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When I moved to Seattle 10 years ago, I was warned. They’d say, “People here are friendly but distant.” Or, “flaky and noncommittal”.
Frankly, I welcomed it. It was a sweet release of being an introvert. I wanted to buy my food items without a long conversation at the cash register. I wanted to avoid messy, complicated and confusing friendships. I didn’t want to be accountable for someone else. I was in my early 20s for chrissakes — I could barely take care of myself.
Then the malaise of the classic Seattle depression settled in. I realized that taking Vitamin D did only so much for my social calendar. The lack of social stimulation inked its way into my heart. The two friends I did make (one from work, the other my old roommate) and I cancelled on each other so frequently and effortlessly, we went months without seeing each other. I started to close inward. I frantically chatted it up with the cashiers as they looked off into the distance.
I finally recognized the “Seattle Freeze” was something real and substantial. How does one get out of this giant ice cube we’ve frozen ourselves into?
Here are four things I know about the Seattle Freeze, and four ways to get out of it.
GETTING TO KNOW THE ‘FREEZE’
It May Not Affect You Personally
First things first: Some people never experience the Seattle Freeze. I know people in this city who are human magnets. Filled with so much light that it would be impossible for them to experience a world where someone would reject their effervescent magical ways. They are constantly overwhelmed with their social calendar.
This article isn’t for you.
OR: You were born in the PNW and are used to navigating the subtle intrepid climate that the Seattle social structure is second nature to you. You have had deeply rooted family and friends here forever.
This isn’t for you either.
It Could Be a Millennial Thing
When you’re new in town, people seem to have friend groups that are just beyond your grasp. We go to social events and try and mingle, have a great conversation, exchange information, and get the casual brush off. It might be a millennial thing. It might be a Seattle thing. People are already in their close knit groups, and wedging yourself in there as an adult feels gross.
You’ve probably asked, “So, what are you doing over the weekend?” and in that millisecond of silence, you know they’re thinking of ways for you not to be invited. It’s not that they don’t like you, it’s just they don’t know you. And they don’t particularly think they should know you, because who has the time, right?
The polite distance we’ve created here means we’re too polite to say, “No Thanks” or “Not Interested” so we lead people on and on until we flutter away silently into our overpriced micro-apartments.
The Weather Is Totally a Thing
Without a doubt, the darkness that we exhibit for eight months of the year has done a number on us. We close in on ourselves. We bundle up. We become so introspective that the thought of bombarding others with our problems and/or getting bombarded by someone’s problems seems too overwhelming to bear.
Our multilayering, avoiding eye contact and quiet tucking away in corners of coffee shops is part of our Seattle legacy.
Work Is Slowly Driving You Crazy
How many hours a day are we hunched over our desks and staring at those all-knowing screens? In or out of the office, we may be surrounded by people – but are we really interacting with them? If you google, “Amazon Employees Therapy”, several articles come up, showing counseling services directed at Amazon employees, or op-ed’s speaking directly to Jeff Bezos. There is also a members only club called “The Collective,” where you pay a 100+ bucks a month to find the spice of life in an exclusive environment. We have created a well-oiled churn-and-burn machine in Seattle, churning tech experts like high-class capitalism butter.
But does that butter have a good work/life balance? How often do they move here and then move away again? What’s the point of making lasting connections if they’re only buckled down for a year or two?
THAWING YOUR WAY OUT OF IT
Turn Intentions into Taking that First Step (Yes, Really)
I am the first to admit that my flakiness is at an all time high. We click “Interested” on a wide variety of events and decide to watch a Netflix series instead. The weeks move forward and we end up chickening out on all of these interesting events and end up not doing anything.
Anxiety and depression sucks, but as you and I both know, the lack of social interaction makes us feel gross too. It contributes to this ickiness we’ve built up in our chests. What comes first, the chickening out or the egg?
So, try and do something, sometimes (even alone!). There are a ton of awesome, creative and strange things in this city. Getting out of your hiding hole and peeking out into the world again is probably a good start.
Persist, But Not Too Hard
When we meet someone who holds potential for friendship, it’s like seeing a skittish rabbit. They are so cute and animated! We inquire for friendship immediately, as their delightful disposition was too bright to ignore.
You: “Hello! So great to have met you. Would love to hang out soon!”
Them: “Yeah! Maybe! But not this week, I have this thing. Maybe next week, but I don’t know when.”
Painfully but maybe not surprisingly, the all-too-familiar brush off happens. Instead of adding on more pressure, remember your Seattle audience. You might be desperate for friendship, but they might be living their lives outside of your birds eye view.
If you vaguely like someone, ask them once or twice and then set them free – they will come back, knowing that you are not a crazy, emotionally exhausting person.
Actually Do Something About It
Look around you right now. There are lonely people everywhere. Sure, we put in our earphones and type on our computers like we know what we’re doing, but we are just a bunch of lonely meat piles trying to figure this human thing out.
This is equal parts scary, easy, and forever cheesy but: joining a club or volunteering somewhere relevant is a glorious first step in coming out of your sad cocoon. Clubs are literally made for lonely people.
Find a club that plays fantasy-themed board games. Or a club dedicated to foraging for fungi. Whatever your “thing” is, finding other lonely people with similar “things” is how this whole friendship “thing” is born.
Don’t get discouraged if the first couple of clubs aren’t for you. I joined a writer’s club once, and the person who ran it turned out to be deeply frustrated by literally everyone who was a part of it. Making new friends means making this continuous and persistent effort with no guarantees of success. Hooray!
Accept That It’s Just a Thing (Don’t take it Personally)
The Seattle Freeze may very well be real. I’ve very actively (or passively?) experienced it and have contributed to it in my ten years of living here. It could be the mixture of the stoic Nordic roots, the influx of introverts in isolating jobs, the weather, and a nice little combo pack of other circumstances that make it this weird impenetrable force that is Seattle culture.
It will take awhile. Making actual human connections with humans who put up many barriers isn’t an overnight success. The most important part of this – before that gloom overwhelms you, is that you have to keep trying. You must keep trying!
Once you crack a smile across the coffee shop a few hundred times, make an intentional effort over and over again, you will melt that persistent Seattle frost and replace it with the warm glow of connection.
Sarah E. Miller is a freelance writer, dabbler, collaborator, and an occasionally funny lady. She spends her time consistently battling the Seattle Freeze monster (in the city and within herself), writing her heart out, helping creative people expand their visions, and dreaming up big, impractical, very shiny ideas.