Wow, I could have written a lot of these posts.
IMO, nearby family willing to help is the big deal. We're literally the only couple we know IRL w/ no family nearby. It's definitely a drain. I have supportive friends, but none close by, and they have their own small children to deal w/ so it's not like I can drop off my nursing/diaper wearing toddler and go to the mall. If I had any of my family nearby, things would be so. much. easier. And cheaper--a date night would cost us $50 just for the sitter.
And it isn't so much that it's hard to meet people as it is that relationships take time to develop, especially when you only see people sporadically at the park or school pick up line or whatever, unlike a work situation where you're together for 8 hrs a day every day.
I wish I had a solution! I'm glad we moved here for financial reasons (cross country move for DH"s work) , but if we had to do it again, I don't know that I would move away from my family.