Hi everyone! Today's Reader Reply email is from "C." She asks a great question - how do you make friends in a small rural town, especially when you're a teenager?
I am 15 years old, and live in a small town.
I took your advice, and attempted joining subreddits and meetup.com groups, but in my town those and virtually nonexistent, especially ones pertaining to things I am interested in. And then of course my age is a problem as well. I can't drive or go many places without a driver's license, so I'm usually grounded to my home, have to ride my bike, or have to ask my parents for a ride.
The truth is, I do have many friends, just none that I can touch. Yes, I am in circles and reddits online where I have made many good, nice people who share my interests. And before this makes you skeptical, I am very careful and always take extreme caution when making friends online, following all of the usual rules like not giving away your address, making them show their face and voice first, not posting pictures with my location tied into the data of the photo, etcetera. However my mother, having watched tons of crime dramas and such for years is wired to believe that everyone online is a predator. This is where my extreme cautions come from. They're there for me when I need to talk and such, which is why I'm still here. I don't know what I would've done without them to keep me grounded. Still, I would really love some friends that I can touch and go places with. Especially since it would make my mom happy.
I've been searching for about an hour for teen programs or meet ups, but have yielded little to nothing. My school district is small as well, so everyone already knows me. Over the 10 years I've gone to this school, I've tried and tried and tried to reach out a hand, but it seems like no one ever grabs back, you know? My mom always says it's because I'm more mature, which I do partially agree with. After all, my young life was hectic. I didn't interact with other kids a lot, and mostly either kept to myself or ended up hanging out with adults. So I suppose you could say I was left behind because I'm too far ahead if that makes sense? Gosh, I hoped that didn't sound too narcissistic. And I've also tried to reach out to older students too, like seniors and juniors, but of course there's some strange freshman plague where they want nothing to do with you no matter what.
I'm sorry this has gotten into a lengthy essay about my feelings and life and I'm sorry to subject you to my ramblings, but I would greatly appreciate it if you maybe had some advice of where I could try and find friends? Thank you very much!
Thanks for writing! I have a lot of thoughts for you, so here I go 🙂
First, I want to let you know that things do get better as you get older. Being a teenager in a small town is a legitimately hard place to make friends - there's just not that many opportunities out there for you to connect with new people.
But you're not going to be a teenager in a small town forever. As you get older, new opportunities will open up. You'll have the chance to head off to college, or do a year of service with someplace like Americorp or City Year, or find an apartment in the city, or discover some new pathway to adventure that you can't even imagine right now! My best friend grew up in a teeny tiny town in Idaho and graduated high school with no friends at all. Today, he is happily married, has several great friends, and he's about to start a really successful career as a psychologist.
So even if things feel lonely right now, remember that they won't feel lonely forever. You'll get through this, and you'll have some incredible relationships waiting for you 🙂
Second, I encourage you to keep your eyes open for other people that might be struggling to fit in. Sometimes it can take a little work to spot these people, because they're not in the center of attention -- they're the people who are reading off by themselves, or eating their lunch in the library instead of the cafeteria, or never knowing what to say in a group conversation.
I guarantee you that you are not the only person in your school who feels like they don't fit, or who is struggling to make friends. There might be someone else just like you - who really wishes that someone would reach out to them. And if you can find that person and reach out to them, you will both be able to start a great friendship.
And truthfully, you don't need to have a massive social circle. Even having just one friend in your local area will help you feel way less lonely - and I think you can find that one friend if you keep looking!
Third, if you have not been able to find any teen hangouts in your area, perhaps you could form one! Maybe there is a hobby you enjoy that you think lots of other people might enjoy too (something popular, like video games.) What if you started a "video game club" at your school and invited people to come and discuss video games over lunch, or come to your house over the weekend and play video games? I don't know if your school has student clubs or would help you promote your club, but if it does this could be a good way to reach some new people. There's no guarantee it will work, of course - people might choose not to come - but it's at least worth a shot, and even if only one or two people come, that's still one or two people you might make friends with!
Fourth, have you ever thought about having one of your internet friends come to visit you? If your internet friend is your age and their parents are able to talk to your parents so that everyone feels safe and comfortable, you may be able to plan a visit. Even if your internet friend can only visit once or twice a year, this could be a huge encouragement for you, and something to really look forward to.
Fifth, you might want to visit your local library and ask them for help in finding teen groups in your area. Librarians are often very good at looking up information, so if a teen group exists that you haven't found yet, they can help you uncover it. Plus, libraries will often have events for teens 🙂
Sixth, (and last), you may want to think about finding a counselor in your area to talk to. While a counselor can't be your friend (at least, not exactly), it might be really helpful for you to have someone who is wise and caring who you can share your struggles with, and who can encourage you to develop strategies for making your high school years as good as possible.
Based on your email, you are a smart young woman with a lot of personality. I guarantee that when you find the right group of friends, they are going to be incredibly glad that they know you - and I guarantee that you will find those friends if you keep looking. So don't give up - and make this new year of school the best one yet! 🙂
We have a special bonus! I received an update from C a few months later. Here's what it said.
I have decided to take your advice and join groups! I've already joined 5 clubs at my school, and I am volunteering at the local SA food bank! I can say, talking to people who I lead through the food bank has definitely helped me learn more social skills, and actually taught me about things I never expected to learn there, it's wild!
The only problem with these clubs, however, is they either don't meet frequently or the teachers in charge never have anything planned. This is why I've decided I'm going to try and take initiative so other club members, and myself, can have more fun. I am still on the look out for other outcasts, but I still haven't found anything yet. I will try to get the courage to talk to my parents about contacting my internet friend's parents, but that may take a while to encourage myself to do. The thought it ending sourly scares me honestly. Finally,I may try to get a counselor again, but previous experiences I've had with them have been poor to say the least.
And here was my response:
I really appreciate you sharing your update on how things are going. I think you are showing fantastic bravery and initiative, and you should be very proud of yourself! I know that it can't be easy to have taken the steps you have - especially after having your discouraging experiences of rejection earlier. So the fact that you have joined five (!) different clubs as well as a meaningful volunteer opportunity shows that you have a very strong ability to push through fear and go after the goals that matter to you.
As a result, I have total confidence that you will be able to talk to your parents about having a friend visit 🙂 You might need some time to muster up the courage, but that's okay - you've already proven that you have the courage, and you'll express it at the right time. And I'm sure that when you find someone else who is an outcast, you will be ready to reach out to them - and that will be a huge connection for both of you.
I'm sorry to hear that your previous experience with a counselor went poorly. Unfortunately, some counselors just aren't very good, and it sounds like you got a bad one. I understand if you're hesitant to try counseling again, and it's okay if you want to wait on that.
But if you do want to try it out, one thing you could try would be to start by telling the counselor about your previous bad experience. This would be an easy way to test them out - if you feel like they have a good response to your previous painful experience and they can tell you how things might be different with them, then there's a good chance you would have a successful experience there. If, on the other hand, you tell them about your previous bad experience and they don't seem like they can handle it, then you can always leave and try another counselor later 🙂
Well, that's it for this installment of reader replies. Do you have advice or encouragement for C, too? Leave it in the comments!
And if you have a question of your own, send me an email and you might be the next reader reply 🙂 Until next time!