Monday, June 15, 2009

Friendly vs. Friends

Last week I heard the author of this article on NPR, and then read this article on Seattle's "social disease" and it got me thinking about my own Seattle girl standoffishness. When I went away to college I discovered I did not know how to make friends. I had for the most part had the same group of friends since at least junior high, some of them I had known since the first grade. I moved to Southern California, which might as well have been another galaxy given the huge culture shock I experienced. I spent a fairly lonely five years there, being friendly with my co-workers and classmates but not really having many real friends aside from Marc. When I moved back to Seattle in 2003, I found myself entirely reliant on the same friends I have known since the age of six. I despaired meeting anyone I could really “click with” beyond my childhood friend group. Moving to the suburbs in 2005 just increased my isolation. In fact, Marc and I even posted an ad on Craigslist a few years ago looking for other professional couples our age in our area to be friends with (apparently they don’t exist—we were unsuccessful). It wasn't until I started graduate school at Bastyr that I made new, real friends-- a group almost entirely composed of people who came from someplace other than Seattle. Though graduate school has been incredibly difficult at times, it is these people that have in many ways made the past two years some of the best of my adult life.

It hit me as I was driving home thinking about writing this post today that I STILL do not know how to make friends. At this point my friends are reading this thinking I'm crazy-- I was, after all, President of the Student Nutrition Association, co-founder of the Nutrition Networking Society and planned 90% of the social events last year. All true, but I'm going to tell you a secret-- I made exactly two friends at Bastyr on my own: one of whom sat next to me at orientation on the first day and introduced herself to me, and whom I immediately connected with. The second, I was partners with in counseling class for the majority of the quarter and we bonded over forced intimacy (you both know who you are). Every subsequent friend I made at Bastyr was through these two, who were better at making friends than I and they allowed me to tag along. Now, I'm not saying I'm socially incompetent-- I can chat with just about anybody. But I have that inborn Seattle disease of discomfort with taking acquaintance to the friendship stage. As the article I posted above says, "Seattleites are often seen as having this veneer of pleasantness but being hard to come to know." It also seems that we Seattleites are more comfortable with forging friendships when there is a communal goal or existing bond (such as a group of people all brought together with similar interests like joining a team, or going to a natural-health focused university for a degree in nutrition).

I did not realize this about myself until last week. Coincidentally I was talking to a co-worker at one of my part-time jobs, and she was saying that she, as a non-native Seattleite has found Seattle a very hard place to make friends (which is what many people I meet that move here from elsewhere say). This woman is a lovely person and we get on quite well. So I wrote down my email and handed it to her saying we should get together and that she should bring her daughter over to meet my chickens. Then, I kid you not, I felt vaguely uncomfortable for a good 48 hours afterward. When I saw her again today and we chatted more about the insanity of my boss, this feeling dissipated. I went outside of my comfort zone and I literally felt my boundaries stretch. I think I have the Seattle fear of intimacy disease. I truly did not realize this about myself until this week, and it is something I really want to overcome. I have some friends (also Seattle natives) who are very good at making friends everywhere they go and I have always admired this ability. It is a skill I want to cultivate in this next phase of my life.

I recently started writing for the National Examiner Seattle edition and since this Seattle friendliness issue has been on my mind, I chose for my first article to write about resources for meeting people and making friends in Seattle. Maybe I should take my own advice!


Ryah said...

First, I love Allison's face in this picture! Second, I agree with you about Seattleites not being very friendly (although I think you are the exception) and that is part of the reason that Seattle doesn't feel like home for me. It is definitely easier to make friends while in school and with common interests. I know the coming months will be challenging in having to put myself out there to make friends. Thanks for the post. :)

Laura said...

I know you think that you're not good at the friendship making thing, but just so you know, I couldn't have done it without you!