Growing up I had a tight band of friends, mostly thanks to Summer Swim League, Church youth group, and Girl Scouts. I am a Seattle native, raised in a suburb just fifteen minutes north of the city, in what was, then, unincorporated King County. This is my home, the fiercely independent people who escaped via wagon train, to homestead, and log, and settle the furthest west they could. At 25 I met my biological family and learned the amazing truth that I am related to some of the first pioneers here in WA, starting towns in the mountains of Central Washington, and out on the Peninsula. This is my home.
But at 14 I was uprooted, shuttled to the hot, dry, shrub steppe climate of Central Washington’s sagebrush dotted ‘wine country.’ It was a miserable few years, made good by college attendance, and the eventual migration HOME to Seattle after meeting Boof and deciding on the grad school route of postsecondary counseling.
I noticed something in both my moves, in how it relates to making friends. As a Seattle child, I was wary, but had friends because of the activities I was involved in. But when I lived in Central Washington, there was a distinct overwhelming difference in making friends. Because I walked into school the first day and…people said hi to me. I know, crazy, right? I had assumed it would take a good 6 months or so to even be acknowledged, because that was the vibe I got, and gave, to new kids at my schools in Seattle. There was something more open, friendly, embracing, in the smallish city that we had moved to.
In moving home to the evergreen side of the state, albeit to a suburb fifteen minutes south of Seattle, this time, I realized that in order to make friends I was going to have to put in the time and effort. It’s something I ask my students in class, about their impressions, and experiences, with the Seattle friendship vibe. And they all agree with me…it’s hard to make friends in Seattle.
I blame our pioneer spirit. I’ve joked with my students that the friendship vibe, you know, where people say “let’s get coffee!” and it means “i’m being polite and have zero intention of actually getting coffee with you,” …that doesn’t exist in other parts of the country, is due to the fur traders who lived in cabins around here, and would have moved even further west if there hadn’t been a big giant ocean (or, the Puget Sound) in their way. I feel like we are all descendants from those rugged individualists who moved here to get away from the fray, and one day woke up and there were high rises and stepford neighborhoods and they look around and think ‘wtf?’ and put their north face heads down and keep walking.
It’s not that people aren’t friendly, it’s just that they’re hard to get to know. And so, to this day, the people I call my friends have come from two distinct groups: A) people my husband or his family knew growing up here and/or B) transplants who’ve moved here and are dealing with the very same thing as me.
Starting with Boof’s circle, including his sisters, and my mother-in-law, seemed like a natural place, since I figured by dating the guy I might end up being a part of his family and wanted to get to know them and their family friends. Despite my introverted bookish ways, I summoned my energy for several years and got out of my comfort zone, doing things like…inviting them out to coffee, or going out of my way to do insane things like encouraging them to jump off rocks so we could take funny pictures. And not just family, but family friends, too. Despite being uncomfortable, feeling like an outsider, I went to social gatherings with a group of girls who had known each other in some fashion since childhood. I often felt nostalgic for that group of girls I saw on Facebook, who still palled around from my childhood Girl Scout Troop, and fantasized that if I hadn’t left I would be in this place of unbroken friendship since the early days. But instead, I mustered my own pioneer tenacity and hung out with my new family and acquaintances on a semi-regular basis. Because, in Seattle, time forges friendships. Like moss growing on rocks, or water eroding canyons. It takes time.
In the meantime, through grad school, and my first few jobs, I’ve picked up a rag tag group of friends, with only one not fitting into my family/family-friends-since-childhood or transplant theory, in a Seattle native, but he’s a dude, and I’ve worked with him at two different jobs for the last four years, so again, the whole time issue. This rag tag group of friends has their roots in many places, from the Pennsylvania Amish country, to native New Yawkers, and a few Floridians for good measure. East Coast. South. Maybe Eastern Washington, but all transplants.
I’ve been back for almost seven years, and I can confidently say I have friends. Mari grew up going to youth group with Boof, and was friends with his sister. And after five years of hanging about on the friendship periphery, somehow the time (or stars?) aligned and we became close. But it wasn’t instant like I had in college, or in Eastern Washington. It was slow, like moss growing on a rock. I think that was aided by proximity, and shared interests, and finding ourselves in the same boat with children (is the boat sinking?). I tell these stories to my students, who are struggling to fit in and find connections because it takes so long. They’re trying to not feel so lonely, and I’ll say things like, “you might feel awkward, but keep trying. keep going to things even if you feel like maybe you were only invited out of obligation. keep inviting people out to coffee. make an ass of yourself and make people laugh. just hang around, especially with people with common interests, and you’ll finally fit. I promise. But if you want friends, you’re going to have to do the work. And you’re going to have to not take six month gaps or lapse in hanging out personally, because somehow that’s just how it rolls here. ”
Any else have good advice on how to relate or be friends with people in Seattle?