I could do other than change myself - when I had about one friend outside of work, but all the conversation with people in shops and bars and friends-of-friends has suddenly erupted into a little network. Being in new-friend mode ALL THE TIME and trying to be good company while also feeling like a big lonely failure is hard fucking work, but it's worth the payoff.

Best of luck! With 30000 people, there's definitely potential friends for you, and enough time and persistence on your part will eventually pay off.
posted by carbide at 5:08 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: Offer to teach something at the junior college? Maybe a kayaking class for their non-credit, just-for-fun adult learning program? Take a class yourself, in something that sounds fun.

Contact the local public library or park district - maybe they should start a board game night, and you're the one they need to step up and organize it.

Besides the school, what about volunteering somewhere? In a town that size, there's got to be a park district or youth group that might need a coach, or a Habitat for Humanity project, or ... ?

Do you have time for a part-time job somewhere where you meet people?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:14 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I find that volunteering to do grunt work (picking trash, moving things, etc) for local organizations makes an immediate impact and really opens people up.
posted by unixrat at 6:18 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I'll second the community theatre suggestion above. Theatre people, if I may paint with a broad brush, are refreshingly free of religious baggage, and you'll meet people there with interests similar to your own, guaranteed.
Also, find out where the local gay population congregate. (There's likely to be some overlap between this group the the theatricos.)
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:55 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I had a hard time in a similar situation. It is really, really hard. Forget looking for options on the internet.

You didn't say what it is you do. Get a part time job somewhere where you will meet the community, like a supermarket or a chain coffee shop (remember where you are, and let yourself adjust to possibilities you may not have even considered before).

A lot of places like this with not have a natural openness to outsiders, even if they actually are warm people. Go to church. Hold your nose a fake it if you can. You are in a place where most people use that as a way to connect and they simply will not open up you if you don't have a church. It will be like you have cooties.

Get used to meeting older people. The population is most likely older in general except for the campus. An interest in local history can help.

Also, watch a few episodes of 30 Days or Trading Spouses to get your mind reset. It sounds like you are used to being in a more urban environment surrounded by people with roughly similar world views, age ranges and education. You may think it's not a problem, but if you are in Paris, TX and feel uncomfortable about church and are looking for friend opportunities on craigslist, then you are in denial. You are going to have to either go relatively friendless or dive into a truly foreign culture.
posted by quarterframer at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Depending on your politics -- Sierra Club? NRA?
posted by musofire at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: To add another angle to these (good) recommendations: since you only plan on being in town a couple years, could you use this time for more reflective, solitary/family activity?

When we moved from a town of half a million to one with a population of 800 a few years back (also with the knowledge that we'd be moving within 2 years), I felt the way you did at first. But soon I learned to enjoy the benefits of our new situation.

I read the books I'd been meaning to get to, took daily walks in the countryside, and tried new recipes that I'd been collecting but had never had the time to try. I taught myself computer stuff via the web, practiced guitar, caught up on movie-watching, and enjoyed the peaceful solitude of my yard. My wife and I were able to spend quality time together without worrying about the demands of maintaining a social life. I was able to think through some medium- and long-term plans for my marriage, career, and life.

Sure, I could have tried to fit these activities into my previous life, but the small-town environment gave me a sense of rest, calm, and space that made it a lot easier. I know you asked about finding friends, but I just thought I'd offer my experience as a reminder that there are some real rewards in embracing life in the slow lane.
posted by Rykey at 8:04 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: Forget the Internet. Meet people where they are at. (See below.)

Frequent the same stores for shopping, pharmacy etc. Talk to the people working there - ask them things like "are there nice places to .... (go hiking, buy crafts, farmers market)"
Not being shy helps - always be more interested in them. If Tiger Woods can remeber names (yes) it is hard) you can too.
For example, ask the farmer at the market about his farm, and crops, seed. He might even invite you over to have a look. Being interested is half the battle won.

Church is a good place to meet others, but there must be oter places where you can show up reguarly and become a known face. Although many people go to church it is a cultural thing for them too. Some go because others do - it is the 'done' thing.

Gym or local privatly owned restaurant. I find the small places have regulars and once they get to know you they talk. Small talk first.

Also, try to dress like they do while staying within your taste - forget about slogan T-Shirts (Greanpeace) and Jack Daniels. Nothing too radical. Jeans (see what they wear Levis, wrangler etc) and don't forget the shoes.

Go to local barber / hair salon. Go into the bank. Get to know the manager.

Read the local newspaper. Good for thing to chat about.

Sports - I am not into it, perhaps others can help.

Be seen at the local events. Make sure you are remebered by engaging with someone. I try to chat to organizers of events. Even if that means asking about simple things. "Nice crows this year ..." , "Great job, you must have spent a lot of time organizing this? ..."

Be open, laugh at yourself sometimes. Make a joke about where you are from. Locals probable have an frame of reference about bit places. Find out how they refer to it and use it. e.g. ratrace. "Oh, we come from the ratrace, but love it here"

Speak at the same rate and volume - otherwise they might find you intense.

Rather let them ask you questions than bore them with details. If they are interested, they will ask.

After a while they will:

a) See you as part of the comunity
b) See you as a pleasent and interested person
c) Sociable. (as you remeber they name, and ask them about somethning that they revealed in the past. "So, how did the fishing go last week?"
d) Start trusting you
posted by bright77blue at 8:21 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I live by myself in a small town (pop. 3000-ish) and it's definitely different from bigger places and I sometimes slip into feeling really removed and hermitty. Here are things I do or think about doing that help me feel plugged in.

- First off, you're going to feel like the weird odd person out for a while and you sort of need to power through it. I find that having a routine helps. So, you go to the post office a lot or a coffee shop and say hi to the person there and even though they may not become your friend, it's someone you know in town who also knows you, that's a start
- think of something you like to do and see if there's a way to do it in the town, with other people. For me this was helping out at the library. I also teach evening classes (adult ed) in tech topics at the local vocational high school. Where I live is like where you live, not a lot going on online so these classes are sorely needed. The people in my classes are also people from around town, so hey there are more people that I know!
- good works, sometimes there are things in town that always need people to just do grunt work like unixrat said. Around here there are things like the food shelf, giving rides to seniors and helping slog boxes for the library booksale. You being young and relatively healthy makes you perfect for this.
- politicking, this is a good news/bad news thing because once you're "out" as being whatever political persuasion you are, that also may make some people not want to be friends with you. That said, you can go to your local city council meetings, see what the issues are, get behind one and start helping out.

The other thing that I've found is that this is tougher when you're in a couple. For me if I want to go out I have to force myself to do it alone (well, now I have friends to do it with, but when I first got here) because staying at home didn't give me social options. It's also harder to seem like someone to meet if you're part of a couple. It may be that you have to sort of start something and watch it flop around for a little bit until it catches on [I'm thinking game night or movie night or something that maybe you can do through the school] and that's always the most difficult part. I'd try to set smaller goals so instead of "I need a friend" you can try "I'm going to talk to five new people this week" or "I'm going to go to a social event" and then you and your boyfriend can compare notes and sort of slowly learn about your new home. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Jessamyn said everything I was going to say (only better, as usual).

I also strongly recommend routine. Go to the same coffee shop at the same time every week and be friendly.

In the 5000 person town I grew up in, there were often school or organization fundraisers, (cake walks, pie auctions, etc) which are good places to meet people. There were also a lot of community music and theater performances. In fact, since there was often only one thing going that night (or week) you ended up seeing the same people over and over, which was a good thing for making friends.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:56 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: I've said it before, but it seems like something decent to say again.

Become a regular at a bar that makes you feel comfortable. You don't necessarily need to drink booze, either. Coffee, tea, non-alcoholic beer, whatever. The staff, if they're sociable people at all will begin to recognize and form a relationship with you and as long as you or your other aren't complete social dunces may get inducted into a larger, preexisting circle of acquaintances and friends. This does come with the possibility of ending up with a bunch of drunks for friends, but we're fun people.
posted by ZaneJ. at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2009

(A little off-topic, but a good laugh-worthy interlude based on Jessamyn's advice to set a small goal and then achieve it: a friend found herself, at the end of a long vacation with friends, alone in an isolated city in another country for the final day of the trip. She grew a little bored without someone to chat with, so as she headed back to her hotel, she set the goal of introducing herself to the first english-speaking person she ran into. At that very moment, P Diddy (then Puff Daddy) walked out of the hotel restaurant and nearly ran into her... and she amended her goal to talking to the very first english-speaking person who wasn't Puff Daddy.)
posted by delfuego at 11:12 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, so many awesome answers!

Several of you ask what we do. I'm going through some schooling that keeps me busy 8-10 hours of the day, and he works from home. My class is small (four people!) and the other people are also from out of town.

You're right that I come from a city - most recently, the Chicago area. I actually like the feel of this place better... Chicago was a bit big for me, but it sure was easy to find people. :)

I feel like I marked a lot of best answers, but you all have helped me quite a bit. I was SO frustrated - glad to know that this really could take a while.

There were a couple that I wished I could mark as best twice ;) :

Hustonian and pants, thanks for those links! Plenty to look into there, and the volunteering idea is smart.

Rykey, thanks for your comment about taking it slow for a while. That sounds appealing too!

jessamyn - lots of great ideas. The one about helping seniors and whatnot is right on. Paris seems to be the type of town that old people come to just to retire.

Thanks so much everyone, this place is amazing. :D
posted by WowLookStars at 4:09 PM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: On the gaming front, add yourself to NearbyGamers.com. There's nobody from Paris TX at the moment, but if someone else happens along they will be able to find you.
posted by Alan_Peery at 1:44 AM on June 4, 2009

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