Help meeting people outside the big city
July 22, 2006 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I live in a large town in Texas, population 20,000 and am having trouble finding friends.

OK, I'm sure the de facto response here will be "what the hell did you expect" but I just want to clarify that this is indeed the case.

I am 37 years old and obviously (duh) living in this town of 20,000 there's no way I know of to meet people outside of church and Wal-Mart. Obviously those places are teeming with conservative, very family-oriented people, and given this area it also includes quite a few dim bulbs (sorry, I'm entitled to my opinion).

I won't get into why we're living here, but the property I have is gorgeous and the minutae of my daily life and living expenses are so much better than when I lived in Austin. I work for myself doing a neat mail order / publishing operation and so I simply don't have contact with people here.

Craigslist popped up for this area last month but I'm not entirely sure how to avail myself of it. Personals aren't really the way to meet other guys and do casual stuff, and I don't know whether the other categories can be milked into anything worthwhile. I wouldn't mind starting a club or group, but I don't know what. Since I have a large telescope I tried starting an astronomy club on a dedicated domain name about a year ago, and even though it was on Google that entire time I got zero interest. I've considered an atheist group, just to get anyone that's outside the box, but I'd have a tough time with that morally since I do believe in God, just not the one that people around here worship.

There is a city of 100,000 about 45 minutes away with a couple of colleges. Probably conservative and all but I figure its my only option for finding any open-minded folks my age. Dallas is 2 hours away. The latter is just too far with which to have any social life.

MeFi shows nobody near my zip code (would be nice if it expanded out a little further than 10 miles or whatever it is).

A few years ago would have been a great help, but that site sunk itself by becoming a commercialized hellhole... I don't even know whether it's relevant anymore.

Certainly all hope would be lost if I was living in a town of 200 or 2,000, but 20,000 is a pretty healthy number and I should, statistically, be able to find some neat people here.

Argh. Help? Is anyone also in this predicament? I know there's got to be some people here living outside Manhattan and the Beltway.
posted by zek to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Bookstores and bars... As long as you like reading and drinking, those are just about the two best places to meet cool and unexpected folks that I know of. If you're in one of these locations in a small town and tell people that you encounter that you just moved into town, they'll most assuredly be interested in chatting with you... Folks are starved for stimulation.

Is there a community theatre in the town? If so, volunteering there is also a great way to meet some great cool and creative personalities.
posted by lucidreamstate at 11:05 AM on July 22, 2006

I've found that regardless of the city that I live in, it takes years to really form any personal relationships with people. I lucked out here because of people I knew online, but I still haven't met any friends here otherwise outside that circle of friends. I'm moving back to a town a little larger than the one you live in. It took me a good four years to find other people I would call a circle of friends (high school dipshits don't count), so my only advice is that it might just take a while, especially if you don't come into contact with many people in a social setting.
posted by cellphone at 11:21 AM on July 22, 2006

Obviously you have some reason for not disclosing the name of the town you're in, but if you divulge, I can poll the many fascinating Texans I know to see if they have any good ideas...
posted by hermitosis at 11:35 AM on July 22, 2006

Second bookstores and bars.

Is there a community baseball/softball league for adults?

Is there a hobby shop (mini railroads or computers or comics or games) where you could drop in and shoot the breeze a couple of times a week?

(Is there a mellow church anywhere in town, where you could go for their social events? Maybe there are no mellow churches in rural Texas)

The library?

Maybe try to think of places in town where you could just drop in regularly, and thereby become a familiar face. Then, even if the people who work there aren't going to be your buddies, they might offhandedly mention a place that would be suitable, or introduce you to their nephew who's just moved back to town, or whatever. I have found that just getting out and making this kind of incidental contact with natives is the way to make more substantial connections. (Though I have always lived in more liberal areas)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2006

Just based on the geography of what you've said, I'm going to guess you live near Waco. I'm thinking of all the fun things around there, and yeah, i'm coming up empty. I think your best bet is going to the colleges. As a recent college graduate from Texas, I can tell you whole-heartedly that I have friends that cover the entire liberal/conservative/atheist/baptist/ spectrum at every school.
posted by unexpected at 11:50 AM on July 22, 2006

In that situation, I'd check out arts classes (maybe not watercolor or scrapbooking, because they tend to attract small-town types, but metalworking, carpentry, figure drawing, photography might be good) to find people who like to express themselves. I'd also look into yoga or martial arts, because there you're more likely to find otherly-spiritual people, maybe even Buddhists.

I'd also browse Myspace by zipcode, which you can do without signing up, and see who's around. Many people are friends with local bands, and so if you see any promising people who share your interests, you could try going to see the bands that they see.
posted by xo at 11:52 AM on July 22, 2006

Subscribe to the local paper and look for interesting things that might appeal to other smart people in your area.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:29 PM on July 22, 2006

When I moved to a small town, it took me nearly three years to make friends .... in fact relatively recently. The funny thing is, it happened just as I'm getting ready to move to Chicago.

Anyway, it's like someone else suggested: get your face known. I started going to a coffeeshop when I started a job about a year ago. From there, people started to know my name, and from there, we'd start talking. Now, I regularly hang out with an interesting and decidedly non-conservative group of people in the middle of a very conservative area.
posted by Windigo at 12:52 PM on July 22, 2006

Join clubs or classes. That's what clubs are for. You meet people who think a little like you think. At worst, you have one common interest with each person in the club. If there are 20 in the club or class, you might like one or two enough to do things together outside of organized activities. If you are one in a thousand -- let's be modest -- there are another 19 of you in a town of 20,000.
posted by pracowity at 3:04 PM on July 22, 2006

This really sounds like my hometown of Paris, TX. If so, gimme a holler and we'll go grab a beer and I can introduce you to some folks :)

The myspace idea is good. I found a lot of people that way. I liked the bookstore/coffeehouse type of ideas too. Classes/activities of interest at the local Y (as the Village People have taught us) are a good place to meet people as well.
posted by First Post at 3:57 PM on July 22, 2006

Or I'm guessing that the big town is Tyler (which, yeah, is super conservative, home to folks like televangelist RW Shambach) and you might be in Mt Pleasant or Marshall or somewhere similar...

(Not trying to steer this off topic, but as a longtime ETexan, if I knew where we're talking about here it might help in giving more specific info related to stuff happening in the area.)
posted by First Post at 4:06 PM on July 22, 2006

Response by poster: Kind of a stupid question but how are you supposed to search by location on Myspace? I looked and their search page is kind of spartan.... you can only search by name, school name/city, or "field". It seems pointless to do the school name/city search since I'm just going to get high school kids, not really my scene. Do I just deal with the general search?
posted by zek at 4:24 PM on July 22, 2006

Response by poster: OK, the city is Palestine, Texas.
posted by zek at 4:25 PM on July 22, 2006

Ultra-conservative environments are polarizing, so the people you're looking for should stick out. Freaks have their self-identity as freaks continually reinforced in places like that, so they should be easy to find. Check coffeehouses, dive bars, bookstores, etc. Even chain places like waffle house can have their freak contingent. The challenge for you will be finding the not-quite-so-radicalized freaks, the lefty but otherwise relatively normal people because neither side wants anything to do with them.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:35 PM on July 22, 2006

I know Palestine - I lived in Tyler, and have also lived in NE Texas.... I guessed right off that you were referring to Tyler as the nearest "big town."

I have a friend in Palestine, believe it or not, that I graduated with. The area is beautiful - congratulations on finding a nice little spot to live. Living is cheap there, isn't it?

Okay... Tyler. Yes, it is conservative - but there is a lively night life. Tyler, being a college town, has a nice community of young people.... it shouldn't be hard to meet people there. Go down on the weekend, hit some clubs, bars...
posted by bradth27 at 5:33 PM on July 22, 2006

and given this area it also includes quite a few dim bulbs (sorry, I'm entitled to my opinion).

And by the way..... I grew up in that area of Texas. Perhaps the reason you are failing to meet people is the attitude. Lighten up, loosen the belt. People in NE and E Texas are friendly - unless you come off as "uppity."
posted by bradth27 at 5:37 PM on July 22, 2006

I live in College Station, and yeah, I love it out here. Spent the day today in Austin and San Antonio, and hated it. Couldn't wait to get back out here.

There's a MetaFilter meetup in Austin next Saturday, if you're interested. The thread's in MetaTalk somewhere, we're meeting at Opal Divine's Freehouse on 6th at 7 pm or so.
posted by SpecialK at 5:46 PM on July 22, 2006

(Just realized that Palestine's probably too far to drive into Austin. Oh well.)
posted by SpecialK at 5:47 PM on July 22, 2006

Also -

Are you gay? You didn't mention that in the post, but I'm now wondering if this is the case. If so, you're in luck - Tyler and Longview are just down the road, and the two towns are host to a significant gay community.

As for starting a club... you're in a relatively small town, so you need to use the library. Palestine has a nice little small public library, and they consider themselves to be the "meeting ground" for the community. ( I applied for a position there years ago, although I ultimately turned down the offer.)

Go down, talk to the librarian, offer to start a group in the meeting room. See what happens. I bet you would have a bit of luck.
posted by bradth27 at 5:52 PM on July 22, 2006

I am new to this, and I apologize for not having an answer, but you mentioned that MeFi shows nobody in your zipcode. How do I look to see if there are members here in my area? Thanks for any help!
posted by illek at 6:36 PM on July 22, 2006

Yep, T-Town and Longview are gonna be your best bets. There are usually interesting non-religious things going on (that drive-thru daiquiri place in Longview always cracked me up). We even had a pretty nice little underground scene happening out that way, which got shut down but is now slowly coming back.
posted by First Post at 6:55 PM on July 22, 2006

Response by poster: No - not gay. But if there's a gay community there, that's always a good sign.
posted by zek at 7:37 PM on July 22, 2006

illek: add your latitude and longitude to your profile (click on your highlighted name to get to it, then choose 'edit your profile'). There's a link on the page to help find your latitude and longitude, or you can use this site - the link goes to a map currently centered on the middle of Wichita - you can move around and it will show the latitude/longitude of the current center of the map. (Sorry if that's ridiculously excessive detail).
posted by jacalata at 2:54 AM on July 23, 2006

I wouldn't entirely dismiss the community service clubs in your town, such as Rotary, Lions, or Jaycees. These clubs have survived and grown over many years, because they are worthwhile organizations that do good things for their community, and for their members. Make an effort to go to some of their meetings, and you'll meet good local people.

And I second the suggestion from Windigo above, to start getting out and having breakfast a couple mornings a week in the local coffeeshops. Maybe find an old school local barbershop to stop in regularly for a trim. Get your face out there, and put a smile on it!
posted by paulsc at 7:06 AM on July 23, 2006

I'm from this area. Don't overlook Nacogdoches, it's not far away and harbors interesting, not-necessarily-conservative people. (I know of one or two who were born and raised in Palestine.) They're not all 20 years old and in college, either, though the local university is the economic driver in the area.

Art openings are a good bet; the crowd I know are regulars there.
posted by lurkingular at 8:34 AM on July 23, 2006

On Myspace, click "browse", and it'll let you search within X miles of zipcode.
posted by xo at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2006

I'm from Nacogdoches (lived in DFW for 15 years, but spent the previous 19 there), and my parents still live there. There's stuff to do and interesting people to meet, it just takes more work. For me, that would be too much of a haul from Palestine for any weekday socializing, but then your hours are probably more flexible than mine and there's always weekends. Realistically, you are probably going to have to look there and in Longview and Tyler for variety, but it's out there.

The recommendation for hitting the Rotary Club and the like isn't half bad - it's not just the people you meet there, but the people you'll meet through them that might help you expand your circle. Take advantage of the natural resources: old dudes who know everything and everyone. I think they're actually drilled, like oil, from coffee and barber shops.

You'll have to dig around to find them, but there's a lot of frontyard artists out there - potters, sculptors, metalwork, that kind of thing. Chatting with them may get you some interesting leads. Now, I personally believe that ET is best experienced from some kind of air conditioned, dehumidified indoors with big windows, but if you like to hike, bike, or canoe you might find some people to hang out with through clubs for those things.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2006

jacalata - thanks so much for the info!
posted by illek at 8:29 PM on July 23, 2006

Obviously those places are teeming with conservative, very family-oriented people, and given this area it also includes quite a few dim bulbs (sorry, I'm entitled to my opinion).

...I do believe in God, just not the one that people around here worship.

There is a city of 100,000 about 45 minutes away [...] its my only option for finding any open-minded folks my age.

Let's sum up: you're contemptuous of your neighbors, you think the area has a lot of stupid people just because it's the area it is, you prejudge the political and religious beliefs of the people around you to a fare-thee-well without getting to know them first, and you're having trouble finding local friends. Do I have that right?

Picking out those quotes, the question sort of answers itself: lose the attitude that those around you are unenlightened scum. You'll never make friends that way because you'll never be motivated to really get to know anyone, loneliness notwithstanding. And the practical suggestions for meeting people are good ones, but those people you meet won't become friends if you approach them with the feeling that you're really too good for them.

"Lose the attitude" is much easier said than done, of course; attitudes are habits and changing them is no easier than changing any other habit. Your neighbors are Texans, small-town people, mostly Christian, and probably mostly Republicans, and you very likely are carrying a collection of ugly stereotypes, possibly lifelong, about each one of those things. Put them all together, and perhaps it's no wonder that you give the impression that you don't want to get too close for fear of cooties.

Changing that - if you want to do so - will take the same work as ridding yourself of any other prejudice. Stop yourself when you find yourself using nasty and self-comforting generalizations. Look out for distancing or "I am above them" thoughts ("I don't believe in the same God they do") and remind yourself that you don't know enough about these people to say something like that about them. Don't assume they have nothing to teach you.

As always, the best way to rid yourself of a prejudice is to get to know people as human beings, not as stereotypes - and I don't just mean whoever you can find there who shares your politics, your thoughts about religion, and your social class. You can probably find some people like this using the suggestions of several people above, and encapsulate yourself with them, but I personally think it would be a waste of an opportunity. Learning to respect and like people you've gone all your life thinking weren't worthy is valuable.

Up to you, though.
posted by jaed at 10:38 PM on July 23, 2006

Picking out those quotes, the question sort of answers itself: lose the attitude that those around you are unenlightened scum.

Give him a break. I once was banished to Lexington, KY for a year, and had the same problems (and was the same age.) There were interesting, tolerant people there. They just were all under 30. Anyone with an open, tolerant mind who was looking for a good place to settle down for good seemed to have left town right away, leaving a group of small minded, religiously and politically intolerant robots who were happy to see them leave.

I tried all those things as well. I joined the local Y, I joined a book club. I hung out at A) the fun bluegrass bar/club on the corner and the local coffee shop. And I met some cool, fun people to hang out with...all of whom were in their early 20's. Some places just self-select for a particular cultural identity, and sometimes that identity is not a good one.
posted by overhauser at 9:11 AM on July 24, 2006

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