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The Seattle Freeze [Jan. 18th, 2013|12:09 pm]
So a LinkedIn group*, of which I am a member, is running a thread on the "Seattle Freeze**", to wit: does it really exist, and why?

The comments are mostly people complaining that, yes it exists, and claiming that the problem is Seattle natives are unfriendly and mean. There are a few folks, both local and non-, claiming that they've never seen it, so it must not exist at all. And at least one person claiming that they grew up here and had lots of friends, then moved away and came back, and got frozen out, so the real problem must be that all the transplants have ruined the place.


The definitive answer is, yes, it exists. We know this because enough people have noticed it and commented on it that there's a name for the phenomenon. In this case, there is enough anecdotal evidence to be statistically significant.

And here, from a person who probably exemplifies the Seattle Freeze better than anyone I've ever met, is how the thing works, why the strategies for making friends elsewhere are the opposite of helpful around here, and what strategies will work instead. Sure, there might be an excess of projection (and, knowing me, a healthy dollop of pretension) happening here, but I promise, the takeaways and recommendations will be valuable anyway.

Note that the below are not really independent items; the Seattle Freeze is a messy tangle of interconnected threads. Hopefully teasing those threads out for individual examination will also make apparent the ways they aggravate and reinforce each other.

1) Introversion and seasonal-affective disorder. People in the NW have a strong tendency toward introversion, and this tendency is exacerbated by the climate and short winter days--we just don't get enough sunlight to be perky. What this means in the context of making friends is that for many of us, interacting with people burns our emotional energy, and our energy reserves are very low to begin with. As a result, we need our friendships to have a high ROI. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since human interactions are not a zero-sum game; it's very easy for a friendship to have a high ROI in both directions.)

2) Assumption of obligation. Some of the complaints I've seen on the LinkedIn thread are along the lines of, "I go out of my way to spend time with folks, and offer to help them move, and all kinds of helpful things". For a northwesterner, an offer like this comes with significant strings--if I accept help moving, I am accepting an obligation to help you move next time you need it, and thus if I don't think we're good enough friends that I would volunteer to help you move, your offer to help me is going to be off-putting. The fact that you may not expect reciprocity in this is not relevant; the obligation is part of my makeup. And in fact, if you make a point of saying you don't expect reciprocity, that just makes it worse, because what kind of advantage-taking asshole would I be to let you help me without any intention of returning the favor?

3) Motivational imbalance. Locals already have a bunch of local friends. The marginal benefit to a local of making an arbitrary new friend is considerably lower than the benefit to a transplant who doesn't know many people yet. This means the local is much less motivated to make this particular relationship blossom.

4) Requirement of common ground. This isn't really a requirement of establishing the relationship as much as it is a way to provide context for that establishment to occur. Because making friends takes more time, and because of point 3 above, locals aren't going to be interested in activities that are specifically tied to developing relationships. But if you can interact with the locals doing something they're already motivated to spend time doing, you end up with not only a captive audience, but also ready-made conversation starters.

5) Aversion to superficiality. This goes straight back to point one, but is important enough to call out separately. When side A of a potential relationship expects depth and a high ROI before accepting closeness and significant time investment, and side B expects and tries to push that closeness and time investment before depth, side A is going to feel pressured and defensive, and will slam the walls down even harder, because "obviously" side B is out to get something. Naturally, Side B (who honestly has no ulterior motive) is going to interpret this as rudeness and frigidity.

None of this is to say that the Northwesterner's approach to friendships is superior to the transplant's. They are just different. If the goal is to make some freaking friends, it has to be up to the transplant to understand the culture they've entered figure out how that culture establishes relationships, and adapt their approach commensurately. It'd be the same if I moved to a place without the NW reticence--I'd need to adjust my approach to the faster speed. Changing a regional culture isn't one of the options that's available to you.

So, if you are a transplant to the Seattle area, the best way to make friends is to go do the stuff you like to do. One great thing about the area is that no matter what that thing is, from skiing to surfing to dancing to hacking, there's probably a place you can go where you can do it and be surrounded by other folks who love doing that thing. Once you meet them, let them drive the speed of the friendship, because it's easy to scare the natives off by rushing things. It might take longer than you're used to, but it's still possible, and really not even all that difficult. Just remember it's not personal--how can it be, when we don't know you yet? :)

*Linked:Seattle, in case you're interested. The thread is still active, but a lot of the activity seems to be people who've had their feelings hurt and just want to complain, instead of folks who're actively looking for a solution to the problem. (ETA: things look like they've actually gotten more productive in later comments, and I don't mean just because more people are starting to voice agreement with my point of view. :) )

**The "Seattle Freeze" is the alleged social phenomenon whereby non-locals find it difficult to make friends in the PNW, and the harder they try, the harder they find it.

This entry was originally posted at http://georgmi.dreamwidth.org/232266.html; please feel free to comment below or at Dreamwidth.


[User Picture]From: tylik
2013-01-19 01:06 pm (UTC)
The requirement of common ground one, or lack thereof, is the bit that has confused me the most about midwest dating. I mean, I'm *really* outgoing for a Seattle native (though not necessarily interested in making a lot of new friends - I mean, I'm not exactly interested, but when would I have the time for them?) But the first few times random men, obviously without a lot of (if any) subcultural overlap, asked me out my immediate response was very almost "What the hell is wrong with you that you think this is a good idea?" It was pretty shocking.
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