I live in an area I just don’t fit into. I haven't made a single friend
Tell Me About It: How can I convince the people in this small village that I’m worth knowing?
Question: I am in my mid-30s. I had a good career overseas, but I moved home two years ago because my husband and I didn’t want to continue having a long-distance relationship (which we had done for four years at that point). He is wonderful and he is the only good thing in my life. He does his best to be supportive, but I frequently hide my true feelings from him because I am scared that I will eventually push him away if I am sad too much of the time.
When I returned from overseas, I couldn’t find work, so we were financially obliged to move to a rural area. I only have casual work which I do from home one day per week. We are in a very isolated area where the opportunities for work and hobbies are very limited. Here, I’m stagnating and most of our friends live in Dublin.
In the two years we’ve lived here, I haven’t made a single friend.
I feel I don’t fit in at all. For example, most people in this area go to church or Mass on Sundays, while I’ve been an atheist all my life. On the rare occasion that I’ve fallen into conversation with anyone, it’s become clear quite quickly that they like watching soaps and reality shows – but I’m into literature, theatre, alternative music; I lived without a tv for five years. I try to put across a sunny persona when I meet people, but I also find that they lose interest in me when they find out that we don’t have children and I feel judged. I know that I have good qualities. I’m kind, a great listener, I’m generous and caring.
I’m at my wits end. I have zero social life and there are days when I have to convince myself not to start drinking at noon. Sometimes I cry, but I mostly feel angry or panicked. I look to the future with sheer dread – how can I live like this for the rest of my life? It seems like a long time since I last really enjoyed myself, or laughed. I fear that I’m losing my social skills, that I’m forgetting how to interact with people. Most of all, I fear that I will forever regret wasting my life. It is impossible for us to relocate again, but there must be something I can do? How can I convince the people in this small village that I’m worth knowing?
Answer: Your letter screams of isolation and feeling ostracised. This is intolerable for any human being and there is no doubt that something has to change and quickly. It seems that two years ago you not only moved country but you also moved from an urban to a rural location and you gave up a rewarding and satisfying career. You did this for love and it is a testament to that love that the two of you are still united and bonded. You undoubtedly went through a period of intense grief and loss but without any of the usual friendship and community supports that get us through these periods of our lives. In fact, you could argue that this grief process is still happening and that you are angry and despairing at this stage.
You say that relocating is impossible, but your responsibility is to have a fulfilling and happy life and if that has to happen in the community you live in, then change is required at the personal and occupational level. There may be judgment going on in the community, but perhaps you have also judged everyone as rejecting you and are thus defensive in your interactions.
When people get to know you they will see the generosity and kindness in you
Defensiveness is one of the four factors that cause relationship breakdown (type John Gottman’s research into Google) and if there is any way of tackling this, it might open up some connection for you. Engagement is the opposite of defending and perhaps this is the quickest method of integration for you. It sounds as though you have lots of expertise and skills and I wonder if you could use this to volunteer in your local or nearby communities.
You could start with the schools and inquire if you could help with students seeking careers in your area. While this might be ideal, any volunteering will help you integrate and usually fellow volunteers are good, caring people and are worth knowing. If you are on social welfare, you may be entitled to a back to education allowance and any course, whether on-line or face-to-face will activate your brain and pull you into intellectual stimulation with like-minded others.
When you begin to feel a bit more confident, you might consider setting up a small book club focusing on literature or see if anyone is interested in discussing bringing theatre to your area (eg the Abbey theatre currently has a policy of visiting the country).
When people get to know you – as you blossom in your areas of interest – they will see the generosity and kindness in you. If you are still struggling and spending your days crying, then it is important that you seek psychological help as you need to be heard, understood and supported. This help is available all over Ireland and often there are sliding scales of fees for those you are on low incomes. (see psychotherapycouncil.ie to source an accredited psychotherapist).