Recently, a reader emailed in with a question: what are the pros and cons of living in a small town as a twenty-something? Is it hard to make friends as an outsider? Is it cliquey? And the dating? GOOD. QUESTIONS. I’ve written about living in Woods Hole over the years, but I haven’t really put it all down in one blog post, and now that I’m living in NYC, I feel like I can really tackle the topic without burning any bridges, haha! (kidding). Here are my thoughts…
On Making Friends
When I moved to Woods Hole in 2012, I was lucky to already know a handful of people, and that helped me establish the groundwork of a social life. Two tips: in the beginning, say yes to every single social invitation. Bowling invite? Do it. Day hike? Yes. Drinks in someone’s backyard? Yep — you get it. Once you get out there, you’ll start hitting it off with people, and that’s when the friendships will really start to form. My second tip is less practical, but still worth saying: get a dog (if you can). I made most of my friends through walking Juniper and meeting other girls with dogs. Plus, it’s just easier to get the ball rolling and exchange contact info — everyone is always looking for a dog walking buddy. A note on shyness: I’m a little shy and introverted by nature, but I found a few things helpful in putting myself out there. First of all, no one is weirded out when you express interest in getting to know them — like, ever. Second, a lot of people are looking for friends, too, even if they aren’t outwardly *acting* like it.
On Quiet Winters
I will never forget my first winter in Woods Hole. It was novel, having grown up in NYC, to spend all weekend baking bread in wool socks and watching snow fall outside my window. By the third winter, I was fully acquainted with cabin fever. There were a few things that helped: planning weekend trips. Hosting soup swaps. Scheduling phone dates with girlfriends. Investing in a pair of practical boots. I won’t lie: winters can feel long, especially in sleepy New England towns — but they also are breathtakingly beautiful (when I’m anxious, I often think of the crackly pop sound of a burning fire. It puts my mind at rest). I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone finds their own way of making it through.
I remember talking to a girlfriend a few years ago who lived in NYC; we were both single and miserable, and neither one of us felt like we were going to meet someone. She was going on date after date, and I was going on…well, zero dates. My point? It’s all hard, regardless of where you live. You can feel lonely anywhere, you can feel like you aren’t hitting it off with anyone anywhere. Also true: you can meet the love of your life anywhere. I met Kevin at a local bar that draws the same exact crowd every Saturday. I was finally coming to terms with the fact that maybe it just wasn’t going to happen in Woods Hole. It felt like there were all of three eligible bachelors. But then there he was sitting, and all along, we had been living in the same tiny town. But looking back, I’m really glad I had that time to be single. I learned to settle in to myself, to feel comfortable alone, to discover hobbies, to catch up on reading, to daydream.
On Cliques and Gossip
I think cliques are, unfortunately, unavoidable. Same goes for gossiping. A nasty divorce, a breakup, a job promotion, it’s all an opportunity for people to talk. The difference between small town chatter and, say, a high school cafeteria, is that you aren’t forced to be around it every day. You can choose who you hang out with, and where you go. There’s a strong sense of community, of people watching out for each other. Case in point: during a blizzard and power outage one winter, I lost my phone during a walk (it dropped soundlessly out of my pocket into a snow bank). I was able to let a few friends know, and the next day, people were stopping by to make sure I was okay.
A word on feeling like an outsider: it’s intimidating to move to a town where it can feel like everyone already knows each other, but there’s a MAJOR plus side. You’re anonymous! I remember the first year I was living in Woods Hole, I tagged along with a new friend (who had grown up there) to get some groceries. We ran into her high school math teacher and an ex-boyfriend — both in the same aisle. Of course, as you settle in, people get to know you, but at least they don’t know about your awkward high school years. 🙂
Good luck with everything!! And any readers in small towns feel free to chime in with your thoughts! XO