The Seattle Freeze: Making Friendships Better

Posted on
Mar 6, 2012

The Seattle Freeze in full effect.

I’ve tried writing this post three times already. I spent the whole morning working on it, then most of the afternoon. At one point, it may have even reduced me to tears. And by “may have” I mean “definitely.”

The problem is that I can’t be objective on this topic. I know what you’re thinking: that’s never stopped me before (not at all). But this time, it’s far more difficult to write about. I can’t help but get emotional. I can’t help but have it hit close to home.

Because this post is about my hometown. More specifically, it’s about the Seattle Freeze.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the phenomenon, the Freeze is something that a lot of new transplants say they feel upon getting to the city. It centers around the notion that the locals are as cold and as unfriendly as the terrain. That it is difficult, if not impossible, to make friends in Seattle. Everyone runs around in their own cliques. People approach each other tentatively. Strangers don’t make conversation.

It comes up a lot. Most of the time I simply leave the conversation when people mention the Freeze, because – let’s face it – it’s really hard to hear people speak badly of your hometown. It hurts.

I once met a friend of a friend who had recently moved to Seattle. I asked her how she liked it, and she proceeded to tell me “how much people here suck.”

Later, she tried to engage me in conversation by asking if I had gone “to the University of Washington, like all good little Seattlites do.”

I wasn’t exactly warm to her after that.

A few times, I’ve nearly gotten into screaming matches with people over the issue.


Funny thing – when you are angry and yelling, it is really difficult to convince people that what you are saying is true, especially when you’re trying to prove how sweet and welcoming you can be. That’s the problem with the Freeze – it becomes self-fulfilling quite quickly.

So much so, in fact, that I began to question if it was even real. So I asked people on Twitter. The resounding response was yes. Yes, Seattle can be cold and icy to newcomers.

And I was an ass for even suggesting it wasn’t.

Sigh. I guess I knew that was the case. I knew, because years ago, when I moved back to Seattle, I felt the Freeze firsthand.

I returned to this city from Florida during the middle of my ninth grade. I now found myself in Seattle, in January, on the lowest rung of the social ladder: I was the new girl and a freshman.

I cried almost every night.

I had spent the last 7 years growing up on a tropical island. I was 14, awkward, and wearing knee high socks and slip dresses (thanks, Alicia Silverstone). I had yet to even buy a proper winter coat, because I hadn’t needed one during all those years in Florida. I was feeling the freeze in every way possible, and I was petrified beyond all reason.

I still remember what it was like walking into that packed lunchroom on my first day, and looking at table upon table of people sitting with their friends. I knew positively no one.

Had you told me that everyone fell silent and turned to look at me the center I entered the cafeteria, I’d have believed you. It might not be accurate, but in my memory, that is how it played out.

I remembered how scared I was on that January day, how cold the months after it seemed. I lived for weekends. I remember telling a classmate of mine that, and she stared at me like I was nuts.

“I love weekdays,” she said. “That’s when I get to see all my friends.”

And I remembered I swallowed hard, and wished I had just one.

I joined clubs. Lots of them. It was human contact, sure, but afterwards, everyone had their own agenda, and their own thing to do. They didn’t seem like they needed another person in their group, so I walked home, alone. Months passed.

During all that time, though, I never thought that my inability to make friends had to do with the city or with the people. I just figured it had to do with being new to a place that was so different from everything I had known. With being a teenager.

In September, my fifteenth birthday came. I spent it on the couch by myself, watching T.V.

By my sixteenth birthday, though, things had changed. I’d amassed a group of friends who didn’t simply come to my birthday party – they threw it for me. A surprise sweet 16. My living room looked like a carnival.

The Seattle Freeze had thawed. And it was lovely.

And it was, I daresay, all worth it.

I understand how difficult this town can be. Combined with the tendency of folks here to be a weensy bit passive aggressive (yes, I am guilty of this, too. When someone upsets me, I surreptitiously take photos of them which I post on my blog.) and the 9 contiguous months of rain, you end up with a large number of new-to-Seattlites feeling miserable, rotten, and homesick. They start to hate it here.

They complain about the weather. They complain about the traffic. They complain about the price of groceries and the lack of parking and the impossibility of getting a reservation at any decent downtown restaurant, and SERIOUSLY HOW IS IT STILL RAINING? IT HAS BEEN NINETY-THREE STRAIGHT DAYS. I AM SO BUILDING AN ARK.

Newcomers have my heart and my sympathy, because I understand. The Seattle Freeze is miserable. But here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s entirely bad, either.

Yes, I can say this. Fourteen. Knee socks. Huge nose. I’ve earned the right to say it, damn it.

And while we’re at it, let’s toss away the notion that the locals are jerks. That does no one any good. Tell a local that, and they won’t exactly be keen on being friends. Some of the warmest people I know are born and raised in the Northwest. They might be the exception to the rule, but there’s a hell of a lot of them for that to be true.

Besides, most everyone in Seattle in a transplant, anyway. Many come here to start over. I’ve met divorcees from other states, newly-outed gay men and women from further east. Folks called to the Emerald City by a new job, by school, by simply their desire for change and a wish to be alone, for at least a little while.

It’s not a town full of snobs. No. It’s a town full of oddballs and outcasts, refugees from other, cheerier parts of the world. So many people I know have come here because they never felt quite at home where they were. They spent years being the weird one. Being alone.

So, isn’t it natural that they’d be unable to understand that someone out there actually wants to be friends?

And so friendships in this part of the world develop slowly. We court like they do in old Victorian novels. We play our cards close to the vest. We say hello, we exchange a few pleasant words. We reveal ourselves little by little. They do the same.

The payoff is this: we know exactly whether or not we like someone well before we become friends. We know that we are compatible. That we have things in common. We know whether or not we are worth the trouble. The concept of frenemies, of people who are your friends, but whom you don’t really like – doesn’t exist up here. It can’t. We wade in too slowly and learn too much about the other person beforehand. There are no surprises.

Except for the time we stumbled onto the Seattle Zombie Walk. Slightly surprised there.

Friendships here are not hastily built, ready to totter at any moment. No. As Rand put it, “Friendships in Seattle are earned.” They’re crafted slowly, and made to last – through the rain and cold, through 9 months of gray skies, through that miserable summer when we had to turn on the heat in July.

And the hard work that goes into them makes you take care of them all the more. There is surprisingly little drama. There is a lot of bending over backwards. There is love and respect.

And pirate hats. There's also pirate hats.

To many, I’m sure it sounds exhausting, but I found that the friendships I’ve built have been worth it. They’ve defined my life. They are the officiant at my wedding, the person sitting next to me the night Rand proposed. They got up at 6am and brought me breakfast the day I got married. They picked us up from the dentist when Rand got his wisdom teeth out and I had a flat tire on the snowy morning after Thanksgiving.

If this is frost, may I never be warm.

They are my ride to the airport, my emergency contact, my fashion consultant, my new-recipe guinea pig.

They are my friends. And I’ve earned every last one of them. I just needed to wait for the Freeze to thaw.

Leave a Comment

  • Penny


    • Seattlicious

      And don’t forget, you are all stuck in the ’90s. And no, this city is not particularly diverse, though it’s more ethnically diverse than Portland. A bunch of Caucasians stuck in the 90s. This town is lame. Hope that doesn’t “hurt” so much. Lolz, you classic Seattle navel gazer. Yawnz.

  • As a 25 year veteran transplant to Seattle from… various and sundry other parts of the US (who’s now an expat in Vietnam, but that’s a whole nuther story) – I can only add that…

    Yep, I likewise acutely felt the legendary Seattle “Freeze” way back in ’86, and I too am proud to say I EARNED the dear friends that I now have there. I mean, who makes true friends in a week anyway? I’ve always thought it more a matter of semantics. I mean sure, in other parts of the country/world you can make TONS of quasi-friends/acquaintances (i.e. folks that “like” you only ‘cuz you seemingly have a few things in common temporarily and/or you happen to fit one of their superfluous needs momentarily.) But true friends (you know, the ones that will stick by you through thick and thin for a lifetime, no matter how much each of you change locales, professions, etc.), those relationships take time to build.

    In short (i.e. to swiftly end this loquacious blather) it just seems to me that the “Freeze” is simply a matter of Satellites being selective in who they dub their “bff”. True friendships must be EARNED through thick and thin over TIME. You may have 2 or even 3 digit “friends” on facebook, but… how many of those will be there when you truly need a “friend” – 10 years from now?

  • I know that I’m definitely like this. I love meeting new people, love to be friendly and helpful and warm, but I do put some early distance in with folks because I want to know them first.

    I totally agree that over the long haul, it means deeper friendships that last and fewer transitional relationships that can cause discord or hurt feelings. I also like that Seattle is almost the exact opposite of the Los Angeles/southern CA stereotype of “nice to your face, evil behind your back.” Honestly, it feels a lot like Northern Europe or Canada (at least in my experience).

    Good on you for writing about this G. I know it’s a tough topic, and brings up a lot of personal feelings. I love that you let that stuff go through your writing.

    • Aaron

      Keep in mind that the Southern California stereotype is just that. I made a lot of lasting friendships with very compassionate people in Los Angeles, San Diego, and even Orange County (gasp!). Just as the “Seattle Freeze” can be hyperbolic, so can be the purported systemic shallowness of Southern Californians.

      If anything, I’m more of a Seattle freezer than many Seattlites I’ve met! For me, it’s a matter of turning the warm initial acquaintanceship into a lasting friendship, rather than being distant from the beginning. Actually, in the two years I’ve been here, it’s been near impossible for me to make friends with people outside of work. Fortunately, I happen to work at a place with a lot of people I love, so it’s worked out pretty well!

      • suesmaller

        Aaron, I also had the experience of making friends, close ones, in Orange County. I moved there for a job, had my quota of friends after my first year, then was caught in the recession of 2008 that devastated the California economy. I was devastated when I had to move. I then took a Government job in D.C.. Although I lived on “The Hill,” I still had a full quota of friends after the first six months. People in D.C. went out of their way to help me, even though I was a transplant, and they held important Government jobs.

        Then…Seattle. I moved for a job that I was fired from after six months, a new experience for me. I made a number of social gaffs, such as dropping an M&M on the floor of my cubical, not having any furniture after two days of living in my new apartment, and having two salads for lunch. Managers and coworkers commented on these gaffs, and I was politely fired after seven months, in front of coworkers. Just prior to my termination, my manager was going to send me as a representative for the company to a major industry conference in honor of my contributions to the company.

        The mustaches worn by the men don’t upset me, by the way. Men in D.C. wore D.C. “power” mustaches..

    • Long-time Transplant

      I’ve been here close to a decade, and I am STILL feeling this. It’s not just that it’s hard to get to *know* people, that they are slow to warm up to you. It’s that even once you have known someone for months or years, even when they seem to have embraced a friendship with you and accept your invites to parties and happy hour and dinner…they STILL won’t reciprocate the invites, STILL won’t show up with a casserole when you have a newborn with medical problems and complications from the birth and tell them you are desperate for help.

      I have lived here almost 10 years, have thrown countless parties, hosted countless dinners, and organized more outings than I care to think about. And yet I can count on my fingers (with some to spare!) the number of people who have welcomed me into their homes for a party or a meal.

      I have lived in various cities in the northeast, and also in two places in the south, and I have never, ever experienced anything like this. I always found my people. I have always been embraced by others and embraced them back.

      And don’t get me started about neighbors. In places that are not Seattle, neighbors want to know each other…maybe not be best friends (though often that happens), but at least know each other. Here, I have had neighbors get angry when my husband and I say “hi” to their kids, or look at us cross-eyed when we ask to borrow some kabob sticks. People complain about crime, but geesh, knowing your neighbors would go a long way to making the streets safer.

      • Sarah R

        This description is it exactly. Except I’ve been here 20 years and it just gets worse as you get older.

        In my late 20s and early 30s it was somewhat easy to find someone to hang out with and do things. All of those people got married and moved. And the ones left are pretty much only intimiate with their childhoodfriends and family. Forget any of the extended friendships they once had.

        Even work is crappy. I spent 3+ years pretty much with no one speaking to me at all. 7 years later and they’re just deciding they should talk to me on a personal level. I have done everything I could think of to meet new people and make friends — gone to classes, gone to church, gone to… NADA.

        If it hadn’t been for the sucky housing market due to the recession, I was supposed to finally be out of here this year. The sad thing is that I have become so socially introverted and un-practiced, I have no idea if I’ll survive in some other setting any more. When I visit other places, I feel the FREEZE exuding from me.

        • August

          I read a really great article in the NYT that discussed why its so hard to make friends when you’re an adult. As a person who has lived in 4 big cities, including NYC, I can assure you, this isn’t just a Seattle thing. Sure, the Seattle freeze may be unique but not being able to make friends in adulthood is pretty universal. For instance, in NYC it’s hard to make friends because everyone is so busy. Sure you can meet someone who is really awesome, interesting and fun who really does want to be your friend but don’t count on an actual friendship. That person is too busy working 80 hours a week and partying with all the other thousands of friends that they have or are trying to make in the big city. I met a lot of superficial friends there. Women I can grab a drink with if she broke up with her bf or had a hard week at work but then never actually talk to her again for months or years. Some of them I even hung out with for months and never knew anything substantive about them…kinda like a neighbor you’d talk to everyday about the weather.

          It’s really just an adult thing honestly. The older we get, the more consumed we become with work, our lover, and our family. Most people allow these things to take up so much of their time that they forget about their friends or just can’t fit any new ones in their lives. Adults start to devalue friendships with age and cling on to the couple of close friends that they have out of convenience and predictability. I remember when I was in college and in grad school. Everyone was just starting out, not knowing where life would take them. Everyone took risks, everyone was interested in people and learning from one another. Then all of the sudden everyone got bitter, judgmental, or afraid of everyone and then they made their cocoons, blocking everyone else out. And you can forget about it if you’re single. Its only going to be worst! My two closest childhood friends had kids and got married while I was traveling the world and living my life. It’s been impossible to have a friendship on the same page now. All they care about is getting home to their husband and kids. Literally zero lives outside of their family and work. It’s like pulling teeth to convince them to do something without their spouse. I respect them for being dedicated wives and mothers but they used to be so cool, now their identity is their family. And forget about making friends at work…it just doesn’t really happen. Work friendships are also superficial.

          Honestly, in every city I lived in, I made all of my friends through us being roommates. Living with people kind of forces you to constantly interact with each other in a very intimate way. People recommend you join clubs, volunteer and take classes but from my experience, that didn’t work for me. All the people just came to the class or event… socialized a little and then went their separate ways with their real friends, no one was really being a friend outside of that…just being friendly. If you’re up for it, I’d recommend getting roommates who are also transplants. I met some of my best friends this way. When I moved to DC, one of my roommates was in a very tight clique of girls and guys who all went to law school together. That clique was so tight that even some of their mutual friends that they’d known for years wasn’t really in it. They were great people but very standoffish to outsiders. But the clique was at my/our apartment so much that they just naturally got to know me and eventually accepted me and started to invite me on trips, to social events and to concerts with them.

          If you are all alone, I recommend trying to penetrate a circle of already established friends. I know it sounds like high school but sadly, us adults are still very cliquey and picky. Even my mom, who is in her late 50’s is still dealing with cliquey women! When I met my roommates in DC, they posted an add on craigslist looking for a social and friendly roommate. Look for people who use similar language.

      • Jai

        So, I live on the Olympic Peninsula and I am betting that the Seattle Freeze spreads as far as Port Townsend. I have been here 2 years and I still feel like the new girl in school. I see cliques formed here and have been shunned from such cliques and not in a rude way either. It is very subtle in that they smile at you and maybe even small talk with you, but when it comes to that Easter party or that BBQ I never received an invite. I am in my 30’s and I don’t understand how this still goes on. I am devastatingly homesick and I would be taking it personally except I have made friends so easily in every other place I have lived. It is a social disease and even my Mother noticed when she visited here. “This is quite a culture shock.” Those were her words. I feel so lost.

  • I love this article. I feel the same way (react very similarly) when people mention the freeze, only I usually add in “try living in Tokyo” perhaps in a slightly curt tone of voice… ok, ok, with the fullness of my passive aggressive wrath.

  • I can’t help but wonder if it’s not the same, up the I-5/BC99 in Vancouver where I was born and raised. It’s relatively difficult to find people presently in Vancouver who were born in the city proper or the greater Vancouver area. Then again, it’s entirely possible the people come to make the city into whatever they want.

    Thanks for your post!

    • suesmaller

      I hate to say it, but I’m even getting the Seattle Freeze from the medical profession, which has abused me more than the same profession in any other city. Is it me??? It’s time to go. I get the feeling that I will never be well treated by the doctors here unless I have some sort of in with them. Here I feel like I have a “kick me” sign on me. I get the feeling Seattle screens out sick people the way they screen out others they don’t want in their perfect society. My doctor fired me because I got sick on him.

  • Jon

    Interesting post. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference on how you like to make friends. I am very reserved and a lot like people in Seattle it sounds like. But I like to have random conversations and meet lots of friendly people, I just choose to make close friends with a few. Whether people are friendly or chilly initially doesn’t make much difference on who you put in the hard work to make long term friends with. That takes work no matter how the initial reaction is. It’s just a lot more enjoyable in my opinion meeting and hanging out with open and friendly people. But to each his own; there is are friends and cities for every person.

  • This post is so awesome. I know people who claim to have experienced it, but I also know people who have moved here from out of state and made friends instantly. I think a lot of it depends on your personality. I moved to California in my early 20s. I had “built-in” friends through my brother who lived down there, but I also made some close friendships on my own. When I moved back, I reconnected with many of my old friends but had a difficult time making new friends. But it had nothing to do with Seattle. It was all me. I didn’t put myself out there, I didn’t make much of an effort, and as a result I was pretty lonely. I blamed it all on outside forces, but as I’ve gotten older and look back I realize it was 100% my fault. So…all that is to say that I’m not sure I truly believe in the freeze. If you want to meet new people, you have to make an effort.

  • This post makes me really sad. I lived on the Eastside for a couple years, then north Seattle for a year, and now I’m over on the peninsula for my second year and I don’t feel like I have made any noteworthy friendships and it isn’t for lack of trying. I haven’t feel like I’ve been able to break into any groups at all. It seems like everyone has known each other for years. I’m tired of inviting people to do things, and it never being returned. I don’t know if it is Seattle or just the era that we live in now – neighbors aren’t as friendly, coworkers don’t socialize outside of work, etc. It makes me depressed.

    • Seattlicious

      Yeah, it’s too bad, and I’m sorry about your experience here. Seattleites are as lame as the Space Needle, a sullen navel-gazing bunch. The passive aggression is hilarious. Check out the show Portlandia to have a good laugh at this region. While Seattle is preferable to the other PNW locale, it still sucks. The people here are so dysfunctional and try to guise it as “cool” without knowing they are stuck in the 90s. Oh and those mustaches the dudes wear..I hate the PNW look.

  • Tithonium


  • I go back and forth on it being me or Seattle. When I moved here I got adopted immediately by a group of women from my work for daily lunches and happy hours. I was really friendly with many of my coworkers. Then I threw a party where 4 people came. It sucked and I still cry thinking about it 4 years later. I switched jobs and made lots of new friends and always had people to hang out with during and after work hours. Then I quit in September and my going away happy hour had 4 attendees yet again, different ones though. Now I work from home so I don’t even have work to use to try and make friends anymore.

    I’m taking the talk to people on twitter until they block me or become my friend approach now. It’s been working out well so far.

  • Carolyn

    Having moved several times, calling Seattle homebase, I can think of nowhere colder than the DC metro area. I think the Seattle Freeze is no worse than most comparable cities. In DC I was constantly snubbed for not wearing business clothes and appearing important. Blanket statement, but the majority of DC-ites seemed to only care about status. So I fled back to Seattle!

    • phillip

      My partner is moving to Seattle in a few months so I’ll likely be relocating from DC to Seattle for graduate school. Having lived in DC for two years, I can truly so that nowhere is colder than DC. It is impossible to make friends here. However, doesn’t sound like Seattle is going to be any better. *sigh*

    • August

      As someone who has lived in many cities I can assure you…It’s just difficult to make friends in you adult life, no matter what city you live in and no matter what you do, it’ll never be like it was before.

  • I adore Seattle for just these reasons. My take on it was that everyone here is _so awesome_ that you have to be just as awesome for them to make time for you. Not in a snobbish way, just in a high-impact little-time way. Yes, it’s hard, but damn is it wonderful once it works..

  • MicMac

    I had a lot of experience being the new kid in a new school and new town yet after decades of living here, I feel Seattle’s freeze reputation is well earned. I’ve met complete strangers at the airport in NYC and within minutes get invited to a wedding yet I’ve spent endless hours with workmates and never get invited to their house for dinner. As a whole, we’re not outwardly friendly, and the passive-aggressive behavior is classic: we’ll hold traffic so you can exit the parking lot (very nice and civilized) yet if we were driving 50 on the highway, we’ll speed up to 80 mph if you decide to try and pass in the fast lane. Should I even mention the Costco shoppers? All said, Seattle really is a great place to wear the golden-handcuffs, drink a properly made cup of coffee, and when the sun comes out you may be persuaded to think about divinity.

  • MadGastronomer

    I really seriously have to disagree with you. I’ve lived in Seattle for about eight years now, and I love it, but the Seattle Freeze is a real thing, and it absolutely has not led to any more deep, long-lasting friendships. I have had more fewer deeper long-lasting friendships here than I did in the eight years previous that I spent in Tallahassee. And yeah, in Tallahassee, there were a lot of “friends” who were really social acquaintances I didn’t much care for. But they would help me move, get up in the middle of the night to come get me when I was stranded, bring me chicken soup when I was sick, and just generally help out with whatever, than most of my supposedly close friends are here.

    I’ve also had a lot more people here decide they were my friends because they thought I was Popular (I used to own a restaurant that was very popular in a few specific social circles) than I ever did there, even when I was popular there.

    It was a lot easier to get to know people there, too. They were a lot more willing to talk to me as a stranger than they are here. In Tallahassee, I struck up a very good friendship with someone when she wandered past my table at Borders Cafe and saw I handle a spindle. Never happened here. People were a lot more polite in Tallahassee, too. And I definitely have and have had “frenemies” here, too, generally for the exact same reasons — I had some sort of social obligation to continue to be friendly with them.

    There are a lot of things to love about Seattle. The Freeze is not one of them. Romanticizing it isn’t any better than denying it. Neither does anything to help the problem.

    • Everywhereist

      It’s totally cool if you disagree – the Freeze is tough. Trust me, I know. But I really do believe it leads to some fantastic friendship. I genuinely do. I don’t think I’m romanticizing it – I’m definitely just trying to see the good in it.

      And believe me when I tell you, I do what I can to be friendly. Like I said, to the point that Rand and I have been mistaken for having some sort of weird secret agenda because “why else are they being so nice?” 🙂

    • Long-time Transplant

      @MadGastronomer: OMG…I couldn’t agree more with your comment: “there were a lot of “friends” who were really social acquaintances I didn’t much care for. But they would help me move, get up in the middle of the night to come get me when I was stranded, bring me chicken soup when I was sick, and just generally help out with whatever, than most of my supposedly close friends are here.”

      There are people here that I have been friends with for years and years. Not people I would describe as “social acquaintances” but actual friends. Good luck asking them to help you move. Or bring you soup when you are bed-ridden and have a medically-challenging newborn. Heck, they won’t even invite you over for dinner on a good day.

      But these same people will spend almost every weekend with you, and if you stop inviting them to stuff after years and years of unreciprocated invites, well…either they will simply disappear or they will wait awhile and then email you to ask what the hell happened to you. They will never step up to the plate and offer so much as an invite back.

      I have never seen this sort of bizarre behavior anywhere else.

      • MightMovetoSeattle

        @Long-time Transplant – I don’t question that this “Seattle Freeze” thing is real or not but I do wonder why if these people were your so-called “friends”, you didn’t just call them out on it? Why not question why they don’t ever invite you over or to activities? It seems like in any friendship you’d have conversations that center around what everyone is doing next weekend or for this event, etc. So, why not just invite yourself over? Or tell them how you feel? Seems passive aggressive NOT to tell them how you feel.

        It just seems like everyone has the same complaint on here that they make “friends” that are purely social and one-sided. Then speak up or meet some new people. Or focus more on one-on-one relationships rather than throwing parties or larger social gatherings where you’re less likely to connect? Maybe I just don’t know how it is up there (I’ve only visited a few times) but it isn’t easy to make friends ANYWHERE as an adult. We all have our circles and struggle balancing time between family and work… making friends is TOUGH as hell. Especially if you are new to a city and don’t know anyone.

        I guess if I actually move to Seattle next spring then I’ll find out if it’s all true or not… but right now it seems a little bit like an excuse rather than just a cultural/regional difference to deal with (which is what I kind of think it is).

        • August

          You are right! It’s tough everywhere when you’re an adult. I don’t think its any harder than it is anywhere else.

  • Chaitanya

    I am from a very distant place (Bangalore, India) to yours, but I have recently moved here and have been feeling that chill on my spine about not having friends to go out with. But when I read your article, it made me feel good and realize that, yes, good friends don’t happen to you over a beer or a meaningless conversation but a series or meetings and some space to let it nurture by itself. 🙂

  • Naomi

    I loved this post !! Let me be clear – I do not live in Seattle, never have – but I have visited on vacations. Yes I said VACATIONS – I actually love the city, the rain, and the people. I have never had a bad visit there – I have not gotten the “freeze” from locals – actually the exact opposite. Now Now – I know visiting doesn’t apply to this post – but I actually am one of those odd people who actually plans vacations to Seattle – not warm sunny CA or FL – but Seattle. I feel at ease there, I feel welcomed and never like I don’t belong. I have always said, that if I ever move anywhere in the continental US to live – Seattle is it. My friends call me crazy, think I am nuts actually. But if you have never been to Seattle – you DO NOT KNOW what I am talking about. Don’t judge me until you have actually spent a couple weeks or longer in this absolutely wonderful city =) Just my two cents !

    • Former Tourist

      Funny, I had the exact same experience as a tourist that you describe. I’d never been to a city where people were more likely to just randomly say hi to a stranger out in public.

      Then I moved here.

      Then all those people who came up to say hello vanished in a puff of smoke, and nobody took their place. Was it an illusion? Did I just dream up those encounters? What happened here? Beware those first impressions. Things may not be as they seem!

  • FromtheVille

    I LOVE your blog and read it every morning before I start my workday! Your take on everything is so refreshing and quirky and unexpected that each post is like opening a little present.
    I’m from Boston and we are also notorious for being cold and unwelcoming to outsiders. It’s the opposite of Seattle in that we are all from here and we still know our friends from elementary school and our families are here so we tend not to bother getting to know outsiders. It is a slow process to make friends here. However, once you’re in, you’re in and you become a friend for life. LIke in Seattle, friendships are earned but then they end up lasting a lifetime. On the other hand, perhaps it is hard to make friends in both cities because they both have really crappy weather for about 7 months of the year and we are all just a little cranky from lack of sunshine!

    Keep up the great writing!

  • This made me feel super warm and fuzzy inside! Great post!

  • Janet T

    I live in a very small town, where I always say that if they didn’t know you as an embryo, they don’t want to know you. We’ve had a very hard time getting to know anyone on a personal basis. And I talk to everyone…………outside of bars, in grocery store lines, neighbors, people walking by the house. While on the outside they are friendly, there is just a general disinterest as an underlying currant. Growing up in Oregon, I’ve found this everywhere in the state. I still have a core group of friends from childhood/high school. (including one from Seattle, that I met at Holy Names Academy when our choir was there) I think that in general it becomes harder and harder to make friends as an adult, and the Pacific Northwest just compounds the problem. You just have to forge onward.

    And I’ve never know anyone else obsessed with David Strathaim (on your next post)

  • Christy

    I visit Seattle often as my daughter & sister live there. Every visit, I’m amazed at the friendliness of people I meet casually. I wasn’t even aware there was a term “Seattle freeze”. Having so many migrate to Seattle is a big plus. I’m from St. Louis, and our reputation is that “Where did you go to highschool?” is always asked. It’s true, so many of us grew up here & it immediately identifies catholic vs. other religions and socio-economic background with one question. I feel sorry for outsiders breaking in here. As far as how you felt as a 15 yr. old, I think most people feel the same way – they were outsiders and everyone else belonged. 16 is when I and both my kids seemed to find our group of friends. My husband is heading your way tomorrow & we’ll both be there in May. Can’t wait to be back in your gorgeous city, and I’ll certainly say hi if I see you or Rand on the street.

    • Everywhereist

      Please do. But we might freak out, trying to figure out where we know you from. 🙂

  • I’ve lived in Seattle for almost 5 years now. I’d visited the city many years ago for a long weekend and decided that I’d move one day. And that was it. It took a god year after I moved here to learn about the freeze. Honestly, I never felt it. I’ve never felt it easier anywhere else to make friends than in Seattle. I feel so much at home! But I do get that others have a hard time and try as much as possible to be welcoming.

    I <3 Seattle!

  • Jacqueline

    Love this post! I smile to myself remembering my move to another city as a teenager. It was so tough and yet, we all survived!

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog!

  • Erik

    What happened to the days when we were kids, and we met someone and said “your cool, i like you, lets me friends”? Why has it become so freaking difficult? im not asking you to marry me! Im simply curious to get to know you more and see what we have in common. Thats how friendships occur!

    You people live in your heads to much! life does not happen in your head. Where has all these rules before friendship come from?

    Have you been hurt so much that you cannot take the moment to actually be with another human being who just wants to have a conversation with you?

    I moved here a little over a month ago. I cant tell you how hurt i am and alone. all i want is to be connected to people and share stories and life. All i want to do is be a part of. and i cant b/c everyone is too much in their heads.

    SNAP OUT OF IT! its ok to meet new people. LIFE DOES NOT HAPPEN WHEN BEING COMFORTABLE. I put myself out there and be vulnerable every minute of my life b/c i know that in the long run that is the only way i can have true friends. what makes you any different than me? i have the same problems, same feels as you. The difference is, i am actually willing to be true and authentic to complete strangers.

    simply do what you say. if you say “it was a pleasure meeting you, and lets get coffee next week” DO IT! do you know what you look like when you say to someone one thing and you dont honor your word? especially towards being someones friend?

    if you say “i was just trying to be nice” – now your shit with whip cream on it.

    DO WHAT YOU SAY no matter what. even if you feel strange, i feel strange too when asking people to be my friend. and im 30

    • John Holliday

      I’ll be your huckleberry…

  • Kim Ahlberg

    What an inspiring article for you to have published on my very first day as a Seattleite!
    It’s now been one week since I moved here from Sweden, looking for change in both life and career.

    Sure, it’s been a bit lonely at times, but no worse than I had expected. From your account it seems like the social scene is much like Sweden’s, where it takes forever to make a friend but once there they are a friend for life.

    For now I’m enjoying this city on my own, going to music gigs, watching movies, and attending Sounders games. The people I’ve met here have all been friendly enough, if a bit reserved.

    I’m glad the freeze thawed for you, and hopefully in a year or so I will have earned some true Seattle friends of my own.

  • Pingback: » New Friends! kourteous()

  • Seattlicious

    Navel, meet gaze. Seattle’s finest.

  • Flavah

    I moved to Seattle for a job transfer in my early twenties and I have yet to meet a more welcoming bunch of people than those in Seattle. This was in the mid-1990s, but I am still impressed and amazed by the common courtesy I was shown the entire time, especially by drivers.

    I recall once, terribly lost, I drove the wrong way down a one-way street. A bicyclist waved a warning and a passing driver yelled out that I was going the wrong way. Never once did I get “the finger” or even an angry word. Amazing. Seattle.

  • Liz

    I’m not sure I understand: Why would you cry because everyone thinks it is difficult to make good friends in your city? I agree that woman sounds like a jerk (although she may have been exhibiting east coast sarcasm) but isn’t this a bit like living in Maine and complaining that people think it’s cold?

    I’ve been on the other end of some really uncomfortable comments from Seattle natives – they say everyone who moves here from the East Coast is a jerk and complain about “carpetbaggers” without giving me a chance to get to know them.

    I don’t think it’s because all natives are awful people. I think some people, native or transplant, are just judgmental and socially awkward. But I don’t think that is worth crying about – for either of us.

    Best of luck to you and thanks for addressing a difficult topic.

  • Joe

    Man. Being an anti-social person, I now all of a sudden really want to go to Seattle.

  • Newbie 2012

    I’m currently in the middle of the ‘Freeze’… though reading your article has made me feel better. Thank you for that. 🙂 I only hope I can be as happy here as you have become. 🙂

    • Everywhereist

      You totally can – and will! 🙂

  • I have felt this in other cities. As the daughter of a diplomat – I moved every four years. EVERY. FOUR.YEARS. yeah … well I have to say that Seattle – you’re not alone to own the Freeze. No seriously … you are not. Montreal has it. So does Bonn (Germany). Being polite does not make you friendly. Just because no one swears at me does not mean I am not feeling a freeze. The freeze sucks – no matter where you are experiencing it. I may have met some dear wonderful friends in the process – but I don’t know that I would go so far to say “it was worth it”. Not because I don’t love my friends … I DO. But because spending a whole year of your life in misery…. what a waste. You never get that time back. I suppose the up side is, you learn to enjoy your own company.

  • Jen

    I have to agree with MicMac on this one – the Seattle Freeze is as real as the rain. I do get the feeling however, that when people defend Seattle, holding the position that the Freeze is NOT real, they do so in a defensive way with an underlying attitude of “I can make friends so what’s wrong with you!?” It’s so typically passive aggressive in that kind of typical Seattle elitist way. But then these same people go on to describe the extraordinary efforts they took to wrack up a couple of friends; people who were no doubt equally desperate who couldn’t stand sitting alone in their apartments on Friday nights any longer listening to NPR.

    Sorry, I don’t know what you people did to make those “3 great friends” but apparently it’s not in my arsenal and hasn’t been necessary in the other cities I’ve lived in. I’ve lived in the deep south and various cities in the Midwest and even though I fit the Seattle-profile of the reserved, pensive type people have always gone out of their way to bring me out of my shell. I couldn’t go to a new job or university without someone inviting me somewhere within weeks or days. In the South especially, not giving social invitations and not accepting them is especially rude.

    The best example I have is of a girl who in a dance class went out of her way to make you feel like she was your best friend. When new people joined the class she’d go up to them, answer questions, compliment them. I was one of those people. Then I noticed that after class she’d do everything she could to avoid talking to anyone and nearly broke her neck escaping one evening when I tried to walk her to her car. She was even so “fake-friendly” that she would wave at my husband (was my boyfriend then) when he picked me up. It was all utterly fake and insincere.

    Last straw: now that I’m married and we have a young child I’ve started to notice this happening on the playground – cold mothers and their cold kids. Today I sadly watched my son (who’s way too young to understand it all) watch hesitantly from the sidelines as two cliquish toddlers frolicked about not once glancing his way. I know, I know – nothing is intentional at this age but it broke my heart to think of him years from now just trying to fit in somewhere. Anyhow, my husband and I have decided to escape to New York – work and logistics permitting.

    • August

      New York is no better! There are way more people which makes everyone even more suspicious of each other. I am trying to escape NYC now.

  • Robeeto

    I just moved here from Atlanta,GA . And i can feel the freeze. Huge difference . I t really sucks but i guess i will have to get used to because i will be here at least 2 years. If only people from Seattle could be aware and realize there is nothing wrong being more open and friendly.

  • Warm

    So what you’re saying is that because you broke through in only two years amongst children, those of us who never did in many years are just not worthy of having friends?

    I’ve lived in places before Seattle and since Seattle and usually make friends at the rate of one every six months. Seven years in Seattle, and my only friend was another expat who moved away because she had the ability to do so.

    You need to face the fact that Seattle might be pretty and have nice wether, but socially it sucks. I spend a lot of time telling people to never ever move there.

    • Everywhereist

      No, no. You seem awesome. I TOTALLY want to be your friend.

      • Culturedancer

        Shut up, Everywhereist. She just told her experience. You sound like a typical insecure Seattleite making other people responsible for your inability to compete. Provincialism is small minded, insecure people who can’t or won’t look at their weak points, be open to new ideas and people, and grow. It sucks for everyone, really.

  • Brent

    I am born and raised within commuting distance of Seattle. After living in California for 10 years and moving back, I have to say the Seattle Freeze is Arctic cold. Yes, I can see that you want friends that will last a lifetime and that it takes time making lasting friendships. However, some of the best friends that I met in California, I met after meeting them one time.

    I absolutely love my family, but I can’t stay in this anti-social environment. Because of the Seattle Freeze, I am going to grad school so once I graduate, I can afford to move back to California. I have too much heart and personality to only have a few close friends in my life.

    You know the Seattle Freeze is bad when a born and raised native is leaving because of it.

  • Bridget

    Here’s what I’m doing on a Saturday night as a new transplant to Seattle. Reading blogs. I see myself and my impressions about Seattle in many of the comments. I’m flexible enough in my thinking and with my 45 years on this planet to see from many angles and perspectives. On 3 lengthy test visits to Seattle I too was wooed by the beauty, relaxed atmosphere, innovation, over the top and above and beyond friendly and seemingly generous nature of those I met. Everyone extended ideas for where to live, suggestions for what to see and try, recommendations for restaurants and more. I believed it to be the location I could find a sense of community and build roots. Like many of the others replying, I’ve lived in several other cities. In fact, I grew up in the midwest and have lived on both coasts. After landing here a few short months ago I wonder how I can survive such a deep loneliness and how I will build meaningful relationships. It seems over time I could make some acquaintances but it really scares me to contemplate getting older and also enduring what could be years of hopeful trying for relationships. I am in what feels to be an awkward situation being single without children and starting from scratch in a new city over age 40. (By the way all you 20 somethings-it happens! And, 40 isn’t much different for basic needs than 20’s and 30’s and over) Moving back to Burlington, VT where I have friends and family is looking more seductive. However, I was also drawn to Seattle for the larger size, more opportunity, the culture, the mountains and more. I’m impressionable when this fragile and, well, desperate and reading too many articles on “The Seattle Freeze” may just defeat me before making a more valiant attempt at showing up in this new rainy world. I may just be giving up and believing all effort to be futile. People, life is indeed short. Take a risk. Open your heart and mind. I don’t fully accept the idea of a Seattle Freeze because It can be exceptionally difficult and feel vulnerable to move into a territory as an outsider whatever the environment. That can be magnified when someone falls outside a convention or doesn’t have a ready made community or pool like school, work, religious community, being a parent etc. It is possible to make shit happen. Make shit happen! I just wish the Seattle climate felt more welcoming and somehow accelerated the possibilities. I certainly understand all of you who voiced an inability to withstand the isolation for long. Until Seattle, I didn’t fully grasp the toll that isolation, loneliness and lack of human contact could take both mentally and physically. I will continue with all those avenues of Meetups, Hiking groups, and generally just extending myself long enough and hard enough through any means but Seattle could you throw this fucking awesome chick a bone.

  • JWS

    It was interesting to hear one of the local radio personalities rationalize the Seattle Freeze the other day, saying about the Oso Landslide Crisis essentially that the freeze is real but we are at least there for you in a crisis. This does not help much. I have been here from the south since late 2007 and I am going back shortly… In over six years being here, I have been invited into one home. Mind you, I am not stand-offish or awkwardly introverted… I lead a decent size monthly meeting, a few weekly meetings, and like to meet friends for coffee. That said… Seattle does not seem to see past themselves much… To spend XMAS and Thanksgiving alone, or to just crash parties where there are only strangers – who still can’t separate themselves to talk with you… not good. People walking their dogs crossing the street to avoid talking to a stranger? People more caught up in fashion, food, pop culture – than in actual people. Even this post is so much about the writer and not about the issue. To say friendships are “earned”…. really? Here is the thought to recognize… children, animals, humans actually die from isolation – not merely physical isolation, but mental isolation. Internalize that for a moment. Don’t like the silent treatment – try a few years of it. I would suggest that most of the mental problems found in community – and the resulting gun shootings at high schools and theaters – stem more from isolation than any other cause. We are all responsible to each other. Community. We become more human in how we take care of the needy and different among us. Ubuntu – the concept that we become more human thru relationships – celebrated as Nelson Mandella passed; What does it say about us when we rationalize our failure to take care of each other? When the crisis hits – its too late. Seattle – I have never heard so many people celebrate themselves and claim depth and empathy – and just really not get it. We don’t need people who intellectualize it all… you have to be emotionally available and vulnerable or its just a bunch of talk. What have you really done for the isolated stranger lately? Seattle: Narcicism – absolutely; Empathy – only in their own minds. Ask the strangers around you. It would be a nice first step.

    • KDO

      It’s like that in Portland too. I was there for five years and finally got so depressed that I took a job in the Midwest where I do not know anyone. In Portland, I tried meetup groups, volunteering, going to community events, dog parks, invited people over for dinner, and even online dating, and while people were friendly I only had one good friendship. It was like being on the outside looking in. I have lived in the southeast and in California and never experienced trouble making friends, even when moving somewhere as a single person. In my new city, after five months I’ve been invited to several homes for dinner, made friends, gone to a bachelorette party and a wedding, and when I invite people over, they come! And reciprocate! If I need a ride to the airport, I have friends whom I can ask! Moving to the PNW as a single person is just hard. People who already have friends/family are nice, but they just don’t let you in. It’s sad because I miss Portland, especially this time of year when the weather is getting nice, but ultimately all the things I loved about the city could not make up for the isolation.

  • It’s funny—I didn’t hear about the Seattle Freeze until I’d lived in the PNW for a few years, and then I was like, “What freeze?”

    I’ve lived all over the U.S. and even a bit abroad, and grew up in New England (another place with a Freeze reputation), but I found the absolute worst Freeze of my life when I lived in Minneapolis. There’s a stereotype that everyone there is “Minnesota Nice,” but what that actually translates to is a thin veneer of friendliness over an impenetrable wall. If you’re lucky, it’s just an unconscious garden wall surrounding the party that you can hear, but that nobody thought to invite you to. Sometimes, though, it’s a mile-thick no-man’s-land of cold disapproval. Even though I’m on the introverted end of the scale, moving every couple of years has made me pretty good at meeting people and making friends—but it was 5 years of a lot of wasted effort in Minnesota. Every one of the friends I made there was either a fellow outsider or a native who’d moved away for many years and came back. Only a small handful born-and-bred “lifers” were willing to reciprocate the friendship effort—and only *after* I moved to Washington. Then they told me, “Oh, we miss you so much!” and all I could think was, “You do?!? I didn’t think you knew I existed until now!” I had never before experienced the phenomenon of being liked/valued/cared for and being totally unaware of it, simply because the local culture had a tendency not to express such tender vulnerabilities…

    So when I moved to the Northwest, by comparison it felt like arriving in the most welcome, inclusive place on earth. Somehow, when I moved here, everything just seemed to fit, and I found my circle of friends with (what felt like) little effort. That circle is pretty evenly split between fellow transplants and born-and-breds. But reading your post made me think back try to find evidence of the Seattle Freeze—and I think I can see it. But here’s the thing: I think I’m kind of freeze-y myself. Maybe it’s the New England childhood, maybe it’s the years of “training” in Minnesota, maybe it’s just who I am anyway. But I find I’m not interested in shallow acquaintance-type relationships. I don’t do air kisses. I don’t go to (or host) parties or gatherings for people I barely know. And (I’m a little sorry to admit) I don’t make time on the calendar for just anyone. I like to be a little more reserved, and get to know someone first—and then, if I get to that point, they become my friend and that’s it. They’re in. For good. If I don’t get to that point with someone, no biggie—I’m perfectly happy where I am, thanks. So maybe I haven’t noticed much of a Seattle Freeze because that’s kind of how I operate, too. Maybe that’s why I found “my people” here without so much fuss, and why this place is now home, permanently—because maybe whatever wavelength Seattle is on, I’m on it, too. And that suits me just fine.

    • August

      I just don’t understand the logic of saying that you need to get to know someone first before you make time for them. So how exactly do you get to know someone without making time to get to know them? Do you do background checks or hire private investigators before you agree to meet for coffee? LOL!!! People are so freaking ridiculous! You need to spend time with someone to get to know them, that’s how you get to know people! All friends were once strangers until you took the time to learn about them. No wonder everyone is having such a hard time making friends. You people are trying to make lemons out of lemonade!!

  • LiL

    How strange that I had the exact opposite experience when I moved to Washington a few years back, I only stayed a year due to the actual Freeze (winter 08) but it was the best year of my life! Anytime I visit Seattle, I met a few extremely warm and friendly souls that made me wonder what was wrong with the people in California. I was born and raised in Cali but have never met more friendlier ppl than the ones Ive met in Washington and Seattle.
    I have had a my fair share of being the new kid in school and I have to say, I dont think its a Seattle freeze thing, more like adolescence freeze. Kids can be harsh! Ill be visiting the city again next month so I will be on the lookout for this Seattle freeze thing and might report back. Thank you again for your very interesting and fascinating share of words, I appreciate this very effective time killer=) Have a great week!!!

  • suesmaller

    My observations come from a really terrible employment experience I had when I first moved here. Otherwise, I think most of the people I’ve met in Seattle are quite pleasant, although I have yet to make friends. (I have experienced the “We should invite you over to dinner some time”..a line that gets repeated until you realize it’s Seattle speak for “Good morning. How are you?”) . You cannot go wrong if you reply: “Perfect! And I would like to invite you over to dinner some time as well,” Meaning: “I am doing perfectly well.”

    There are definite norms for social engagement in Seattle. Break one, and you will get fired, evicted, or even worse, no longer invited over for dinner…some time.

    Why do Seattle-ites refer to people from other parts of the country as “transplants” in the first place? Even if you’re from Olympia, you’re referred to as a “transplant.” If you’re from another state, you are a “foreigner” and your less-nice Seattle coworkers will tell you point-blank that they want you to “go home.” Your Seattle-nice coworkers will undermine you in a typical passive-aggressive manner that would be funny were it not that this is your livelihood. One coworker took me to task for slamming a conference door in her face. I was all the way across the conference room when the door closed of its own accord.

    I wondered whether she was hallucinating. Then someone pulled me aside and said that the problem was that Seattle was such a correct city that even the perception of slamming a door in someone’s face was so inescapably rude that it would make the front page of the Herald Tribune.

    And the Seattle Seahawks?…that’s a mine field in and of itself, as any newcomer discovers.

    My manager got reprimanded for wearing a jersey that had the wrong player’s number on it. (It didn’t match the number on the banner hung outside the building.) If he hadn’t been a Seattle native (me, for example) he would have been fired on the spot.

    I’ve been in IT for all of my career. I’ve won several major awards, including a Deputy Commissioner award from the Federal Government. For several months, my manager at the company in Seattle gave me nothing but praise. He was going to send me to a major conference.

    But disaster struck, quite possibly in the form of my inexcusable rudeness to the person I reported to at the placement agency. Never, ever, be defensive to a Seattle-ite. It will come across as confrontation, which is a felony in Seattle. The confrontation went something like this:

    Sharon: I heard through the grapevine that you have no furniture in your new apartment.
    Me: I have a bed.

    This altercation made its way around the company within minutes. Everyone now knew me for the insubordinate trouble-maker I am. Because Sharon blabbed my blunder to coworkers, she lost the opportunity to place me and make a commission.

    Three weeks later, I was fired in a typically passive-aggressive way. Sharon smiled at me as she told me the news that my manager at the company I was being placed at “wishes to sever his relationship with you.” That’s Seattle-speak for “you’re fired!!!” The termination was done in public, in front of coworkers. (If it had been a thousand coworkers, I would have made the headlines.)

    My view of Seattle is that people from other parts of the country should avoid it like the plague. Why move here? For the weather? Unless you are a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, I would stay away. Well there is one exception. It makes sense to move here to work at either Amazon or Microsoft.

    Fundamentally, I’ve been treated like dirt. When I moved to D.C. I lived on “The Hill,” presumably one of the snobbiest places on earth. However, I made friends readily.

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