Then one day we ended up at a park at the same time, watching our children playing--him with his little girl and me with my kids. I decided to walk over and be friendly and neighborly and I'm so glad I did! As it turns out, him and his wife just moved all the way over from the east coast and bought a house around the corner and down the street from us.
They have never lived in Utah before and don't have any friends or family here. I immediately invited him and his family to come over to our house the following day. They were eager to come hang out, see our plethora of animals, as well as ask tons of questions about Utah living.
We sat in my backyard and watched the kids play and I did my best to answer all their questions and be the kind of person I would want to meet if I had just moved to a new place and didn't know a soul.
They admitted to be going through a bit of culture shock here, which I assured them was normal (small town Utah is definitely something different!) It was also really nice for us to meet some new and interesting people who were friendly and fun to chat with. I don't know anything about east coast living so I had lots of questions for them, too.
After awhile we said goodbye and made some loose plans to BBQ in the backyard before it gets too cold (which we better follow up on before we get too busy!)
This meeting and play date were such a small occurrence in my week this past week, but I'm betting it had a big impact on them. I know too well how awkward and lonely it can be to move to a new town where you don't know anyone. I have had many experiences with this as we moved 6 times before we finally settled ourselves here in Cedar City. Each time I had to readjust my life as I got acquainted with the new surroundings, learned about the people and culture (yes we have many different sub-cultures in America), got new church callings, new living spaces, new neighbors etc. Everything is all so different and awkward at first until you finally meet some wonderful, friendly person who invites you over for dinner or over for a playdate, where they answer all your questions, get to know your family on a deeper, more personal level, and make you feel totally welcomed. At least, that's the ideal way for things to happen. It doesn't always go that way......
Moving to Cedar City has been one of the hardest challenges in trying to meet people, make friends, and feel like I belong. We have been here 6 years now and I finally feel like I have friends, and that's only been for the last 1-2 years. I mean, everywhere I've moved since I left Hawaii in 2002, I've been able to make friends within the first year and feel welcomed and accepted.
But not Cedar City.
When we first moved here in 2013 I was optimistic and excited to start our lives here. However, after about 2 years of living here, I started to get discouraged because I couldn't find any friends. I would reach out to people again and again and again, but nobody would reach back. I'd try to make playdates with neighbors, with little to no responses. We'd have people over for dinner and then never hear from them again. I'd go to mom groups and church play dates and nobody would really talk to me. I would drop by people's houses with goodies and a smile, hoping they'd recognize my attempt at friendship, with zero reciprocity.
I realized that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't connect with people and it got reeeeeeeeeeally depressing. In fact, after trying and trying and reaching and reaching with no results, I finally started to think there was something terribly wrong with me. "I must be a total loser who can't even make one friend! I must be a freak who scares people away! I must not belong here because I feel like a freakin alien." I told myself.
I mean..... every once in awhile I would meet someone really neat who I saw a potential friendship with, then they'd move. And one time I made friends with this other mom friend, but she turned out to be a total psycho. I was certain the problem was with me.
I reached a point, about 2 1/2 years ago where I was done. I was done trying to make friends with anyone because it wasn't worth it anymore. It wasn't worth the pain and disappointment of feeling hopeful, reaching out to someone, and then feeling completely rejected. It wasn't worth the tears. And it wasn't worth my sanity. I decided that I didn't need friends because I had my family and that was good enough.
As time went on, however, friends started coming into my life unexpectedly. People actually started reaching out to me, and as it turned out, they were people just like me. --Transplants who had moved here from somewhere else, transplants who didn't have family here, and people who felt lonely and awkward in this new place often feeling like they didn't belong. People who just wanted to connect and socialize and make friends no matter what.
I finally realized that it wasn't me at all. The problem was that we had landed ourselves in a small town where people were perfectly content keeping to themselves---a small town where people have lived for generations and generations, surrounded by their families and close-family friends.......and that is enough for them.
During the weekdays they hang out with their moms and their sisters, their aunts and their cousins. On the weekends they have large family dinners and trips up to the family cabin on the mountain. They go to church with the same people they've gone to church with forever, the same weekly traditions that fill their lives with the security and safety net of their tight-knit communities. Their grandma lives across the street. Their parents all went to SUU and now they go there, too. Their mothers watch their children while they go on shopping trips and lunch dates with their sisters. They don't have time to meet new people. In fact, new people can often make them feel uncomfortable or uncertain, especially if they don't know if these folks share the same morals and values in life. New people can be threatening, and small town Utahns like normalcy and consistency. They like their families, their faith, and their sameness.
The problem was that I moved here with my huge smile, my wild hair, my bright clothing and my hippie spirit and nobody knew what to do with me. Is she Mormon? She doesn't look like she's LDS......
I actually walked into an LDS church building for a scouts meeting and saw a mom I knew from a play group I had attended only to have her look startled while asking me,"What are you doing here? You're not LDS are you?"
I was startled back! Indeed I am! I may not look like you or talk like you or follow the cultural norms for this area, but I am a dedicated member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints! She couldn't wrap her mind around that because she had never left small town Utah.
It was experiences like this that made me realize just how hard it was to feel like I belonged here. I imagine it's even more awkward for those not of the LDS faith--the dominating religion of this area.
In all respects, however, although I had a really hard time making friends, people have been overall kind. I used to tell my husband,"Wow, life sure is interesting! I have a million nice acquaintances, but zero friends."
But what I needed was REAL friends. I was rooting for just one real friend at first, but now I have a few.
Women need other women to hang out with, talk with, vent with, and laugh with. People need to feel welcomed and accepted wherever they are! We need more than a smile and a wave from a nice neighbor. We need to sit down and drink tea and talk about our kids and share what's deep in our hearts. Because that's what friends do.
Flashback to 1991 when I was 12 years old. We had just moved to a new town on Oahu. We had already been living in Laie for several years when suddenly my family moved back to California when I was in the middle of 4th grade, then moved back to Hawaii at the beginning of my 7th grade year. We rented a house right across from the ocean on Kamehameha Hwy, near Pupukea Foodland. Although I didn't feel like a main-lander, a newcomer, or a "hauole" because of our years living in Laie, it was still hard for others to accept me in our new town of Sunset Beach.
Our middle school was combined with the high school and consisted of students 7th-12th grade from 6 different beach towns. So, although I had lived in Laie and knew some people from there, I didn't know anyone from our new town of Sunset. And, as it turns out, there was a group of girls in my new town who were really mean and nasty to new girls.
There were probably about 6-8 of them in their exclusive group. These were the girls who's white, surfer parents had moved to Hawaii in the 70's to surf the big waves and buy up all the expensive property on the North Shore. These were the girls who's parents owned the big houses on the most popular surfing beaches, the tiny yachts in the harbor, the restaurants and boutiques in Haleiwa. They all attended the same parties, bought their marijuana from the same dealers, and pushed their girls into being models and athletes. They all knew each other, had grown up with each other, and were not accepting to any newcomers, especially not to me.
These snooty girls harassed me throughout my years of middle school. They went out of their way to say rude things about my "mainland" hair, my"mainland" clothes, the type of music I listened to, my style. They went out of their way to drop condescending comments about not being from there, not knowing who's who, what's what, and not being cool enough to fit in. I remember this one girl in particular would often ask me which beaches I went to over the weekend. If I named a beach that was considered too "touristy" her and her friends would snicker and laugh at me. (Because that meant I didn't know the cool, secret beaches that the locals hung out at. Because that meant I didn't belong there.)
One week, this same girl who had it out for me started becoming really friendly. "Wow," I thought,"She's warming up to me. She wants to be my friend after-all." She asked if she could come over and hang out after school. I cautiously said okay.
We were out jumping on the trampoline in my backyard when I realized that she kept looking in the windows of the house. I finally asked her what she was looking for when she asked,"Well, isn't your older brother home? I thought your brother would be here." Suddenly I realized why she was being so friendly to me, and I felt hurt, betrayed. She had a crush on my brother. The next day at school I didn't talk to her at all. She'd been found out and so went right back to her nasty comments and mean looks across the hallways.
This might sound like a sad and depressing story, but it's not. It actually has a really happy ending. so stay with me. As these elitist girls continued to snob me and belittle me, I kept pushing along. I kept reaching out and I kept trying to make friends and I kept being ME, until finally, towards the end of my seventh grade year I found my people. I found a group of girlfriends who were down-to-earth, kind, generous and fun. I found a group of girlfriends who were a beautiful mix of those born and raised in Hawaii, those transplanted from the mainland, and those who even moved in from other towns on Oahu. We didn't care where each other was from, how much money our parent's had, how long we'd been there, what beaches were the coolest, or what we wore or looked like--we just wanted to have fun, play, and be ourselves. And these people are still my people to this day, 28 years later. In fact, I was just out there in May and got to spend time with some of them and their families. They are the truest examples of love, light, and aloha in my life.
As for those mean girls, they managed to traumatize me some and still haunt my dreams now and then. When someone repeatedly gets emotionally bullied like I did, it doesn't go away lightly. There are times even now, when I'm struggling with inadequate feelings about myself, that my thoughts go right back to feeling unwelcome and unaccepted as a person by that group of girls.
I mean, It would've been so easy for them to be friendly to me, to accept me, to welcome me, and to show me the greatest and best parts of their lives, without losing out on anything! But instead they had been taught to look down on others, to keep to their own group, to reject those who don't "belong."
Lucky for me, this was only a small portion of my growing-up experience. Lucky for me there were so many other wonderful, beautiful, down-to-earth people who came into my life and added to it in so many positive ways. One group of nasty girls can't hurt me. Maybe deter my confidence a bit, and give me some lasting negative memories--but they couldn't hurt me in the long run. In fact, if anything came of their meanness it was a life-long determination to help people feel accepted and welcomed in any situation. Especially upon moving to a new town.
I know too well the feeling of loneliness and rejection upon being the new kid on the block, and I know it doesn't have to be that way. That is why If I meet someone who has just moved here, I do all I can to make them feel welcomed. I know I can't be everything to everyone nor can I solve everyone's problems, but if I can lift their burdens just a little, I'll try.
The experiences I had in Cedar City taught me to always be on the lookout for someone who may need friend. To always keep in mind that others might be feeling really lonely and uncomfortable here, just as I was.
Bad experiences give us empathy, and for that I am grateful.
I am grateful that empathy has taught me to reach out to others and make them feel welcomed. I am grateful that empathy has taught me to be kind to everyone I meet and to invite people into my life who wish to be a part of it.
I don't always have a lot of time, what with college and kids and my permanent job as family chauffeur, but there will always be a place in my heart for newcomers.