Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trying to Fit In

One of my biggest surprises -- and disappointments -- about Iowa so far is how clique-ish the people seem to be. I really wasn't expecting that. When I moved to New Jersey, people were rather closed off. A handful of people (like my next-door neighbor) made an effort to pull me into a group, which made the difference. But I expected that when I moved to New Jersey -- that's what people are supposed to be like in New Jersey. In the Midwest, we're friendly! I know -- I'm from the Midwest!

I'm wondering if I got spoiled by my homeschool co-op. That was one of the most friendly, open-armed group of women I've known. There was such a family atmosphere there. When someone new joined, we made a point of trying to get to know them and their children . . to match their kids up with others their ages to be friends . . to understand their backgrounds and their needs and their gifts they had to offer the group . . to find a place where they fit in. I think I got the impression that that was just what homeschoolers were like.

Contrast that with my first experiences with the homeschool support group here. Now, granted, this is a support group and not a co-op, which is different. And there are about 100 families in the group, so you're just not going to get to know everyone.

But let me describe my second "Moms Night Out" meeting with the group here. It was Tuesday night of Thanksgiving week, so attendance was very low. I came in and saw a table with only two women at it and sat there, thinking that would be an easy small group for me to melt into for the night. The two women glanced at me and smiled . . and continued their conversation. I waited for an opportune moment to gently step in and introduce myself, and they kindly introduced themselves. I mentioned that I'd only been in Sioux City for a month or so and still didn't really know anyone. They smiled and said, "Welcome!" . . . and went back to their conversation.

It was so strange to me. They didn't ask about me, my family, why I moved here, how long I've homeschooled, nothing. I, again, tried to find times to gently "weasel" into their conversation (which was obviously not a private one as they were speaking loud enough for anyone at the table to hear) and ask questions about their own families, etc. -- which they occasionally reciprocated with a polite question back at me . . . and then they turned back to their conversation.

Now, I hate to judge these two. Maybe they were tired and worn and needed an evening to just relax and visit with a good friend. I've been there. But the thing is, this seems to be the pattern with most of these women. We go to the homeschool PE activity every Friday afternoon, and very rarely does anyone approach me to make my acquaintance. Other than the next-door neighbor who brought us a goody-bag the day we moved in, I think I've initiated nearly every friendship I've made here.

It's just odd to me to look at these women who know I'm new, who see me sitting alone . . and they immediately go over to a friend (the same friend I see them with every week) and sit to talk to them. And if I go over to try to join into the conversation, there's no fitting me into the discussion . . no explaining to me what they're talking about . . no asking about me and my situation to engage me . . I mean, they don't glare at me or turn their backs (I did get that once in NJ), but there's just no effort to pull me in.

Of the handful of women I've gotten to know best here, half of them have just moved here themselves.

I remember the first year or so in NJ wondering about the unique characteristics of the people I had met. Is it because this is New Jersey? Is it because it's wealthy, materialistic Voorhees? Is it because they're Catholic, or Methodist, or just not "Bible Belt"? Now I'm wondering about the clique-y people here. Is it because they're farmers? Is it because they're conservative? Is it because this is Iowa?

Or maybe it's me. Hmm. Nah, couldn't be. :)


Julie W. said...

I'm so sorry you have to experience being the odd one out. A slight flash in my head went to The Music Man. Was that set in Iowa? They were stand-offish too. Just thought that was amusing to think that would be real life. Maybe you should try to start a band, just a little humor. Just know you have a bunch of friends in NJ and KS that love you and think of you often and read your blog. If you need verbal conversation I am home all day Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday (I sleep during the day on Wed. and Thur.). You have a great out going personality, you will find your nitch....I have faith!
Julie W.

Anonymous said...

Actually that was set in River City, Iowa if I remember correctly. It was actually based on a city in Iowa so it sounds like the show was accurate. Hang in there - you were always easy to get along with and easy to talk to. It will come with time. It is always hard to start over especially when you had it so good in NJ.

Laura said...

So rude behavior you have encountered! Know that you are read by your friends here in NJ, and know that in time you will make good new friends...The people that I have met from Iowa here in NJ are very standoffhish :[ too.
Love ya,

GJK said...

Sorry, Laura, but I have to ask . . . which Laura are you? :)

Anonymous said...

Gwen, I'm so sorry that you are having a bad experience with the women there. I hoped it would be an easy transition for all of you.