Last night, my sister, my friend “Mercy” and I were on the bus returning from Oakland’s First Music Festival (a blast!). We were exhaustedly babbling, trying to figure out what to do for dinner (sleep sounded like a great option!) when a young guy behind us interjected:
“Excuse me ladies…”
Oh lord. Don’t let this be some lame line. I am too tired.
“Excuse me ladies, but I just have to tell you how refreshing it is to see three African-American women on this bus. On any bus here really.”
We all nodded laughed knowingly. We get it. There are so few of us here – particularly the young and upwardly mobile. You get so used to being the only one on the daily. It’s like we’re unicorns, aliens or endangered species; so, when you see another, it makes an imprint.
We chatted with him for a little while (he did, not-so-subtly, but charmingly, try to get one of our phone numbers indiscriminately) about the festival and his job at one of the museums in the City.
No numbers were exchanged, no wondrous epiphanies had, just a pleasant and notable encounter among strangers on a bus.
Side note: I’ve visited Oakland four or five times in the 11 months I’ve been living in San Francisco and I gotta say, Oakland just might be cooler than San Francisco. *Ducking flying objects*
I officially have my first San Francisco friend! I’m a couple of weeks shy of my 6-month marker of living in the City and I can now boast a new friend. This friend was hard-earned. I am not a hermit, I am not shy, I smile at strangers, I say nice things to people, I shower regularly and smell good. Should be a friend magnet, right? No. Hhhhheeelll no.
I couldn’t even get hit on here. Usually if there’s one thing I can count on in life, it’s that a creepy guy with no sense of personal boundaries will hit on me. Not only did I feel friendless, but ugly. Maybe I don’t smell as good as I think I do.
As I often do when I have questions about life, I turned to Google. Google, why is it so hard to meet people and make friends in San Francisco? Google had all kinds of answer for me from the condescendingly unhelpful (“It’s so easy! Just get of your house and talk to people.” Shut. Up.) to a post titled, “Top 10 Reasons I Hate San Francisco“. The reasons listed didn’t really resonate with me and I believe it was written with humorous intent. However, the comments section was a revelation. In a city where some residents seem to have a cult-like passion and exuberance for said city – akin to the insane levels of excitement you’d find in Oprah’s audience on a “My Favorite Things” show; nobody is giving you a car, calm down – I was surprised to find this seemingly small faction of San Francisco dissenters. One commenter stated:
I also loved the city when I first moved here (because I was still a tourist), but it got worse over time, not better. I have lived in San Francisco for two years now, and I hate it more than I ever did. Don’t get me wrong – I love the city and the bay area, but the people really suck here. I have never met so many cold, distant, unfriendly, rude, selfish, insular, stuck up people in one place! The east bay is a little better, but not much.
Cold. Distant. Unfriendly. Insular. I felt all those things.
Another commenter added:
I have never felt more strongly about something in my life. San Francisco is extremely clicky[sic]. It could take 2 years to get on the inside of a click because people are so distant and self preserving and guarded. Everyone has their forcefield up and it is designed to keep you out, along with everyone else they don’t know. My advice would be not to bother. Just cut your losses and leave now before you get bitter about the people here.
Hmm. Sounded like people at work. I could also feel the bitterness building. This anonymous poster was speaking directly to me.
For advice, I called an L.A. friend who moved to Seattle almost two years ago. At a party, if I’m cracking wise in a small group, she is
the party. If anyone could give me advice on making friends, she could. She told me about the “Seattle Freeze.” The Seattle Freeze is a newer term for the feelings of exclusion and insularity newbies feel from Seattleites. She theorized that Seattle residents encounter so many transplants, it tires them; they become desensitized and seek refuge in their cliques. Others blame: the Norwegians?
She admitted that after only a year and a half, having been adopted into a couple of cliques, she was guilty of perpetuating the ice-out. I don’t think we have an above-average number of Norwegians here, but it sounds like San Francisco to me. She reassured me that I was doing all the right things: saying yes to (most) invitations, trying to infiltrate cliques, taking initiative and extending invitations to people, being friendly when I’m out and joining activities. Just one thing though: it’s going to take time. I hate time. Take your time and shove it! Time is never on my side. When I’m lying prone on the floor, bawling and rolling around, desperately wishing for the heart-squeezing pain to end, because some guy broke my heart, the clock ticks like it’s mocking me. Hours seems to take years to pass. Snails laugh as they sail by. On the other hand, when I’m on vacation, thinking how much I love life and never want to leave, and why can’t I have Beyonce-money and just travel all the time, suddenly time is on speed, running as fast as it can, like it’s a damn race. Jerk.
Time. Ugh. But, it is what it is (don’t you hate when people say that?).
During this time, there are four avenues I’ve taken toward making friends – with varying levels of success.
Some will warn you against making friendly with co-workers. I say bullshit. Several of my closest friends are former co-workers. I wouldn’t give them back. Just be smart about whom you associate with and trust. The heifer down the hall that gives you looks that say she hopes you fall on your face in a pool of acid-rain wastewater and is constantly throwing others under the bus, is not a good candidate for friendship.
The weekend after the torturous wine-tasting with the private social club, I was feeling particularly black and tired. At less than 6%, San Francisco’s black population is the smallest I’ve ever been among, having lived in seven other major US cities. The city has been hemorrhaging so many black folks in the past 40 years, a task force was created to determine the cause and nip it. It’s weeeiird. I’ve written before about how I feel people treat and approach (or don’t approach me) me differently here. Crystal Sykes wrote a thoughtful piece about hipster racism in San Francisco and how awkward it can be as the only black person among a group of friends (read the comments; the discussion is fascinating). As a black male friend and former Berkeley resident summed up:
“…I always would think it’s just in my head or I’m being hypersensitive, until I would leave the Bay Area. Despite being the only Black person I saw in my several trips to Santa Fé, NM, everyone there made me feel like I belonged – and it wasn’t at all forced. I merely concluded that they made everyone feel like they belonged there, and that was just the culture. But I was suspicious that I had a doppelgänger in Santa Fé who had been a longtime resident, and everyone thought I was him. Los Angeles, New York, even Houston – none of those places gave me that out-of-place feeling that shopping at Andronico’s on Shattuck in North Berkeley or waiting in line at Cheeseboard pizza gave me. Only on campus or on Telegraph Avenue was that feeling relatively absent. It’s such a subtle thing, and virtually impossible to explain to someone who isn’t experiencing it, but cumulatively it weighs on you.”
In December, I wrote about going dancing with one of my co-workers, whom I’ll refer to as Mercy since I am listening to the song as I write this. She is also the first co-worker who mercifully extended a hand of friendship to me when I was aching for human interaction two months in. After the dancing night, we’ve had lunch at work a few times and were friendly. But, recently our budding friendship hit a major milestone: self-disclosure.
I ran into her in the office the weekend after the wine tasting fail. Mercy is also black (one of the 3% in the company) . When she asked me about my weekend I told her about the wine tasting weirdness. Then, I blurted out, “I have to ask you something…how do you deal with being one of so few black professionals in San Francisco? I just don’t know if I can take this or want to take this.” We chatted about it for a little while, but we had to get back to work.
The following weekend, I received a surprise text from her saying, “We need to finish our conversation about being black in SF.” A weekend text out of the blue? This is MAJOR. It was particularly poignant given I’d just finished eating lunch at a restaurant, alone. She asked if I wanted to grab tea and continue our chat. We met in Japantown at the cutest tea shop/café and I just exhaled a lot of the stress I’d been feeling over the past 4-5 months. She totally got it. She said that after over 7 years of living here, she’s gotten used to it, for better or worse. She relies on her friends for support. Her friends treat her like Mercy, not black Mercy.
It wasn’t all about me though. I am not that person. She disclosed some stuff of her own, which I will not be sharing for the sake of her privacy. Tea led to us seeing a movie (Life of Pi) and tentative plans for all the cool things we can do in the future. It was like a cool, awesome date. We’ve hung out since then too (and did some more self-disclosing). I like her. She’s intelligent, thoughtful, fun and has an appealing mix of openness and strength that I don’t encounter often enough. She’s affable and she’s my new friend. And look what I came in to work to find from her one Monday morning!
The group of girls I went tohappy hour with a couple of months ago, have continued extending happy hour invites. A few months ago people were rudely discussing their excitement, in my presence, about the happy hour I wasn’t invited to after work. Now, I am regularly being invited to happy hours (By a different group. I didn’t want to hang out with those other people anyway. Humph!). They remind me of some of my friends from college.
I sit in a new prison cube and my current neighbors are much more sociable than the former. The old neighbors were (mostly) nice enough, but quiet. Silence makes the day draaaaaag. On one side of my new seat, is a woman around my age from a country in Latin America. She’s been in the US for less than two years. She is very expressive, open, a close-talker, somewhat unfiltered and effervescent. I was drawn to her pretty immediately because I loved her energy and she also seemed open to friendship.
She often (hilariously) laments to me how she doesn’t understand people here. But, “here” for her is the United States. She’s only ever lived in San Francisco. Having lived in several different cities across multiple states, I felt quite confident in telling her: This is San Francisco; the bizarro behavior you just witnessed is not generalizable to the US as a whole. We’re both feeling like fish out of water, but for different reasons. It’s comforting having her to talk to when I have those “WTF?!” moments. On the other side is my neighbor who wants to put *NSYNC posters up on our shared wall. I could not be happier…with my neighbors.
Private Social Club
You will not be advancing on my tour of friendship.Get off my bus. Bye.
My Friend Has a Friend
I am so in love with my other friends (and my family) right now. They have been the biggest source of support for me during this adjustment. Whether it be supportive comments on my blog posts, Skype chats, phone calls, emails or visits, I have never been more grateful for the knowledge that someone else out there cares about me. A few of my friends have kindly offered to hook me up with other friends they have in the City. There’s no guarantee that your friends will like each other. I have friends from all kinds of groups and I know some of them do not like the others. Hehe.
When my L.A. friend “E” came up for a visit, she introduced me to her former co-worker, J, at brunch. It didn’t take long for me to like J. Her energy is enviable. If I could bottle her into a trendy energy-drink I’d have baller money. The feeling seemed mutual as we exchanged emails and phone numbers that day. I’ve made plans with J for a follow-up brunch. So, there’s potential.
One of my L.A. girlfriends/co-worker/work wife moved up here two months before I did. We actually work at the same company – again – but, in different departments. Unfortunately, she has some family stuff going on and a boyfriend that’s kept her busy, so we surprisingly haven’t seen each other much. Though that is changing. I’m so thankful she was here to celebrate my birthday with me! She grew up in the Bay Area and knows some people here. She’s shared one of her friends with me, another former Angeleno who owns a trendy boutique in the city. I like that she’s not in tech as I’m starting to really tire of tech people (if I never hear the word “start-up” again…). She seems to know an interesting blend of people and set up a good social network for herself in the few years she’s been here.
Girlfriend Circles has been the best route for making friends, of the XX variety at least.
I’ve been on the site for just about two months and met some really dynamic women. I moved here in hopes of meeting, um, more uh, intellectual people (I’m not saying they don’t exist in L.A., some of them are my friends!) and I definitely have with this group. During one dinner I was grouped with two published authors, one of whom was also a chocolatier (seriously, how many people can claim that as a career!), a software engineer, a physician and a paralegal. They were all in my age group as many events are segmented by age; it really helps. It was a fun and engaging dinner and we all agreed we’d like to meet up again as a group.
In addition to attending official “circles”, I’ve hung out with some of the girls outside of the circles , after the initial meets – which is ultimately the point.
There’s M- (the paralegal) and Ra-(also a software engineer), whom I met around the same time and had met each other a couple of months prior. They’re chill and down-to-earth. I’ve gone hiking and to dinners with them.
CC is an enigma to me. She’s an accountant by profession, but loves to sing and listen to opera. She’s quirky and dresses fabulously avant-garde. It’s fun to see what she’ll wear next. I have a feeling she’s not for everyone, but I think she’s interesting. We went out to have dessert one night and she casually mentioned Kim Kardashian. I have never been so happy to hear that vacuous girl’s name. Yeah, I like to be intellectual and hoity-toity and all, but I am also the girl who loves her US Weekly. A good pop-culture chat does an overly-taxed mind good (spending all day in a staid corporate environment, where I have to be on my best behavior all the day long, means I need some levity and fun outside of work). You can also combine the two and arrogantly wax on about how Kim’s popularity represents the downfall of societal values.
The dinner group had scheduled a brunch for a couple of weekends later. Unfortunately, only Jo, H-, Ra- and I could make it. Brunch was fun; the conversation flowed freely. Ra- had to leave early, but the rest of us lingered awhile after the bill was paid. We somehow ended up on the topic of shopping (go figure) and decided to check out the shops in Jo’s neighborhood. At one store, I found a hot pair of shoes and as I debated buying them, they both encouraged me to go for it since they were on sale and so cute. These are my kind of girls: shopping enablers. After shopping, Jo invited H- and I to her apartment for a drink. We spent the next few hours planted on her comfortable chairs, listening to music, and chatting about all manner of topics: cooking, dating, marriage, careers and how I think I’m having an early mid-life crisis. They were amused by my random knowledge from falling into Wikipedia holes. It was supportive, engaging, funny and comfortable.
I knew this trio really had potential when we were talking about cutting the cord from expensive cable and H- said, “I want to get rid of cable, but I need Bravo.” She didn’t say it ironically and pretend like she would never dare watch such treacle. She was sheepish, but owned it. Did I mention I’m a Real Housewives junkie? I’m an OG viewer. I started with episode one of The Real Housewives of Orange County all those years ago. She’s more into Top Chef, but I can dig it. I love good food, but it frustrates me to watch people cooking good food on TV that I can’t eat with them! Bravo disciples know there is something not right with the hold that station has on their viewing habits, but most of us accept it, ignore our feelings of cognitive dissonance and tune in. Jo, H- and I hung out again this weekend and had just as much fun as the last time. This shows promise, but I’m not counting my chickens just yet…
I’m nearing the point where I’ll have to shift focus from meeting new people to building the friendships I’m developing. It’s already becoming a challenge to fit in repeat dates with the new dates. I understand what Rachel Bertsche meant in MWF Seeking BFF. It’s a great problem to have though; it certainly beats sitting at home contemplating ways to reuse all the fur my cats shed (I’ve got nothin’!). Besides, meeting new people all the time is exhausting. However, I’m not going to pull it back just yet. This is just the beginning. It’s finally starting to become fun. I am hopeful and curious to see what’s in store over the next few months on my tour of friendship.
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I’ve been living in San Francisco a little over four months. I had five immediate goals when I arrived:
Unpack box-partment and decorate within six weeks of move in – Did it in five.
Don’t get fired (or maybe it was “do well at work”. Still, end result is, don’t get fired.)– still employed
Find a gym – found
Make friends – well, see…so…but I, err…
Possibly finally trade in bitchy, useless, freeloading, ungrateful second cat.*
*still debating this one
Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are going well. Number 4 hasn’t been as smooth, which I foolishly did not anticipate. When I moved to San Francisco, I was full of hope and enthusiasm. In just two months, those feelings were replaced by boohoo and what the hell did I do?! Los Angeles was a perfectly fine place with beautiful weather, wearing of open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops almost year around and a world I understand, for good and for bad. I miss my friends, my burger places, Koreatown, ramen, mid-priced quality sushi, seeing and hearing Spanish everywhere, cheaper rent and not sobbing when I write out my rent check and not being the only upwardly mobile black person for miles. So what if I felt suicidal in traffic some days? There are plenty of doctors willing to prescribe me drugs to handle those emotions!
I get asked a lot whether I like it here. Sure, it’s a beautiful city. But so are many others I’ve been to or lived in. What’s got to make San Francisco stand out from the places I’ve lived and visited is the people. My default answer is usually, “I don’t know yet,” and I’ll explain that I’ve found it difficult to meet people. I’m either met with looks of confusion (how is it possible that you don’t love it here?!), nods of understanding and agreement or the not at all novel: “Have you tried meetup?” An L.A. friend who is a former SF resident shared that it can be hard to break into a clique in San Francisco, but once you do, the friendships you make will be more genuine than you’ll find in Los Angeles. That’s…comforting?
Volunteering a couple of weeks ago, I went out for lunch after with some of the other volunteers. I met a lifelong Bay Area resident who, once I told her I moved here from L.A., delighted in telling me how much she hated SoCal and the people in it. “They’re so fake.” You know how you can talk all kinds of shit about your crazy uncle who wrecks family events on the regular, but let someone outside of the family chime in and you’re cracking your knuckles, ready to throw down? That was me; hiding my hands under the table. I can talk shit about L.A. all day. I earned that right as a long-term resident. She, however, visited once or twice and dismissed it. Humph!
“What are you unsure about?” she asked me.
“Well, it’s supposed to be diverse here, but there are no black people here (I waved my hand around the black-less the restaurant as I said this) and that’s kind of uncomfortable for me.”
I laughed to lighten the weight of my words. Uncomfortable chuckles from the group followed. It’s funny how awkwardly some people react when a minority brings up race, especially blackness. Sometimes I just wanna say, “Blackitty black black afro negro blackish black black blaaaaack. I AM BLACK! Feel better? Now can we move past your discomfort and talk about this?” It’s like they’re afraid you’re gonna know they secretly rap the “n-word” in hip-hop songs when no one black is around. The SoCal-hater had an immediate solution to my discomfort, “It’s plenty diverse here. Just go to the Tenderloin. Ha!” I thought to myself, “Did this chick really just tell me to go to the Tenderloin to see black people? The Tenderloin where everyone warns you away from due to the huge likelihood of being asked repeatedly for money, seeing someone pooping on the sidewalk or seeing a drug deal go down, Tenderloin? Does she think it feels good for my soul to see downtrodden black people?”
I told her, “Yeahhhh, there’s that…but, I think we have different interests.” This dumb, clueless chick. Diversity isn’t just about counting numbers of people of the same group. How well are those people represented and integrated among the population being measured? I just can’t with her foolishness. But, when meeting new people it’s better just to grin and bear it, put on your happy face and complain to your out-of-town friends about her flippant tone. I don’t tell her I’ve heard complaints that San Franciscans can be snooty and pretentious and that her bitchery isn’t helping to disprove that stereotype. Be nice now, save Keisha Fierce for later.
In response to one of my posts a few weeks ago, a blog reader suggested I check out Rachel Bertsche’s blog (thanks!), which led me to her book: MWF Seeking BFF (I recommend it if you’re in the friend-shopping business). In the non-fiction book, Rachel is a late twenty-something relatively new to Chicago, having moved there to be with her husband. Upon realizing she’s lonely and lacking in close girlfriends, she vows to go on one new friend date a week for a year. Throughout the book she details – often hilariously – the women she meets and their dates. Interspersed throughout the book are interesting friendship factoids and tidbits such as: “minorities are more open to friends outside their race than white people are” (ch. 7). Did I mention that San Francisco is almost 50% white? Oh, this will be fun. Good thing SF has a large Asian population and a smaller Latino population!
A co-worker moved here a little under two years ago. She told me that while she’s met people through activities here and there, she hasn’t yet found anyone that she’d call up for last-minute plans or to confide in. That’s…sad, and unacceptable for me. Another couple of women told me they felt it took them three to four years (one said six!) to feel they had a good circle of friends and felt comfortable here. Ain’t nobody got time for all that! I know there are other places where the weather is warmer and so are the personalities of the residents.
Inspired by Rachel Bertsche’s tenacity and my own rebellious nature that refuses to accept it taking years to find good friends, I decided it’d be fun to see just how many friends I can amass in a year. If I make it a competition (with myself), it’ll be more thrilling. Because, trying to make new friends once you’re out of school, is not really a joyride. Once it becomes a conscious effort it becomes work, especially when you’re seeking to create a social circle you don’t have. When you’re hoping to meet at least one person to be the Gayle to your Oprah (or better yet a Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, Rose quad!), you’re putting in work!
I’ve been friending my ass off. Well, maybe not friending as much as meeting-new-people my ass off. I was out socializing five out of seven days last week and I had a couple of moments of fun, but mostly it was work. Last week alone I met or re-met so many new people I was exhausted come Thursday and I wasn’t even done! Sunday was my day of rest, cocooning in my box-partment. The groundwork I laid a couple of months ago is finally paying off. When I started my job, I made it a point to eat lunch with people I want to get to know at least twice a week. Every meeting is a chance to show off my stunning personality. People need to know what richness they are missing.
At a work Valentine’s Day party, we had to meet at least one new person to be allowed to enter the raffle. I used it as an opportunity to speed meet people. People are starting to wave and smile at me in the halls! I’ve even gotten a few lunch invites. Unexpectedly, a co-worker, L – with whom I’ve rarely interacted except during a training class and a few run-ins in the kitchen – invited me to happy hour last Thursday. My first happy hour invite! I could have cried. I double-checked the IM to see if she really meant to send it to me and not someone else. She meant me! At happy hour, K, with whom I’ve gone to lunch once and was also in training with me and L, told me, “I loved how during training you told HR “no” when they asked if we thought the training was helpful. That was awesome! You go, girl.” L, the girl who invited me, nodded in agreement. Yep, that’s me: no bullshit. This no-bullshitter could be your friend!
A few weeks ago, I joined a women’s group that helps connect women looking to build female friendships. I’ve been to a couple of small events and met some cool women. A few of them have given me their phone numbers and invited me out outside of the group – unprompted. If I were a straight dude, I’d really be feeling myself. I’m getting those digits! I also joined an adventure group that seems promising. My calendar is slowly filling up again.
One of the new women I’ve met asked me to go for coffee sometime. Coffee is not an activity, it’s a beverage. It’s the means to a caffeinated end. Why coffee? Why not drinks? I’m skeptical when people suggest going out to drink beverages and the beverages don’t include at least the option of alcohol. Recovering alcoholics get a pass. But, I’m wary people who don’t drink because they just don’t drink. I don’t drink anywhere near as much as I did in college or in my mid-20s when I was trying out every single club in L.A., but that party girl is still in there. She’s lying dormant, judging my more sober lifestyle, my “please God don’t let my friend have her birthday party at a bar-ness” and old lady o’clock bedtime. But, she’s ready to get the party started if the moment presents itself. It’s fine though, as the intro to MWF mentions, there are different types of friendships and they are all valuable. Maybe she’ll be my friend I do healthy, productive stuff with. Like I’ve said before, friendless beggars can’t be too choosy.
At the same volunteer event where I met the snooty, clueless girl, I met A. I liked A right away. She was warm, lively and very sharp. When we talked about diversity in San Francisco she passionately said, “Oh, it’s bull! Everyone talks about how many Latinos are here, but they’re all Mexican. I’m from Central America. I’m from the East Coast where there are people from different Latin countries all over the place. And the food? I can’t get good Central American food to save my life! My boyfriend’s family has lived in the Mission for generations and the techies with money are probably going to price them out.” She worked in youth outreach in Bayview-Hunter’s Point and has seen first hand just how segregated and economically lopsided this city can be. With each word, I swooned. She gets it!She gets me. We exchanged numbers and email addresses. A few days later, I emailed her offering to grab a drink (with alcohol) or dinner. It’s been a month and she hasn’t replied. Maybe I scared her off? Maybe she thinks I’m a lesbian, read my email and thought, “Oh hell no!” Or maybe she’d rather go out for coffee? Can’t win ’em all.
Who Will Stand Under My Umbrella (ella, ella)?
All the people I’ve met have been nice, but as Rachel said in her book’s introduction, “I can be nice, but I don’t want nice friends. I want funny, gregarious, sarcastic and smart friends.“ To that I’d add: socially conscious, opinionated, adventurous and easy going. If you’re a pop culture fan we’ll probably be insta-besties. My ninth grade English teacher lectured “nice” out of our arsenal of adjectives. And she was right too: nice is fucking boring. However, I know it can take time for some people to warm up, chill and let their good crazy show. I am learning to be patient.
I haven’t yet hit that pivotal moment of friendship with anyone, when you crossover from perfunctory greetings and awkward small talk to this is my homegirl, ride or die. You’ve heard of Bonnie & Clyde? We’re Bonnie and Bonnie! Psychologists call it: self-disclosure. I can vividly remember those tipping points in many of my cherished friendships. You feel all warm and fuzzy and bubble up with joy around your buddy. It’s a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait to experience it again.
Despite this not being the smoothest transition, I’m glad I moved here. Shaking things up is healthy. I’ve amped up my friendmaking ventures. I am meeting people, I’m not exactly having fun yet, but it’s gotta pay off at some point. I eagerly await the moment when I can rush up to a new friend and say, “You will not believe what just happened to me! I couldn’t wait to tell you about it!”
I’ve been feeling pretty lonely and lacking regular human interaction the past few months. You know you’re desperate for human interaction when you look forward to visiting your new chiropractor because you know that as chatty as she is, she’ll also be a captive audience.
La, La, La, I Can’t See You!
I think people in this city, at least the parts I’ve been in, are deathly allergic to making eye contact with others. As though meeting the eyes of another human might suck out their souls. I know there are many reasons why people may avoid eye contact: some are shy, some have social anxiety (or just regular anxiety), others wary of strangers, I’ve heard some say that they are afraid of being asked for money, but everyone?!
When walking down the streets, I’ve found people to be aloof and sometimes cold. I’ve met friendlier people walking down the streets of Manhattan and Paris. I’ve made more connections here with the thousands of gorgeous and no doubt very pampered dogs that live in the city than any of their owners. They happily wag their tails at me the same way I do internally when I see another black person on the street. I treat other black people in this city like they’re endangered species. I am shocked by their presence and have an urge to capture them and protect them like I may see another ever again. NatGeo voiceovers play in my head: The black American, endangered in these parts, is seen walking into a Starbuck’s, where we must assume, they will purchase a caffeinated beverage.
I’ve started missing the comfort of Los Angeles. A city where I know how things work, how people behave and (for the most part) how I fit in. An article in The Atlantic quoted a study that found:
…withholding eye contact can signal exclusion. … Even though one person looks in the general direction of another, no eye contact is made, and the latter feels invisible.
Yup, pretty much.
The friendliest resident I’ve met to date is an older black panhandler named Mike. I was in the Castro trying to find a nail shop I was Christmas-gifted with a manicure to, when he asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any change and noticing me]y peering around, he asked me what I was looking for. (I legit didn’t have any change. One of the best lessons I learned last year was not to forget the humanity of the homeless and down-and-out. I try to at least smile at and acknowledge those that I encounter.) I told him the address and he walked with me trying to help me find the salon since as he told me he’d been “on that street corner for 10 years!” If anyone could find it, he could. He didn’t find it, but he gave me his phone number, sweetly asked when we’re getting married and made me promise to come back and show him my nails (I did, but he wasn’t there when I returned). Meeting him was the highlight of that day. “Mommy, another human spoke to me today!”
We Are the World?
I’ve read discussions online about the supposed diversity of SF. The city is largely white and Asian (majority Chinese) with those two groups comprising over 80% of the population and Latinos being the third most populous ethnic group at ~ 15% (give or take some percentages depending who’s reporting). We also have the largest gay and lesbian population in the US. Yes, this is a lot of different groups, but whether this is considered “diverse” depends on your perspective.
I often wonder if the “diversity” is touted by people who aren’t used to feeling like a minority in a US city. [Indeed: “Ideas of what is a diverse neighborhood differ by race.”] Online, one commenter will lament the mass exodus of blacks from a city that used to have a large population of them (down to less than 6% from over 15% in 1970 and less than the US population of 13%). Another will rebut that there are plenty of blacks in Hunters Point (also known as Guns Point) and Bayview (a mostly working class neighborhood, with high poverty rates and called one of the most violent neighborhoods in the City by the New York Times). Neither are neighborhoods you’ll see mentioned in glossy guidebooks or in hipster-foodie conversation.
Then the discussion inevitably devolves as some asshole puts in his or her racist two cents about how they are glad the “ghetto black thugs” keep to their habitat in Oakland. I (mostly) resist the urge to reply and instead fantasize about pulling a Tina Turnerand getting the hell out of the US altogether . But, I’ve already covered that. (Please do not misunderstand, I’m an equal opportunity friender, but being the only black person [or one of few] in many of the places you frequent, gets really old after a while.)
To some, “a lot” of black people is 10 out of 300 white people. When I think of cities that are diverse, Houston, Los Angeles (though I think LA is unfortunately pretty segregated) and New York come to mind. Not just diversity of ethnic groups and sexual orientation, but economic diversity. It seems there are two kinds of residents here in SF: those with money and those without. The middle class is continually shrinkingbecause the city has become so unaffordable.
There definitely aren’t a lot of black professionals living in SF. I went from working at a company where the staff was admirably diverse, including 15% black employees and 50% of women (in Santa Monica, not exactly a diverse area in itself). At my current office, I am one of 7 or 8 black employees, less than 3% of the total workforce. Some days I feel like walking around the city wearing a big ass sign that says “token”.
What About Your Friends?
On the friendship end, my attempts to reach out to the few people I already know here have mostly failed: multiple cancellations on their ends and one non-reply after dates to meet up were discussed. The kickball league I signed up for was cancelled. My coworkers are still cliquey.
A couple of weeks ago the cube people around me loudly talked about the happy hour they had planned. No one bothered to invite the new girl. This happened twice in the same week. Previous to that, on my way home one evening, I ran into a manager who asked me if I was going to the happy hour one of my project teams was having that night. That was the first I’d heard of it. Further, last week in the office, I walked by a woman whose tag was sticking out of her shirt. Trying to be helpful, I told her, and her response was “Oh.” No “thank you”, just “oh”. Later I ran into her on the elevator and she averted her gaze. Bitch, fine, look raggedy with tags sticking out all over the place, next time I’ll say nothing. So its been less than a treat, to say the least.
In the coming weeks, through convergence, I am signed up for a few meetup events, a speed-friending event (yes, I think it sounds lame too, but lonely beggars can’t be choosers) and an event with a service that helps women find girlfriends. Supposedly the new kickball league I was transferred to starts in April. I am not holding my breath.
Is this really my life?
I am not giving up though. I’m charming, dammit, and people in other cities like me. Funnily enough, thanks to a crazy boiler blowup in my apartment building, I ended up having a drink with my (married and retired) building manager who’s lived in San Francisco all his life. I was probably a little much as when he asked how I was doing I sighed so heavily you’d think I was recovering from an asthma attack. This is what having few friends does to someone who’s a Myers-Briggs ‘E’. All my thoughts came gushing out like a busted fire hydrant. Chatting with him was a pleasant reminder that behind the non-gaze of San Franciscans are people who like and even wish for human interaction.
Hope is nigh! I think I may have finally cracked one of the cliques at work. And I may have a couple of new lunch buddies. Last week, I had a girl date with someone who lives in my neighborhood that seems promising. My neighbors have been nice and a couple even helpful. I’ve met most of them (and their dogs).
I am the chapter leader of the black employee network at work (for all few of us, though the other outposts of our company have many more). It’s only been three months. I just need to be patient (though telling myself this is like telling Rihanna to keep her damn clothes on: you can try, but you know she ain’t listening) and not let myself be overcome with bitterness. Sharing this with the world is testament to my optimism. I know that in a year or two I’ll reread this post and be thrilled with my progress and laugh about my former loneliness with my new friends.
I forgot how hard it is to move to a new city where you know virtually no one. It’s my sixth time doing this. I think it gets harder each time.
When I moved to Los Angeles years and years ago I dreamed about the fabulous life I’d have hobnobbing with celebrities, meeting other actors, falling in love with my hot male castmates in all the leading roles I’d get and generally just living a flyass life. None of that happened. The closest I came to meeting a celebrity that early on was during planning for a charity event. We were looking for star power to amp up the interest; someone offered, “My friend is friends with Ryan Seacrest. Maybe we could get him to host?” At the time, Seacrest was a drivetime DJ for Star 98.7 in L.A.. He declined the offer. The next year, he signed on as host of American Idol; of course he wasn’t going to host our rinky-dink, ill-planned, never-happened charity event.
I threw myself into friend-making in Los Angeles. I met some weird people the first couple of years. I attached myself to a social butterfly through a women’s group I found. She knew a lot of people, was exceedingly outgoing and talked a lot about things that were foreign to me yet intriguing like reiki and chakras. But, not too long after I met her, I found her “crazy”. (Everyone has something “crazy” about them, it’s just a matter of deciding if you can deal with their brand of crazy.) She hooked up with the boyfriend of the sister of a friend (got that?). When confronted about her trifling behavior, she said, “I am friends with her, not her sister, so I have no loyalty to her sister.” This was my first encounter with “LA Logic”: basically it’s illogical, full of specious arguments, but allows one to justify behaving like an asshole. I, and the friend believe(d): you hurt people I love, you hurt me. I also soon realized she was a bit of a flake, a wee bit too new-agey for me and always seemed to have a relationship with a “soulmate.” Problem is she seemed to have a new soulmate every few months. After a while, I stopped caring about her latest soulmate, how she finally found love and how her life was now complete. Oh and she might move to another state to be with the latest one! She was like a starter friend. A friend to help make the transition easier, show you around, introduce you to other new people and generally make your new home a little less lonely. Then as time passes, you gradually part ways. I would like to skip over the starter friend phase here in San Francisco and just find friends.
One year early on in elementary school, I was transferred to a new class for the “gifted and talented.” (I know they meant well, but how the heck does that make the kids feel who aren’t in those classes? Slow and awkward?) One of the popular girls in class invited me to her birthday slumber party. My life was made. At that early age I was already strategically navigating my social life. I figured if I could get in with her and be entertaining at this party, I would be guaranteed invites to the other kids’ birthday parties. I really wanted everyone to like me. We had a great time at the party. People laughed at my jokes. The next morning the birthday girl said to me, “Keisha, you are fun! I want to have you at every birthday party!” Who was the winner? The winner was me. I had this. I would be popular. A couple of months later, my family left New York for the promise of a safer life in Georgia. All that work and I had to start all over again. Sigh.
I’ve been in San Francisco for two months now and I have no friends. Now that I’m no longer spending my weekends getting my apartment together, I have time to think about this. Zero. Zip. No click for anybody to fuck with. Okay fine, I have one friend. But she’s busy, she has a man, her family lives here and I don’t want to attach myself to her like a canker sore. “Take me wherever you go. Don’t leave me! I’ll make you feel pain!” I’m a big girl, I can fend for myself. But, it’s lonely. I spend too much time with one of my cats (the other one is a useless, skittish, waste of fur and cuteness). A few weeks ago, I was taking a bath. I never take baths. I am not that wine, bubbles, soak, cucumbers-on-sockets, bathtub-time girl. I like showers; no sitting in my filth. This cat I’ve had for 10 years has only seen me take a bath a few times, so when I hopped in a tub full of water, he was curious. I watched him pace around the tub examining the water and the bubbles, reaching up to peer into the tub. He looked at me as if to ask, “Is okay I jump?” “No, kitty, no jump.” I could just imagine the ensuing hilarious hijinks once he realized he was voluntarily in a tub full of water. If by “hilarious” you understand I mean “a naked, painful, mauling by cat incident.” He didn’t jump in. But, the fact that he thought about it led me to the conclusion that he and I are spending too much time together. He’d probably be speaking English and quoting rap lyrics along with me if his mouth could form the words.
I network. I smile at (almost) everyone, including the guards at all the banks in the financial district on my way to work. I’m probably now on some government watch list. People who case banks for robberies probably act all friendly and shit. One guy likes it though. He always gives me a big grin and a “hi” now. Weekdays, people in the financial district brisk their way down the street like work drones. No smiles, no stopping to look at the architecture, no flashdancing; just singular focus on getting to work. Why? The office ain’t going anywhere. Sometimes I like to smile widely at people just to throw them off. Yeah, I smiled at you. Boo!
I’ve no problem doing things solo. But, I prefer for that to be a choice, not the default option because I have no others. Last week, when my hormones decided to hijack my brain, I had a mini meltdown. I saw a posting for an event I would have loved to attend: SantaCon. People dress up in Santa suits and go pub crawling. How awesome.is.that?! Then I realized I had no one to go with (let alone a Santa suit just hanging around) and I threw a fit…to myself. I have no friends to throw a fit to. Now I have to wait another 362 days before SantaCon rolls around again. I better have some Santa-suit-wearing, pub-crawl-loving friends by then. I do not want to spend another SantaCon weekend Michelle Tannering it: “This is nooo fun, noooo fun, looking at the waaaallllll.”
Ask anyone how you make friends outside of school and they’ll say: “Join a church group!” “Have you heard of meetup.com (as if this is 2005 and a revolutionary idea)?” “Take a class!” “Make friends at work!” Always said with exclamatory enthusiasm.
I don’t go to church. I’m not going to church. So, that’s out.
I’ve joined a shit ton of meetup groups. I’m not sold on meetup.com though. In L.A., I attended a few meetup groups. I met a few people who ensured I would be scared to go to another meetup again. You know the type: no social skills, weird ticks, creepily interested in you and every detail of your life, or the gross guy who is clearly there trolling for women. You’re at a women’s brunch, mofo, why are you here? Perhaps SF meetup-ers are of the more uncreepy variety? We’ll see.
I started taking a Spanish class a few weeks ago. For myself. I am tired of being a monolingual American. Bonus if I meet people. It’s a group class for up to eight people. As luck would have it, there are me and two other girls in the class. Just three people. Girls. I specify girls because a question I’m frequently asked by inquiring friends (in other cities!) is, “Have you met/seen/smelled any hot guys there?” No/No/No.
Work is…cliquey. I’m sure people don’t mean act as such, but they are not exactly inclusive. I bet karma is behind it, cackling at my plight. The bitch. I am told I was in a clique at my last job. It wasn’t on purpose; I promise! I am proactive. I have targeted a few lucky people that I have decided I want to be my friends. They are people that I have or will ask to lunch or potentially smile at too often, making them think the new girl is creepy. Nope, the new girl just has no friends. One of my younger sisters said to me with 95% seriousness, “Keisha, you’re pretty, who wouldn’t want to be friends with you?” Ha! No one can blow smoke up your bum and make you feel momentarily less like a loser than a sister or a good frie…awwww (tear).
I’ve made progress! Last Friday in the kitchen at work, I ran into one of the girls that is actually outwardly friendly to me. She asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. My response: “I don’t really have any plans because I don’t have any friends here yet.” Why lie? She took pity on me, having been new in SF once herself, and invited me out. Last Saturday night, I actually had legit plans with someone who lives in this city. It turned out to be a pretty good-sized group, so I met a few new people. I had a great time! I danced, I drank, I friended my ass off. Now I await their verdict. Am I cool enough to be asked out again? I can’t seem too eager, but I can’t play it too cool. It’s elementary school all over again.
I’m on my way. I’ll get there. I’ll find my buddies. Getting there is the hard part. When I do finally have friends I think I may allow myself one really good Sally Field Oscar moment (“They like me! They really like me!”) and then dorkshame myself.
If you know of anyone who lives here whose personality you think would mesh well with mine, feel free to send ‘em my way. Yes, that is how desperate I am. I am trolling for friends on my blog which is read by people from the United States to countries I’ve never even heard of but am now intrigued to visit.
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.