The Seattle Freeze: Are we Frigid or just Frenzied?

I wanted to unpack and respond to a comment that a reader, Ashley, offered two weeks ago in response to my post KIRO’s Rachel Belle and the weird Seattle Freeze habits that torpedo potential connection”.   First, I want to sincerely thank Ashley for leaving her thoughtful comment as I hope to always encourage all points of view on this thing called the Seattle Freeze.  Ashley wrote:

“Honestly, while it does happen sometimes, it doesn’t happen to me nearly as often as people outside of Seattle like to talk about. People need to realize that Seattle is a tech Mecca – this city thrives on industry and people; this makes for people that lead busy lives and have little time. They’re not being rude, they’re simply trying to handle everything on their own plate. Throw in the fact that we’re a city that is very connected and in the wire – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, texting, etc – it makes it easy for us to connect with friends without actually connecting. That being said, this doesn’t excuse people from not making an effort to keep in touch.”


Seattle is a Tech Mecca

First, Ashley raises a good point about Seattle being a “tech Mecca” with so many greater Seattleites working in the technology space where intense days and long hours have become the accepted standard.  In fact, I would add that in our city’s culture – as with many U.S. metropolitan areas – the increased intensity has spread far beyond the technology industry.  Teachers are asked to work more, assess students on more topics and suffer through more paperwork to meet state standards and expectations.  Health care professions see more patients and now see them with a laptop or tablet in their hands entering patient data during the appointment.  Retail workers have higher sales quotas with decreased health care benefits for full-time work.  Ask your local barista how often they are asked to shorten the time it takes them to make your favorite coffee beverage. And, I’m sure, the folks at Boeing would have an anecdote or two to add.

Almost every corner of corporate America is being asked to do more with less staff, less budget and less time.  Welcome to the ‘new normal’.  I would argue that it’s not that they need to understand that we are busy.  They are busy too. To quote the great prophet of my generation – Bono‘There is no us and them. There is only us.’  We are all busy. We are all in this new, harried boat trying to balance the facets of our lives.  And, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to the crazy schedules that stay-at-home and work-from-home parents endure every day in the midst of the ‘new normal’ of modern parenthood. (For a great read on this, I highly recommend “All Joy & No Fun” by Jennifer Senior.)

But here’s the grand irony.  In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam’s research shows that busyness alone does not hinder connection.  In fact, the opposite is true.  He states: “People who report the heaviest time pressure are more likely, not less likely, to participate in community projects, to attend church and club meetings, to follow politics, to spend time visiting friends, to entertain at home, and the like.”

So, busyness cannot be our “excuse.” Because of that, I would offer that now more than in generations past we must purpose to be more intentional about building bridges of meaningful connections and opening up our friendship circles to let more people in our lives.

While I am late to the party discovering Putnam’s book (published in 2000), I predict that I will be referring to Bowling Alone frequently during the Eat Play Thaw journey.  Putnam cites sociologist Claude Fescher as noting, “Social networks are important in all our lives, often for finding jobs, more often for finding a helping hand, companionship, or a shoulder to cry on.” Yet today, we run to and from work, we run our children to their activities, and on weekends we run to the grocery store and a myriad of errands.

And we don’t seem to have time to get to know our neighbors. We have become more educated which has led many to secure better jobs and be more mobile, but apparently to also build more isolated lives.

Seattle is connected and in the wire

So here’s a hot-button question:  can being connected via Social Media lead us to becoming anti-social?

Ashley, you are absolutely right that we are a social media society and many of us ‘keep in touch’ with people on various social channels.  I love seeing what my old college and high friends are up to, hearing about their kids, vacations, activities, job moves.  I’m grateful to have such easy tools to keep me in touch with friends that have moved away.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit how often I’ll text my neighbors verses walking across the street and knocking on their doors. But exchanging posts or tweets is not the same as having a face-to-face conversation.  It’s not getting alongside each other’s lives and caring for one another. It can facilitate maintaining a friendship during our busyness, and I know of many who regularly use Skype for connection.  But, I believe, meaningful connection takes that next step.

We all know that a great Instagram-shared photo can’t watch your kids for you or bring you soup when you’re sick. We all need to be careful to not allow social media to replace our investment of time and energy with one other.

A couple of months ago an outstanding video went (as they say) viral around social media channels speaking to this very issue.  It was titled “Look Up” by Gary Turk and, if you haven’t had a chance to see it, I highly recommend giving the link a click and listening to its message.

It doesn’t happen nearly as often as people outside of Seattle like to talk about

For those that are originally from the Seattle area, the Seattle Freeze can feel like being a ‘transfer student’.  It feels like you missed Freshman Rush during your first year of college or you arrived as a transfer student and everyone already seemed to have made their friends.  There seems to be no way in, and eventually, if you stick it out, your best connections are frequently other ‘transfer students.’ And while you can argue that it ‘may not happen nearly as often as people outside of Seattle’ say it happens, if it’s happened to you even once, it doesn’t feel very welcoming and can be very frustrating.  In fact, considering the many people I have heard puzzle over the Seattle Freeze, and the fact that the phenomenon has been given an actual name, I would argue that it probably happens a lot MORE than transplant Seattleites say it happens.

It’s important to remember that not everyone attended the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University or University of Puget Sound and subsequently settled here professionally.  The greater Seattle area, because of our robust technology-driven economy, is increasingly becoming a city of mixed culture and belief systems.  Microsoft, Amazon and several other tech companies continue to recruit technical talent from across the United States and from around the world.  New transplants are arriving here daily.

In my own neighborhood, the landscape of ‘who we are’ has significantly shifted in the last 10 years with many more non-native born families.  This last weekend, I was lucky to enjoy a Fourth of July BBQ with several neighbors who live within a 10-second walk from my front door.  Among them were transplants from the Bay Area, the East Coast, Chicago, Texas, Michigan, Romania and South Africa.  THIS is the ‘new normal.’

Considering this reality, is it really too much to ask ourselves to welcome someone when they move into the neighborhood?  Is it really too taxing to coordinate a quick drink after work to help a co-worker get to know their cube-mates outside of the work context? Are we really too busy to set a goal to get to know even one or two neighbors this coming year?  That’s all I’m talking about.  This is our Seattle and we all need connection.

Even Seattle Mayor Ed Murray recently encouraged Seattleites to get to know their neighbors. Neighborhoods that are better connected are safer neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods that know each other well are more likely to invest in their community through volunteer and civic opportunities.  I’m wondering if we knew our neighbors better, and had more of a stake in what’s going on in their lives, would we get out and vote in greater numbers?  Ouch..

Ashley, you are absolutely right about our busyness, our connectedness through the wire and about how it feels like so many of us are just trying to handle everything on our own plates.  I think that’s all true.  I just want to encourage us all that our lives are Better Together.**  Our lives are not solely about us; our lives are about all of us.  We are living in a day where we’ve got to be more intentional about quality human connections, both for our benefit and for one another’s.

So, I’ll extend the invitation again.

Is there anyone out there in the greater Seattle area that would like to join me in this challenge?  Could you set a goal for yourself or your family to get to know one, two or 12 neighbors this coming year by sharing a meal or neighborhood activity together?  Without a tangible goal our busy lives will crowd out our good intentions.

Come on in. Let’s Eat, let’s Play, and let’s Thaw the Seattle Freeze.


**(Better Together is the title of the follow up book from Robert Putnam, published in 2003)

This entry was posted in Better Together, Connecting, neighbors, The Seattle Freeze and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Seattle Freeze: Are we Frigid or just Frenzied?

  1. Karen Annie says:

    Becky, I love that you’re being so intentional about developing personal neighborhood connections and encouraging us to do so as well. I think the idea of being intentional in our interactions is an exceedingly valuable one. I smile to think that I could introduce you to any of my neighbors within a block radius and share an introductory conversation starter as well. My neighbors rock!

    At the encouragement of another couple, my husband, daughter, and I had a chance on the Fourth of July to combat the Seattle Freeze. While riding our bikes on the river trail, we were lucky enough to spot some car keys and then of all the wonderful coincidences to find the key owners. When we all met back up in the parking lot, they asked for contact information to take us to dinner at some point as a way of expressing their gratitude. We didn’t feel this was at all necessary and, in fact, were already high on our good luck of being able to help someone else out. Despite our declining their offer, they were insistent. We ended up going right then to enjoy beverages and snacks on the patio of a local restaurant but mostly to enjoy getting to make some new friends. The really funny part? My daughter recognized the man. It turns out they live only a few blocks away. Thanks to their unwillingness to let our interaction conclude as a really nice one between strangers, we now have some new friends. When we parted that afternoon, they were headed home to prepare a barbecue for their immediate neighbors. What wonderful examples of how to build a connected community!

    How’s that for taking on the Seattle Freeze?

    • BHenchman says:

      I absolutely LOVE your story. We need so much more of this in the Emerald City and this is exactly the kind of stories I want to celebrate. I’d love to circle back with you to maybe expand on this for a separate post? I love that you know your neighbors well, that you connected with these new folks who turned out to live nearby AND that they are engaging with their neighbors over a BBQ. Everything about this is so wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to share!

Share a comment