One of the lessons I seem to be forced to learn over and over and over again is that just because I consider someone important to me, that does not necessarily mean that I’m important to them. That’s always a heartbreaking realization. Upon discovering this, I’m learning to reduce that person’s importance in my life as well. But it isn’t easy. I am loyal to a fault.
I tend to take the initiative in friendships much more often than I should, for example. I seem to forget that I deserve to be prioritized as much as the next person does. All relationships should be give and take. Not that I think one should keep score, but sometimes the imbalance becomes blatantly obvious. This lesson has intensified, for some reason, since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Freeze is real.
If you trust someone and they do not trust you, then they don’t think much of you. Not really. And if someone is quite happy to do things with you only if you come up with the ideas and make the plans every single time, then clearly they’re not seeing you as someone who is worth the effort.
So the lesson for today, for me, anyway, is to never forget that I have value, and that value deserves acknowledgement.
Five years ago today, I arrived in Seattle, knowing no one. I’d never been here before. I knew nothing about the place. I may as well have landed on the moon. The very first thing I did was sit in a public park with my dogs. I felt very overwhelmed. I remember thinking, “Now what?” But I was also excited about the possibilities. Hanging on to that feeling is what saw me through the more challenging times.
I had spent the bulk of my life in the conservative South, where I always felt like a liberal turd in a republican punchbowl, so to say that Seattle was a culture shock was putting it mildly. I didn’t know my way around. I hadn’t even heard of the Seattle Freeze yet, so I had no idea about all the extra hurdles I’d have to jump through to make friends. (I must confess that I struggle with that to this day. I find many people out here to be flakey, unreliable, standoffish, and confusing. It takes a lot of effort to find the gems amongst the unyielding rocks, but that tends to enhance their value.)
At one point, an obnoxious distant relative accused me of running away. I wrote a furious blog post about that. Starting fresh is not always a massive avoidance scenario. Sometimes you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. But on that first day, I had no idea what the gains, if any, would be.
Every time I pass that park where I first sat, I wish I could go back and hug that girl and tell her everything will turn out okay. My, my, how time does fly. I can now say with complete confidence that moving here was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my life, I’m relatively financially stable. More often than not, I love my job. I purchased a house. I’ve had a lot of adventures, the greatest of which was finding love and getting married. I’m exactly where I should be.
Sometimes you have to take a leap and hope the net will appear. That’s what I did. Thank goodness it turned out well. I could have just as easily landed with a massive, irreparable splat. So three cheers for nets!
Incidentally, if you’d like to read about my epic journey across the continent, start here. And if you’d like to read other posts about my transition, do a search within my categories section for My Jacksonville to Seattle Do Over. (That category includes the epic journey, but contains many other posts as well.)
Basically, people are very helpful here. They’re very kind. But don’t get too close. Don’t be nosy or get personal. Nice to meet you, now go away. It’s a thing. It really is. I’ll never get used to it.
Many people theorize that it has to do with the fact that we have large Asian and Scandinavian populations here. Those are two cultural groups that tend to like to keep people at arm’s length. I can see that. Sort of. But then, I’m half Danish, and only second generation American, and I’m not like that at all. I’ve always felt that there had to be something more to it.
Recently I was discussing this with my friend Lynn over dinner. She posited a theory that makes much more sense to me. (Apologies to Lynn for not taking notes and using direct quotes. I was too focused on my Lobster Mac n’ Cheese, and wasn’t expecting a conversation of such fascinating depth. But I think I got the gist of it.)
Lynn theorizes that the Seattle Freeze has more to do with the fact that many here are descendants of pioneers. When Seattle was founded in 1851, it wasn’t easy to get here. (I should put “founded” in quotes because of course the Native Americans were already here.) It was a rough, deprived, hardscrabble existence. To come here you really had to be motivated, and to stay, especially during the Puget Sound War, you had to be determined.
So, who came here at the time? People who were unsatisfied with their lives back east. People running away from something. People wanting to start over. Independent people who were compelled to make a go of it on their own. Misfits. Adventurers. Con artists. Entrepreneurs. Criminals. Rough characters. Nuts.
And then those people met and married and passed on those qualities, whether they be genetic or behavioral, to their offspring. The birth of the Seattle Freeze. This makes perfect sense to me. I may not relate to it, but at least these people have come by this quirk honestly. That makes it much easier to not take it personally.
I’d further expand on this theory by saying that it explains why the East and West Coasts are so completely different from a cultural point of view. The further west your ancestors went in this country, the more independent and determined they must have been. If it were me, I’d have gotten about 50 yards into the dense underbrush west of the Atlantic Ocean and would have said, “Yeah. I’m good. This is where I’ll be, if you’re looking for me.” Such is my paltry level of chutzpah. I am only here now thanks to the interstate freeway system.
There’s much debate about whether the Seattle Freeze even exists. I think it’s blatantly obvious. But now at least I get it, because Lynn gave me food for thought along with that Lobster Mac n’ Cheese.
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On August 24, 2014 I arrived in Seattle to start my new life. I had never been to the city before, and didn’t know a soul. I remember how I felt that day: excited, and scared silly. I felt like I was in a foreign country. Sometimes I still do.
In retrospect, I really think I was in shock. The terrain wasn’t flat like I expected. The weather was sunny and mild. I had been expecting rain, and after living in Florida for 40 years, “mild” was a sensation I had very rarely experienced.
I remember sitting in a park with my dogs, just staring at people. After driving for 3100 miles, I still had the sensation that I was moving. I still pass that park every day on the way to work.
I remember noticing that there was a completely different vibe in this city. It’s a much smaller city than Jacksonville, Florida, but it feels like a much larger one, probably because people are much more densely packed here. I don’t know how I was picking up on these signals just by sitting in the park, but I remember drawing conclusions that I later found to be true: this was a more educated, more sophisticated, more liberal, more diverse place.
More liberal! I wanted to jump for joy. After 40 years of feeling like a liberal turd in a conservative punch bowl, suddenly I felt like I fit in. It was like taking off a pair of shoes that was two sizes too small. I had no idea how much of a burden I had been carrying all that time. That feeling of being an outsider, that feeling of having to justify my conclusions, that feeling of never being taken seriously…I could lay those burdens down for the first time in my life. And it felt so good.
In the coming weeks and months I had a lot of adjusting to do. Finding my way around. Getting used to the insane level of traffic. Figuring out which of all the unknown grocery stores fit my budget and my tastes. Getting used to the fact that a lot of the products I was used to are sold here, but in entirely different packaging. Getting used to the fact that everything costs about 3 times as much. Learning my job. Finding doctors and dentists and libraries and post offices. Wrapping my brain around the Seattle Freeze.
After a few months of desperately trying to make friends, I wrote about the Seattle Freeze. I just didn’t know what it was called at the time. In that blog entry I called it, “Nice, but not.” After two years I’m still convinced that this is a thing, but since then I have made friends, and therefore don’t act quite as needy, and am not as hurt by the smiling, polite, unmovable wall of rejection.
I also came across a blog entry I wrote before leaving Florida, called A Florida Transplant to the Pacific Northwest. In it I had a lot of anxious, unanswered questions about how to make this massive transition. I can still feel the stress rolling off the page. Man, I was scared.
But you know what? Since then I’ve answered all those questions, and this place now feels like home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.