Dear Not From Here,
First off, I want you to know that you are not alone. It isn’t just you; there are lots of other women who are in the same lonely boat as you. If you have moved from your hometown to another town, you have joined the “not from here” club. If you move to a large town or city, there will be many others in your club. There will be enough of you to find your tribe and make new friends. If you move to a small town, your experience will be different.
Some lucky folks make friends easily no matter where they live. Others, usually us introverts, have a harder time.
It is not you. You are likely wonderful and a great friend.
I have come to believe that people that live where they have grown up, genuinely don’t know how to make new friends. Making friends is a skill. If you last practiced it in elementary school, you don’t really know how to go about making new friends as an adult. The more you practice the skill of making friends, the better you are at it.
Not from Here, Not 1 of 150
The average person can only maintain about 150 relationships. (Once you hit that number for you, your dance card is full. Once upon a time, young ladies had a card that those young men used to reserve each dance by writing their name. There were so many slots, one for each of the songs at the dance. Once all of a young lady’s dances were reserved, then her dance card was full.)
The 150 number is actually called the Dunbar number. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist, identified that the people tend to naturally top out at 150 meaningful relationships. Furthermore, not all these relationships are the same. Further research indicated that there are ever increasing circles of influence: 5, 15, 50 and then 150.
What is a Meaningful Relationship?
Not all of these 150 relationships are the same. We have our closest friends & family. Then we expand out from there. If you have a smaller family or distant from your family, physically or emotionally, then friends might rise to the level of intimacy and importance as a family. The Dunbar theory is just that a theory. There are going to be some people who are going to break the mold. They might have far fewer friends or slightly more friends.
Friends, however, is not defined in this same way in real life as it is on Facebook. Dunbar’s theory speaks to meaningful relationships that exist in real life. Dunbar’s research included the Christmas card test. He looked at how many Christmas cards a set of British families sent out. The idea is that it takes an effort to send out a Christmas card: locating an address, buying a card, buying a stamp, and writing a note. We do these things for the people that we truly care about and with whom we want to stay in touch.
Of course, Facebook has thrown a wrench into the Christmas card tradition. It does, however, give an idea of the difference between a Facebook friend and the type of meaningful relationships that Dunbar studied.
Always from Here vs. Not from Here
If you live in the town that you grew up in, those dance cards fill up early. By the time you finished out high school, you likely had your 150 slots filled. When you move on to college, slots open up. Then there is room suddenly for some college friends to make it on to the list.
The natural transition to college will result in relationship openings. We discover new interests and passions. We drift away from friends that we used to be close too. Friendships that were aiding my frequent contact in a common class, activity, job or location – can weaken or be lost when those friends are no longer naturally overlapping. The friendship then requires more effort to maintain contact. These create openings for new friendships and relationships to form. Marriage, divorce, a new home, and a new job all provide these life moments in which there is a natural re-ordering of our friendships.
There are many in the “not from here” camp that experience more of these changes. Military and clergy families know these transitions well. We have more experience being the new kid in school or finding a new church. For some personalities, these transitions are more natural than for others. As an introvert, these transitions can be brutal. Ironically, those that have developed more friendship initiating skills can be disillusioned in using them because of there personal Dunbar experience. Why bother when everyone already has their friendships set?
Lonely “Not from Here” – You are NOT the Only One
The reality though is that surveys show that 20% of Americans are lonely. You would think that older Americans who live alone would naturally be the most isolated, but this is not the case. Loneliness gets worse with each younger group. A CBS News article cited a study that found that Generation Z is the loneliest of all. Despite communal living situations and ease of internet connection, these young people feel very alone.
Strikingly the article stated that “around half of Americans say they have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending time with family members.”
Know that you are not alone. Most of us feel lonely. Do not feel ashamed because you feel lonely. Be encouraged that there are lots of other people out there that want to connect and have a meaningful friend too, even if they are really challenging to find in a small town.
Where can I find friends?
Churches can be a friendly place to find new friends. For some people, the church is the primary place that they socialize. That is the place that their closest friendships start. For others, the church is not one place that they go during the week – just like work.
If you, unfortunately, find yourself in the latter kind of church, you may need to find a new one. Where do the new people in town go to church? Usually, a newer church itself is more welcoming and friendly to new people. They are establishing those new 150 relationships. Even if the church is not an ideal fit for denomination or music, perhaps there is a women’s ministry or small group ministry in which you can get involved.
Find other exiles/Other ex-pats
I remember being at a birthday party for one of my daughter’s young friends. As I scanned the room it hit me that this group of families all had something in common – not of us were from the town in which we all were all living. All of the families were transplants. They didn’t all go to the same church or work the same kinds of jobs. The common thread that brought them together was being outsiders.
We recognize this cultural common ground when people live abroad. Often families living in a foreign country will form friendships with other people from their home country or perhaps sharing the same common language. Ironically, these might not be the first people we would naturally be drawn to back home, but in a foreign context, we are more gracious to overcome those differences.
Draw close to God
Women and men who engage with the Bible four or more times per week are 30% less likely to struggle with loneliness than people who engage in the Bible less than four times per week, according to the Center for Bible Engagement. (You can read more about the impact of this study here.)
From a worldly perspective, it makes no sense that reading a book by yourself would help you feel more connected to others. For Christians, however, we recognize that our ultimate worth and identity come from Christ. He gives us the boldness and confidence to reach out and make connections with others. Studying God’s word more frequently certainly can’t hurt!
We remember too that our God is one of community. We worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. God created us in His image for connection. Connections are harder in this fallen world, but they are a part of God’s design for us.
Invest in your closest relationships
Our lives are so busy that even families don’t have time to truly talk to one another every day. Make time to connect with others starting at home. Turn off the television and put down the electronics. A simple walk around the block to talk about the day went can be such a blessing. You can sit on the front porch for those too tired.
Kicking a soccer ball back and forth with your child for fifteen minutes can provide the perfect relaxed setting to get them talking. Those in your household are also “not from here” and may share some of the same struggles that you are facing.
You know that others are lonely. Yes, you likely have been hurt by the rejection and invisibility that you have felt. Knowing that others are lonely too, empowers us to renew our boldness is seeking connection with others. If half of the people out there are lonely; the odds are in our favor – even in a small town – of finding at least one or two people with whom we will click.
Please, please know that you are not alone. There are many other new people who feel the sting of being not from here. They are many other people that are from “here” that feel lonely too. In the end, regardless of where we grew up, we are all seeking to connect with others and be valued and important. Pray for God to healing your heart and fill it. Pray for friends for God did not create us to be alone.
Signed, Not From Here too.