Where should my lonely friend live?
August 24, 2018 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Due to a difficult life, my online friend Camilla finds it hard to make IRL friends. She's currently job hunting and one big question is where she should live. What she needs most is to be in a place where she can make friends and not feel alone. What factors should she be considering?

Camilla is mid-20s. She grew up in an abusive household and has spent the past 10 years caring for a severely disabled family member while gaining a college education.

She has never really had time to make friends and lacks a number of social skills, so she can come across as being like an awkward teenager at first. She also has some anger issues due to her childhood and can lash out at people when she feels unfairly treated. She is working on both of these via therapy, but they do make it hard for her to make friends, which becomes a vicious circle. Nothing in her life makes her unhappier than feeling alone.

She left home to join an intensive service programme, which has been challenging but has opened her horizons. The programme end is now in sight and she is looking for jobs. She might be able to get a low-level federal position.

So the question now is - where should she live next?
  • In her family home: this would be awful for her.
  • In her home town of 50k people: Few opportunities, no friends, awful weather, but her family nearby to visit and not be totally alone
  • In the nearest city: It's one of the ten most expensive places to live in the USA, but if she was somehow able to make ends meet there, she could both make friends locally and have access to her family.
  • Somewhere else in the USA: This is what I'm asking about, I guess. She wouldn't be close to her family, but if she was somewhere friendly, that wouldn't matter. Where is it hardest to feel alone? Should she be looking for small towns or big cities? Are there particular states where she would do well or badly?
Of course, all the usual things matter too, such as cost of living, climate etc. but where we're both drawing a blank is how to identify a place where she is least likely to feel alone.

In case it makes a difference, Camilla is pansexual, hispanic, Buddhist and liberal. In case it clears up any confusion, she is in the USA, I am not. Answers with reasons rather than just names of places would be preferred, please.
posted by Busy Old Fool to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think American midsized cities are excellent for finding a circle of friends and having easier social interactions. Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis are all places I'm thinking of that are big enough to have large numbers of liberal and broadminded people, but are also small enough that you can easily feel part of a community, and not get lost in the crowd or pushed to the side by ambitious, extroverted climbers and strivers. If moving to a midsized midwestern city is a reasonable option, it's not a bad idea.

But! No matter where someone goes, they can easily be alone if they isolate themselves. Having friends in a city who know other people already and can introduce you is the easiest way to build a social circle. But today the internet makes it possible to find people even if you don't know anyone. Meetup.com is the best advice I could offer. Move somewhere large enough to have a diverse enough group of people that they can find "their kind of people", then go to meetups and make connections. It's really exhausting for a shy or introverted person to do this (believe me) but it only happens when they make the effort to go out and do things with others.
posted by dis_integration at 10:59 AM on August 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

For the purposes of making friends easily, I would recommend a small city. I've heard lovely things about others in Ohio, Tennessee, and North Carolina, but my personal favourite and where I currently live is Dayton, Ohio. It is so easy to make friends here that it's actually something people comment on when they come visit -- and the difference between the mercenary way folks interact with each other here versus in San Francisco, Las Vegas, or New York is so stark that most of my visiting friends end up wanting to move here and feel human again. People strike up genuine conversations in line, it only takes a few trips anywhere to be a regular and therefore a potential friend, and if you ask a new acquaintance to hang out, they actually show up and engage. Plus, there is enough going on in the city that there is loads to get involved in, but not that much going on such that if you get involved in something, people see, appreciate, and welcome you.
posted by Pwoink at 11:04 AM on August 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

Identifying the relative "friendliness" of different places is hard, and probably a harder thing to do than identifying hostile areas. Since she is a liberal Hispanic pansexual Buddhist, in my mind that would eliminate solid-red red states, as well as much of rural America. For example, I grew up in Minnesota, which, like many blue states, has liberal population centers (Minneapolis, mentioned above, Duluth, etc.) but I don't expect your friend would be welcomed with open arms in my 2,000 person hometown. Many of the people who wouldn't have any problems being friends with a liberal Hispanic pansexual Buddhist, like me, have moved away if they had the means to do so (also like me).

Since it sounds like she has no friends in her hometown, I would take that out of contention. Mainly, I'd be looking at large-ish, liberal-ish cities where she has some sort of a connection - a cousin, an old friend - anyone who can show her around a little. Then hammer those areas with job applications and go where she can get hired. Being in a new city without friend and also unemployed is a tough way to start things out.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:25 AM on August 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Loving the answers so far - thanks all!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 11:32 AM on August 24, 2018

I think she has the best chance in a city far away from family. Being close to an abusive household is not a good idea, especially if she's already been targeted as the one who will sacrifice greatly to care for family. She should consider her 10 years of caregiving her completed contribution to the family and go make her own life.

There's nothing magical about a city that will transform a challenging path. But, if she continues with her therapy (critically important) and lives in a place where she can find community, her path will likely be successful. She has to be ready to expect that the first year will be hard. She'll do best to be as active as possible in her new community. Volunteering, going to meet-ups, being politically active, and putting herself out there. It takes effort and isn't easy.

I also thought of mid-sized cities like Pittsburgh, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and a couple of smaller cities: Athens, Gainesville, Reno. I'd also consider Chicago if that's a place where she can get good employment opportunities. I'd look for cities that have progressive politics, even if they're in a state that is considered conservative. Cities with larger universities and a good arts life (museums, etc) will probably have the types of communities she's interested in.
posted by quince at 11:42 AM on August 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

One's community is general built from familiarity, common interests, and common values.

I'm not so sure that regional friendliness or demeanor has much to do with it... you kind of need some reason to live somewhere. I've lived in the Midwest, the South, and the East Coast for more than a decade in each, and while there are somewhat different temperments, I suppose, that's a wide generalization and when it comes down to individuals there are friendly people most everywhere.

Meeting friends randomly is so hard! You usually meet people through common interests and common friends. What does your friend like to do, at work or outside of it? What places does she have friendly acquaintences that could show her around, maybe become friends down the road? I think it'd be *really* hard to anonymously move to a city with zero connections.
posted by RajahKing at 11:44 AM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is pure anecdote, and I offer it up not specifically to counteract the Chicago suggestion above (I love Chicago and could see myself there someday) but to offer another thing to think about when framing the question. A former student of mine moved to Chicago as a post-college 20-something and said that he found it difficult to make friends there because he worked in a tiny office (so, no work colleagues who could become friends) and found that others his age were often alumni of Big Ten schools who knew a bunch of people from college already and weren't as eager/desperate to make outside friends. Thinking about that, I'd ask questions like:
1. Where do people my age who live here come from? If a city, do people tend to move here with a social network already in place? If a mid-sized city especially, are the people my age who live here people who grew up here who already have family/friends close by? These could make it harder to find people in the same boat.
2. What is my work environment going to be like, and will it be conducive to making friends?
3. Can I identify at least one community center/religious institution/Meetup etc. that I would feel comfortable visiting/joining? What programming do they offer?
4. Do I have friends elsewhere who know people in [new place] whom I could meet for coffee? (Anecdotally again, I found weak social ties to be my most helpful source of friends when I moved to Brooklyn--a friend's ex who she was on good terms with, a friend of a friend who was a couple years ahead of us in college, etc.)
posted by dapati at 11:57 AM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

One clarification - my friend sadly has zero friends or other connections anywhere, apart from her family in her home town.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 11:57 AM on August 24, 2018

Came to suggest Milwaukee! My home town; I used to want to get out desperately, but the city is really becoming something wonderful.

I agree about the difficulty making friends as an adult. I am struggling to make single friends as a woman in her early 40s. I do have a group of friends I love to death. But they’re all in relationships and most have kids. I’ve had some luck on bumbles BFF page. Going to meetups helps. I haven’t made any friends I see outside of meetups from meetups, but I blame it on the fact that I’m inconsistent about going.

If she considers Milwaukee, I’d be happy to share some location specific insights.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

She is going to want a small to mid-sized "college town" for a number of reasons.
1. Lots of younger people looking to make friends.
2. More liberal and welcoming of alternative lifestyles.
3. Larger than normal population of socially awkward folks, so people will be more forgiving of her.

Some that leap to mind would be Durham, NC; Madison, WI; Middlebury, VT; Ann Arbor, MI; Bozeman, MT; Eugene, OR; etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:02 PM on August 24, 2018 [15 favorites]

And to add, if she wants to come to Milwaukee to check out the city, as a fellow awkward person with a shitty/abusive family who probably understands at least some of it, I’d be happy to show her around.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:09 PM on August 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

If loneliness is their motivation for relocating, I cannot warn your friend against Minneapolis strongly enough.

I always found Des Moines, of all places, to be pretty friendly.
posted by MrBadExample at 12:18 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree with Rock Steady - college town is the way to go. Add Lawrence, KS to the list.
posted by XtineHutch at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well here's my take and sorry to be big city asshole here but I can not fathom someone being happy in a mid-sized city "looking to make friends" from scratch as there's too many damn impenetrable circles of friends who have known eachother since elementary school in these places. My recommendation for this sort of thing is to Go Big Or Go Home - Big City or Nothing. NY, LA, Chicago or any city that is filled with tons of transplants like SF.

I say you you want a city filled with transplants and people who are generally excited to be there, living in group houses saving on rent. If she is in her mid-20s then sharing a flat or a house with a group of 4 or 5 other mid-20s types is a great way to branch out. And look I get it, you can totally find this sort of thing in Columbus Ohio or whatever but let's be real, there's just so much *more* of it in a big-ass city. There's just more of everyone and everything. There are more new people, waves of them on any given week, who also just moved here and are also looking to form their networks. People are just more down to hang in general. More happy hours after work, more options on dating apps, more meetups, more "oh you live nearby let's get brunch sometime".

I am speaking as someone who lives in NY and is biased as hell but it's such a social town, and sorry but I'm comparing it to Baltimore right now where it was like "oh where did you go to highschool, oh I know that person from that highschool" and ugh. Like Baltimore totally has awesome art and people and music scenes and everything but still I would never recommend it to someone "looking to start fresh and meet people". Off the top of my head it's always NY for this type of thing. NY is where people go to reinvent themselves and make a new crew. Yes I realize I'm being a "NY is the one and only city" asshole but I strongly believe it for this case.

(That said if she is a difficult/angry/awkward person she may need to work on that first, then she'll just fail really quick and no one will want to hang with her in any city).
posted by windbox at 12:37 PM on August 24, 2018 [12 favorites]

Agree with windbox but also with Rock Steady -- depends on the person and their reaction to things the dis_integration said about big cities. Adding Northampton/Amherst/Holyoke, MA to the list, for the reasons given by Rock Steady.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2018

I’ve heard from several transplants that seattle is notoriously difficult for friendmaking - there is a “Seattle freeze” which is used to describe the common “freezing out” between potential new friends. So, not Seattle.
posted by samthemander at 1:02 PM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Try to make sure that wherever she chooses has more than one therapist she'd be willing to try out.
posted by wearyaswater at 1:10 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

If there's a Buddhist temple in her hometown, does she attend? Does that temple have any affliations in other areas?

I think her practice might be way 'in' in a new city -- wherever she's considering, she could reach out online to temples in that area. Then she'd sort of already have a weekly or monthly standing date for services/volunteering/other events, within a welcoming community, after relocating.

Agree with wearyaswater above re: therapists. Group therapy might be a good idea, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:49 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe Boston/Cambridge. Tons of transplants, young people, people who are intellectually curious so explore different subgroups and, because of the universities and hospitals there are tons of RESOURCES and ways to attach yourself to a larger institution.
posted by charlielxxv at 2:01 PM on August 24, 2018

Pansexual, Hispanic, Buddhist and liberal? A college town in California.
posted by bricoleur at 2:08 PM on August 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

How about raleigh-durham-chapel hill .. Or austin?
posted by elgee at 2:34 PM on August 24, 2018

San Diego is definitely expensive, but I think she would find it welcoming. Full of people that moved there from elsewhere (like me), weather conducive to going out and meeting people all year long, 30% Latinx population, several Buddhist temples. I think it's pretty queer-friendly (and I'm a queer lady), but ymmv.
posted by studioaudience at 2:40 PM on August 24, 2018

I’d warn against Cleveland, OH, oddly. I am a transplant from NYC, and made a lot of friends, but I hear from other people that they find it very insular. I’m the most outgoing introvert (I exhaust myself!)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:03 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider is that if she is person of color, a larger city with more diversity maybe a easier setting to make friends in. I haven't lived in a smaller town settings before but my experience as a visible minority (who is also pretty introverted) in larger cities is that other minorities tend to be a lot more socially inviting toward me. That's just my personal experience for whatever vthats worth. So as much as I think I may enjoy smaller town living I worry about my social opportunities in those settings.
posted by Pantalaimon at 7:20 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Seattle, I actually made a lot of friends-- one friend lead to others-- but I feel like as you get past your mid twenties is where the Seattle freeze really starts, and it becomes much much harder. If your friend is like 27 or so, I feel like it may slightly more difficult to actually break into a friend group.

I haven't lived in Portland, but I've been there, and it is a nice place, albeit not fantastically diverse, but still liberal and weird. The thing about it, is that there were way more people willing to interact with me in the street and say hello or something, whereas Seattle was very 'everyone minds their own business' vibe and the city has this big-town feel. Portland had this big-town-small-town feel to me, if that makes sense. Everything felt slightly more eclectic and like it defined itself that way. That said, people say there's a 'Portland Freeze' too, so...ymmv. But in my experience people seemed more accommodating than Seattle, San Fran, or NYC.
posted by Dimes at 8:39 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

College town and live with age-matched roommates. My preference, because it's what I know, is a big state school with a massive research component so that there are tons of grad students with fascinating plans and interesting problems. Grad students are good because they have a lot to complain about, and the very easiest way to start a conversation, in my experience as a generally disgruntled non-joiner, is to start whining about some shared problem, like the goddamn landlord or the horrible bike lanes. Or Katrina. I met my very best friend in 2005 or 6 in the restroom of a bar. She just started complaining about her experience evacuating a New Orleans group home to flee from Katrina, and the complaining was so primo I knew immediately we were a perfect match. We were instantly friends and will remain friends until one of us dies.

You don't have to be in priceypriceyCali to be a happy subaltern. Come down here to the sunny seedy South and help us pull down our confederate monument bullshit--we would love to have you. Start going to marches and rallies. Show up a little bit early with a stack of posterboard and lots of markers. Introduce yourself to whoever is there waiting for people to show up and ask if you can help. Sign up for stuff. When people start to arrive, smile and offer a marker.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:19 AM on August 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Suggest focusing on locales where many residents are transplants from somewhere else. I hail from Cleveland, where most everyone is a life-long resident. For fun, everyone hangs out with either family or friends dating back to high school, grade school, or even birth. It is difficult for newcomers to make inroads because after work or whatever, everyone goes home to their own tribe. Contrast that with a college town where I lived for a few years. A large slice of the population was transplanted from somewhere else. There's much more friend potential among neighbors and co-workers who are also relative newcomers looking to expand their circles.
posted by mama penguin at 5:02 AM on August 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

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