When Your Life Circumstances Interfere With Your Social Life
A common question I get from people who email me is, "I want to do better socially, but I live too far from everyone/don't have a car/have no money/live in a small town/am underage. I can't have a normal social life because of this. What can I do?" To put them in bullet list form, here are the life circumstances that seem to interfere with people's social lives the most:
- Living far away from school/downtown/where everyone hangs out
- Living at home after high school
- Living in a small, boring town where there's no one good to hang out with
- Being underage (in general or when all their friends are legal)
- Not having a car
- Being poor and generally strapped for cash
- Not having a good place to bring friends back to
- Being busy all the time
Here's my advice on all that. First I'll give some general principles, then my take on the specific obstacles:
These unhelpful circumstances can undeniably make things harder
Before I go into all the tips and advice, I don't want to understate how much having your circumstances stacked against you like this can be a real hindrance. What a lot of other people don't even have to think about is a big, inconvenient handicap to you. And some people are stuck in a situation that will never give them all they want, no matter how much they try to make the best of it. Escaping and moving on to better things may be the only solution there.
Don't make your circumstances into an excuse
Less-than-perfect life circumstances shouldn't usually be enough to sink someone's social life if they're otherwise motivated and well-adjusted. Lots of people don't have ideal situations, but they still manage to make friends. But if someone is already a little shy, insecure, awkward, or honestly only lukewarm to the idea of making friends, then some unfavorable circumstances can provide that little bit of extra difficulty that thwarts their efforts. The circumstances can also be used as an ego-saving excuse. People can end up seeing their situation as the sole reason they're not doing better socially than they are.
You can probably do at least somewhat better than you are now
Sort of repeating the last point, there are probably at least some things you can do to squeeze more social success from your current situation. You may have to work harder than most people to get their results, but it can be done. Also, if they find you likable enough people usually don't care about where you stand in terms of "on paper" qualities like where you live or how much money you have.
You've got three choices when faced with a bad situation: Adapt, escape, or wait it out
For some circumstances you can change the way you're doing things so you can still have a social life (e.g., living far from your friends). For others, the best long-term solution may be to escape (e.g., living in a tiny, stifling town). And in some cases you may just have to wait (e.g., until you can drive, get into bars, move out of home, or get a job that pays more). Faced with the same situation, different choices may be appropriate for different people.
If you're younger, you may just have to wait for a while
A lot of life circumstance problems hit you when you're in high school or college. Some of this is just comes with being young. You're not fully independent and other people get to make decisions for you. You don't get to pick where you live. You don't have a ton of money to throw around. You're too young to legally do some of the things you want to. You have to accept that this is just what life is like at your age, and that you have to put in your time and wait until you're older.
If life isn't perfect now, at least you can work to lay a groundwork for the future
You may be stuck in a situation where your social life will never be where you want it. But maybe in a year or two things have the potential to be better. You can put all your currently wasted time towards making your future social life easier. You could practice various social skills on the people that are around. Maybe you could take up some fun new hobbies that might help you meet people sometime in the future.
Some advice for specific problems:
You'll notice a lot of the points below won't be especially profound. You'll maybe have thought of them already. For some people the big step isn't coming up with ideas to get around their problems, it's shedding the attitude that their social life is a lost cause because of their situation and so there's no point in trying.
Living in a small, boring town
I don't have any firsthand experience with this so I'm going on what other people have said. From what I understand, if you really don't like it, and feel bored and constrained or like there's no one worth knowing where you live, then the only real option is to move. That may not be possible right now, but could be in the future when you start university, or if you save up enough money.
I think some people don't give the members of their community a fair chance, though. They see everyone as belonging to a uniform mass of small-minded/conservative/backwards types, when in reality there are some people who aren't that bad. It can be that cliched lonely person "everyone sucks" type of negativity. Someone may not have made an honest effort to explore all the things there are to do in their town either. Sometimes we're too quick to conclude a place is dull, when if we'd just look around a little more deeply, we'd find there's more going on than we realized.
Living far away from everyone
E.g., living far from your school, university campus, downtown, etc. I think some people make this out to be a bigger problem than it really is. Like, "I live so far. No one will want to come over to my house. I'll never make friends." This is probably the circumstance that can be improved the most from changing your attitude. Here are my suggestions:
- If you've decided ahead of time that your far-off location is social kryptonite, at least try having people over. They may not mind. But honestly, it probably is a hassle. It's always easier living near everything.
- Hang out at the places of friends who do live nearby. People may understand that you live far away and not care that they can't go to your place. Don't feel you must have people over to your place in order to have a life.
- Hang out with people in places other than someone's house. The older you get, the more possibilities open up to do things outside of going over to a buddy's place after school.
- Be around people in organized settings away from home such as sports teams, lessons, or clubs.
- Just accept that you'll spend more time traveling to and from locations than most people. If you take public transit you can at least read, listen to music, or play video games during the down time.
- If you're younger try making some friends with people in your area. Your social circle doesn't have to only include people from your school. Check out what's going on in your part of town.
- Once you're legal drinking age, living far from all the bars and clubs can mess up your nights out. People from the suburbs have had many outings cut short because the last bus/train home left at 1:00am. You can figure out ways around this like arranging to stay at a friend's house, taking a cab home, or trying to get your buddies to come to a more local bar.
- When you're older the right call may be to move closer to where you want to be.
Living at home
This is a similar problem to living far from everyone. There can also be the same tendency to assume it's a bigger obstacle than it is. If your home isn't that bad there's no reason to think you can't have people over. It may not be as ideal as having your own place, but it's not that big a deal. However, if hanging out at home isn't feasible, then just write it off as a possible place to socialize, and spend time with people in any number of other spots.
Don't worry about the stigma it carries. Especially in bigger cities, living at home doesn't mean what it used to. More and more people are living at home in their twenties because it's just too expensive to rent their own apartment. If you tell people you still live with your parents, they think, "Oh okay. Well I guess we won't be hanging out at their place much", but that's it. If you seem like an okay person most people will assume you're still at home because of finances or your cultural values, not because something's wrong with you.
Not having a car / not being able to drive
This one isn't so bad if you live downtown in a larger city. It's way more of a problem in suburban or rural areas.
- If you're below the driving age, and a car is essential where you live, then start learning to drive as soon as you can. Then get a car ASAP to get rid of that limitation to your independence and mobility.
- Get rides with other people, take public transit, or take cabs. Agree to meet people at your destination instead of picking them up.
- Don't blatantly use anyone or take them for granted, but if you can, make friends with someone who has a car.
- If someone gives you a lift on a longer trip, be sure to pitch in on gas money.
- Don't feel you have to have a car to have friends. If you're an otherwise solid person no one's going to judge you because you can't pick them up or drive out somewhere. Especially when people are younger, they don't care as much about that stuff compared to how fun you are or how well you get along with everyone.
Being underage to drink and get into bars
I think this is the most annoying when everyone you know is legal and you can't go along with them. Nothing like being the younger kid in college.
- There are some bars/clubs/concerts that will let underage people in. It may only happen on certain nights, or they'll let everyone in, but the underage kids will get an X drawn on their hand or have to wear an identifying wristband.
- Try to go to more house parties with your friends instead of going to bars.
- There are obviously risks to this, and it's not for everyone, but there are always those well-worn options that underage drinkers have resorted to for decades: Getting a fake ID, getting someone else to buy you booze, or going somewhere where they're lax about carding people or letting minors drink.
- Just wait to turn the legal age. Everyone is too young at some point.
Being poor / broke
This includes a couple of issues. The first would be in terms of not having enough money to go out with your friends. The second would be living in a crappy house / apartment / neighborhood that you're embarrassed to bring people back to. The third would be having a poor appearance because you can't afford the same types of clothes as everyone else.
- Regarding money, it's not unusual at all for people to be hard up for cash during their university years and their twenties. In fact, I'd say it's the exception to not have to worry about paying the rent at some time. Most of these people still manage to have a social life. They aren't going to fancy restaurants four times a week, but they can still have fun. It actually doesn't cost all that much to go out if you budget it properly. If you make socializing a priority, you can almost always come up with some cash to cover the expenses.
- You can eat at cheap restaurants.
- You can go to free festivals or only go to the art gallery on the weekday evening when there's no admission.
- You can go to bars with cheap or no cover. Many venues also won't charge cover if you get there before a certain time.
- You can pre-drink... with cheap alcohol that still does the job.
- You can learn which nights have drink specials for all the bars in your city.
- Instead of going out all the time you can just go over to people's houses and watch TV and hang around and chat.
- You can do inexpensive activities like seeing a movie, going for a bike ride, or grabbing a coffee.
- You can do free outdoor activities like wandering around downtown or walking along the river.
- If your residence is embarrassing you can apply the advice from the 'living far from everything' section. Just never invite people over and hang out in other places. And if you're a good friend otherwise your mates shouldn't hold your circumstances against you. Move somewhere better when the time comes.
- When it comes to appearance, you can usually look good on a budget if you know what you're doing. If you're younger and your parents buy your clothes, get permission to shop for yourself.
Being busy all the time
I think there's always time to socialize if you make it a priority. And who really studies at 11pm on a Friday anyway?
- Be careful about using your busyness as an excuse to justify your lack of a life (to yourself, to other people, or both).
- Try to tweak your social life so that it's less time consuming and fits into your schedule. Like you could meet a friend for coffee after work or after class, instead of in the middle of a weekend when you have other stuff to do.
- Spend quality time with friends instead of hanging out aimlessly for hours on end.
- If you don't mind that kind of thing, try to hang out with lots of people at once instead of seeing every person individually.
- If being too tired to want to go out is the problem, a nap after work or a strategic dose of caffeine may be all you need to get your energy and motivation back.
- If you foresee the busyness as being temporary you may rightly choose to throw your (social) life out of balance in the short term to achieve a greater long range goal. Though whether "all of undergrad plus law school" is "temporary" is up for debate. That kind of thinking can be a justification for avoiding real social problems. It's easier to view yourself as nobly sacrificing trivial social activities for the greater good.