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:

Here's my advice on all that. First I'll give some general principles, then my take on the specific obstacles:

General ideas:

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:

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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.

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.

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.

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?