5 Steps to Thawing the Seattle Freeze in Your Neighborhood

One year ago today I declared war on the Seattle Freeze. Yep – it’s been a year.

I had reached a point of being genuinely grieved when I kept hearing that Seattleites were ‘friendly but aloof’.  That people who moved here from different communities, states or even countries felt like they could never ‘break in’ to established social networks or make real friendships.

So, I set out to see what I could do to perhaps warm the social weather in my own neighborhood.  I would try and invite one neighbor that I didn’t yet know well or know  at all over to my home for dinner (or other meal) each month for 12 months. And, I would blog about it to hold myself accountable.

How did I do?

Celebrating one year of thawing the Seattle Freeze in my neighborhood

In the last 12 months I have had the privilege and the pleasure of meeting and getting to know better 16 additional neighbors.  And I have had the most marvelous time doing it.

In the hopes that sometime in the not so distant future more people in this beautiful city of ours – (i.e.: beyond my loyal 57 subscribers and the occasional Facebook referral) reach a point where they want to be more intentional about getting to know their neighbors, I thought I’d spend a few weeks unpacking what I did, what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned along the way.

So, if you are a Seattleite or recent transplant to the Emerald City and you’ve stumbled upon this blog and want to take on the Freeze, here’s my recommendation of:

5 Steps to Thaw the Seattle Freeze in Your Neighborhood:

Step 1: Get The Phat Over Yourself

I had to admit that my biggest hindrance to finding connection in my neighborhood was often myself.  I copped an attitude early on when people didn’t respond the way I first expect them to (see:  “My 20-Mile March to Dinner #1″). I think we all can torpedo opportunities to connect based on our assumptions about people (see: “KIRO’s Rachel Belle and the weird Seattle Freeze habits that torpedo potential connection”).  We give up when we feel a door close.  Don’t get me wrong: I won’t deny that there’s some truth to “The Freeze,” but in what other arena of life (college, work, dating, kids) do we simply stop trying to move forward when we face a few challenges? For me, it was time to change my stinking thinking.

Step 2: Be Intentional.

Our daily schedules are whacked. We are living in an age of busyness. Our accepted culture of long work hours, over-parenting and the seeming inability to have breathing room in our calendars definitely hinders meaningful connections happening organically, even on the street where we live.  I had to decide connection was important and so I set a goal. Developing meaningful friendships takes time and rarely as adults does it happen accidentally.  Decide it’s important to you and decide what you’re willing to do about it.

Step 3: Cast A Wide Net

If there’s ONE TOOL that I would recommend over and over again as the first building block to getting to know your neighbors it’s this:  Organize a block party.  It’s a great, low-key first step to make introductions. When faced with getting to know neighbors I had never even met before, I scratched my head and said “how in the world am I going to do that? Knock on their front door, introduce myself and invite them to dinner?” Uh, no. Instead, I organized a casual fall coffee bar/block party and through it met 5 neighbors for the first time!

See:

National Night Out is coming August 4: ORGANIZE A NEIGHBORHOOD BLOCK PARTY! DO IT!  You will not regret it.

Step 4: Start Some Kind of Neighborhood Club

In order to move from neighbor to acquaintance to friendship, I highly recommend starting a neighborhood book club, coffee klatch, bunko club or some kind of affinity group (scrapbooking, crocheting, running, etc) so you’ll have a structure in place that will create an opportunity to spend regular time together.  Friendship is a gradual process that needs frequency and time. We all have those friendships that started instantly because we had French class together in college or we met at camp as kids. But, as we’ve moved into adulthood those instant affinities become rare. Most friendships develop over time. Lots of time. Start something in your neighborhood that encourages consistent connection and conversation.

Step 5: Manage Your Expectations

Not everyone will want to connect. And that’s OK. Rather than remaining stuck in my old attitude of “what’s with everyone?” I decided to assume the best of my neighbors and realize that we’re all at different places at different times. At any given season in our lives busy schedules, family activities, or perhaps even a chronic illness or caring for an aging parent can put such demands on our schedules that carving out time to make new friendships just isn’t realistic.

But seasons change. Don’t give up on your neighbors. Keep inviting. You’ll be amazed at what might happen.

How do I know this? Recently my next door neighbor commented that what I’ve started has made the increase in connection in our neighborhood “feel palpable.”

More on that next week.

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