The Geography of Friendship

This weekend was a new friend’s 30th birthday. In true celebratory style, her friends came in from all over the country to celebrate. There seemed to be guests from everywhere—New York, Boston, DC, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Atlanta, the list goes on. A chunk of the guests were consultants—my pal just graduated from business school—and have relocated several times in the last 5-10 years.

At dinner on Saturday night I got to talking to one guest about the difficulty of friending. “I think a lot of it is regional,” my new friend told me. “I’ve lived in some cities where people were friendly and happy to make new friends, and others where people wanted nothing to do with anyone they didn’t already know.”

In the friendly category: San Francisco, Chicago, sometimes New York.

In the not-so-friendly category: Long Beach, California; Boston.

Her theory, at first, was that smaller cities where transplants are unusual—like Long Beach—are less welcoming. “No one ever leaves Long Beach, and no one ever moves to Long Beach,” she said. “Everyone has been friends with their same people forever. When a new kid comes to town, people have no time for her.”

Of course, this theory didn’t totally hold up with the whole Boston thing, considering it’s a city overflowing with transplants. But interestingly enough, this woman was the second person to tell me that Boston is an especially tough place for meeting new people. I’m not sure why.

I’ve mentioned before that I think Las Vegas is one of the best cities for meeting new people. Maybe not for making real friends, as almost everyone you meet is a tourist, but those neon lights make everyone friendly. I’ve never lived anywhere other than New York or Chicago, so I can’t really speak to other cities, though I’ve heard that Texas (the whole state!)  is great for friend-making while Seattle is, well, not-so-great.

My new friend had a fabulous theory for testing out whether a city is generally friendly or not. “You can tell by whether or not other girls talk to you while you wait in line for the restroom. In San Francisco, every one chats while they’re waiting. In Boston, silence.”

I love this. It’s a brilliant barometer. There’s not much to do while in line for the ladies room other than talk. Sometimes it’s Chatty McChatville and other times, radio silence. I’ve never thought to use this as the gauge of the city where I’m, you know, peeing, but I can’t wait to test out the theory. In the next month I’ll be using restrooms in Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. I’ll report back.

What do you think? Are some cities friendlier than others? Do you buy the big-city/small-city theory? What about the Restroom Line Principle?


Filed under The Search

27 responses to “The Geography of Friendship

  1. I think this is really interesting. I recently moved to Miami and I think that Miami (at least outside of South Beach) is one of those places where it’s hard to make friends. All our recently made friends are also transplants who aren’t completely sure that Miami is the city for them. In Miami, I think that a lot of this is a cultural issue, because if you are not Hispanic there is a whole (large) segment of the population that you may not have meaningful interactions with. Moving to Miami has felt a lot like moving to a different country, and I think the more different a place is from what you are accustomed the harder it can be to make friends.

    I’ve lived near San Francisco in the past and people are definitely friendly there. Washington DC, where I recently moved from, I think is kind of in between for friend making. In the actual city people are so busy and consumed with work that there isn’t a lot of chatting or friendliness because they don’t have time for you – but out at bars or in the social scene people are pretty friendly. I think the bathroom barometer might be right on, but I want to hear from others if they think it’s true too.

  2. Marcia

    Some of the BEST conversations I’ve had with women in San Francisco was waiting in restroom lines (Giants games, concerts) and yes, SF is a very friendly city! I’ve also lived in Buffalo where “neighbor” takes on a whole new positive meaning. I’m currently living in Japan, where people are very, very private, so waiting in line anywhere, riding elevators, etc. is a silent experience.

  3. This is probably going to be rather ugly, but the town I live in can be unfriendly. I live in Southern Arkansas and have for most of my life. The people here are rude, selfish, and don’t care who they step on to get where they want to go (something similar happened to me this morning at the eye doctor’s office with my grandmother).

    It still baffles me when people move here. There is nothing here. Very few jobs, and that seems to only happen if you know the right person, and no type of “night life”. The only things for teens to do is movies or skating.

    Even the paid employees of Wal-Mart are rather rude as well. And, it’s there job to be friendly.

  4. Mara

    I wholeheartedly agree that Boston is hard place to make friends. I moved there right after college and it. was. so. hard. Everyone I worked with was always hanging out with “their high school friends” or “their college friends” on a given night, and there was a rarely an offer for someone new to come along. My theory is that even though there are a lot of transplants, a lot of them moved there in college and made their friends there.

    After a year in Boston, I moved to Chicago. SO much easier.

  5. Lisa

    This is SO true! I moved to LA when I was 22 and instantly made amazing new friends–part of it must have been the time in our lives and the fact that everyone was in the same boat, ie: everyone had moved there from somewhere else to look for a more interesting life. But still, I found over the next 9 years of living there that making friends in the city was easy and effortless. When I moved back to a smaller city in my home state last year for a job, I found it was INCREDIBLY difficult to make friends, because of the fundamental truth of what you say in the post: no one moves here after, say, age 18: the people that live here, by and large, went to college here or grew up here and never moved, and therefore have had their existing groups of friends for 10+ years and aren’t looking to add new members to their group. But an additional barrier was added: ALL my friends in the city were childfree, starting to get married and settle down but mostly single. Moving to a smaller city has been like a twilight zone where everyone my age has been married for 10 years and already has small kids. It’s like, I haven’t changed, but the environment of what is normal around me has. Single, 32, no kids, living in LA? Totally normal. Single, 32, no kids, living in a small-ish town? Not so much.

  6. Well. As a recent Boston transplant, this is discouraging news.

    I’ve made a few friends here, but many of them are also transplants – which may make them friendlier. With a couple of exceptions, people who’ve lived here forever don’t seem too interested in making new friends.

    As a Texas girl, I think my home state is pretty friendly – we do have a reputation for it, after all. You can strike up conversations easily in just about any Texas city, I find.

    The bathroom barometer is fascinating…I’ll have to pay better attention to that. 🙂

  7. I think Chicago is so friendly because we have common enemies – winter, the CTA, long lines at the Wrigley Field ladies room, etc. I’ve definitely struck up great conversations with ladies about or while in each of those situations. It’s an easy ice-breaker. I mean, has anyone in Chicago ever told you they enjoy our winter? Or that it’s not ridiculous to wait 20 minutes for the next Brown Line?

  8. Betty

    I had a friend who moved to Boston (from the Bay Area) to go to law school there. She said it was one of the most difficult places to make friends, and she couldn’t figure out why. She felt that people there were very “chilly.” There were even different times when she asked a few people for directions because she was lost, and she said that each time they pretended not to hear her! She felt so discouraged living there. After a few years there, she decided to move back to the Bay Area.

  9. Interesting! I don’t have much overt state pride — but after spending a month in England, flying into Dallas and immediately having three strangers offer to help get my luggage off the conveyor belt made me want to sing. My Californian best friend is no fan of Texas in general, but she has to admit she’ll miss the friendliness — the likelihood of hearing someone’s life story in line at the supermarket, or being treated like a special guest by strangers.

  10. What an interesting theory–the restroom principle! I love it. People are very friendly in Colorado, but oddly enough, I’ve had trouble making friends here. Everyone is nice, though, which is great.

  11. I completely agree with that bathroom theory! I moved to Chicago all by myself in the summer of 2009 and I instantly made friends – mostly girlfriends. I almost moved to Boston instead – really glad I didn’t after reading these comments.

  12. Erin

    I am currently in Nashville and am currently in med school. I don’t feel like Nashville is all that friendly. For some crowds if you’re not in the country music business then they don’t even remember your name. A lot of people that live in Nashville are from here (or their parents were transplants so now the people my age grew up here as a child but their family is not from here…which you think wouldn’t matter but sometimes it does), so if you didn’t go to the “right” high school here or are affiliated with one then they don’t talk to you. A lot of the people in my age range went to either Uof Tennessee, Ole miss, or Auburn and if you didn’t go to any of those schools (I didn’t) then they’ll act like they want to be your friend, and they may for awhile, but once they find others alum like them, they tend to dump you (I have had that happen several times). I don’t know why it’s so hard here. You would think since it’s a southern city that it would be friendlier (I am originally from new orleans and making friends there is as easy and throwing a quarter in the air and seeing where it lands. ) My fiance is from here and I sometimes hang out with he and his friends (and their respective gf/wives) but all they ever seem to want to talk about is HS or college and I wasn’t around for either of those times so I am generally out of luck…but that’s another topic for another post.
    I do feel like the girls will talk to you in line, but it’s usually very fake and superficial.
    I went to college in Richmond, VA and while I was there, and since I have gone back to visit, I always thought that the people there were really friendly. Again this is through the glasses of college so this may no be true…but I don’t find it difficult to strike up a conversation in Richmond with anyone anywhere and then meeting them for coffee later on….but again that may have been when I was more outgoing and adventurous…aka college.

  13. Lorrie Paige

    I’ve lived in New York and to me it’s not very friendly. VERY hard to make friends in NY. I don’t know what area you are talking about but at least in Manhattan–where I lived–it’s hard. People ARE polite but they don’t want to be make friends; most people in Manhattan are too busy working to pay their over-priced rent to make friends–lol! Seriously!

    Where I live now–in Portland–the people are friendly; it’s just a matter of clicking with the kind of people that’s right for you to make friends with.

    The Restroom Line Principle sounds absurd to me.

  14. Noem

    I have to say that as a native New Yorker, I am surprised by the unfriendliness of my new home, Philadelphia. While NY tends to get a rap as a tough place, etc., I have always said that it’s one of the friendliest cities in the country. You can walk up to any stranger in the street looking for directions and half the time they’ll walk you to where you need to be. I figured that after spending my life making friends in NY, Philadelphia (the city of Brotherly Love!) was going to be a breeze. Unfortunately, it was quite the opposite. I have really struggled to make friends here, and am only making headway after forcing myself to really push my way into some of the inner circles. Like some others have mentioned, there are a lot of folks who have lived here forever, gone to the same schools, or attended Penn State or Univ. of Penn and it’s tough being the “outsider” who doesn’t share those experiences. As the old commercials used to say, “I Love NY”!

    • Erica

      My husband lived in Philalphia for several years and really disliked it for the same reason. He felt it was really a small town, where if you didn’t grow up there and already have friends you would always be an outsider.

  15. Erica

    While a city of tranplants can be helpful for friendship, sometimes it’s a detriment. Washington DC, for example, is almost entirely transplants. But it’s also extremely transient, so each transplant stays for a couple of years and then moves on. Just when you’ve really connected with someone, they’re being relocated to another city or country. Or moving to a farther out suburb, which may just as well be another country. I’ve been here for 7 years and it’s only now in my kid-friendly suburban neighborhood that I find some continuity. But even at that, many neighbors come and go. As do colleagues.

  16. Kelly

    Love that you have done a post about this topic!…I’ve been thinking this for a while about the city I live in. Although my city is not particularly small for the UK, it’s the kind of place where people are still friends with the people they went to highschool with (or even primary school (elementary school?)) in some cases. My parents still live on the same street that they did when I was born – most of their neighbors have been there for the same amount of time.

    I think that maybe it might partly be an economic thing – there are not many graduate jobs here, so lots of people move away. Sometimes it almost feels like those that stay still have that highschool mentality when it comes to making new friends. I’ve been trying to meet new friends for a while now and have wondered if moving to a more cosmopolitan city would help. Even my fellow volunteers at charities I give my time to in the evenings do not seem interested in making friends, they are friendly but they already have a long established network of friends. Am almost at the point where I am ready to move, I mean this in a totally positive way, sometimes the best thing that can happen is to realize that a situation is not working and move on.

  17. Caz

    This is really interesting!

    Vancouver is often touted as a very friendly city, even above the standard that “all Canadians are friendly” (obviously a stereotype). And superficially they are. People go out of their way to help you, hold the door, chat about their day/weather/news etc. But it generally all stops there. If you don’t have an already set group of friends (ie uni, high school etc.) it’s very hard to make friends. People will go all out to tell you about their plans to hit up this part or climb that mountain, but invite you to tag along? no way. Invite yourself and you’re met with an ‘ummmm maybe, I’ll have to check”. Part of this is because it’s a transplant city, but the natives have ‘superior’ status. If you didn’t grow up there you’re not “native” if you haven’t lived there for 10+ years, you’re still a ‘newcommer’. So everyone’s trying very hard to prove their native status and not hang out with ‘newbies’.

    Since it’s an outdoor mecca, everyone’s also sort-of trying to prove how ‘hardcore’ they are. They don’t want you to ruin their record climbing the Grouse Grind, or have to wait for you at the bottom of every ski run so if they suspect you can’t keep up, they won’t invite you along. It sounds all very elitest and such, and it is in a way. I don’t want to badmouth Vancouver because I love the city…. but as an outsider it is hard to make friends.

    On the otherhand, Australia is just SO friendly. It took me a year or more to adjust to the fact everyone genuinely wants to be friends, they’re not just saying so (like in Vancouver). They meet you, assuming you’re awesome until you prove not to be, unlike Van where they assume you’re a newbie/wanker until you prove you’re not…

  18. anonymous

    Totally. When I moved to Seattle, it was complete culture shock. People here are really good at being friendly, but not so much at being friends and it took me upwards of four years to make friends at all. The place I’m from, not nearly that difficult, and I’m still friends with a lot of those people even though I only see them once a year or so.

  19. Gotta chime in and just say that people notoriously complain about how hard it is to meet people in Cincinnati, my old city (where I was also a transplant), but I had no trouble.

    Perhaps it was because I “took in” other transplants and introduced them to one another. Perhaps it is because it is a very parochial city, where many people marry their high school sweetie and never leave the ZIP code they were born in. Perhaps it’s attitude.

    But one thing is for sure: Chicago is a friendly town! I may not have besties here yet, but I’ve yet to experience anything but welcomes when people learn I’m a newbie.

    Interesting debate! Thanks for posting.

  20. Phoenix: full of transplants but not friendly. When I was preparing to move here from NJ, everyone told me that people out here would be so much nicer. Not so much… Not UNfriendly, but not friendly, either. Hard to make friends here.

  21. Amanda

    woohoo for Texas being friendly 🙂 I totally agree about transplant cities being more friendly. I live in San Antonio, and we have a few different military bases here, so there’s always a pretty good flux of people in and out. I just bought a house near one of the air force bases, and there are a lot of military families in the neighborhood. These people are incredibly welcoming and friendly…and I actually had a conversation with one lady about how she likes being in San Antonio because there are so many military families that are new here, and they’re forced to make new friends. She had previously lived in Syracuse, where she and even her elementary-school-aged kids had trouble making friends because everyone else there had known each other their entire lives, and she was the newbie.

  22. Samantha

    Wow! It looks like a lot of people did what I did…moved to Boston then move to Chicago! When I lived in Boston it was very hard to make friends (I worked with people from Boston). My husband had a ton of friends (co-workers were transplants and he knew one guy from college that put him on a sports team). Here in Chicago I have a ton of friends…no bff’s yet, but friends. Chicago is definately friendlier:)

  23. Amelia

    DC is a very transient city and it also tends to be very cynicle. That said, I’ve made some very good friend here but while I’m still here, they’ve moved away. There are a lot of people I consider friends but we all have our own friend circles and none of them are people I feel comfortable just calling up to do something with – movies, coffee, museums (god knows, therea are plenty of museums here to see!). Also, living in the suburbs of DC doesn’t help. I feel like I might as well be living in another country but hopefully, in a few months that may be changing.

  24. Texas is my home state and I agree that people are pretty friendly in the Lone Star state. I’ve also found that the people in Phoenix are pretty approachable. From book groups to writer groups to my neighborhood, people have always taken time to talk to me. Most everyone I’ve met is transient and so the common moving experience is something that we can immediately talk about.

    I love the restroom principle idea. Very clever.

  25. Laura

    Great post Rachel! Please let me know how the bathroom test goes in LA, I have found it super hard making girl friends here. I feel every emotion you do – you just put them into words for me.

  26. Joy

    Maybe this is my problem – I need to move!
    Great post. I enjoyed reading the comments as well. I don’t feel so bad now. Maybe I’m not entirely to blame for having so much difficult finding friends.

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