The Continental Drift

I’m still not exactly sure how I ended up completely without friends in this city. In the abstract, it reads like a series of tiny losses: my ex-boyfriend moving away and taking his friend group with him, the dissolution of an early friendship that I invested more time and energy into than it was worth, my being laid off…jolts to the index, tiny aftershocks, but not seemingly a cataclysmic event. Yet I look around, and the scene is desolate: my boyfriend stands there, alone, telling me it was San Francisco all along. So where did everyone go? 

The fact is, though, that I don’t live in Planet of the Apes. I live in a vibrant cityscape, shot through with laughter and chat and contemplation. It feels like a beautiful painting: meant only for speculation, observation, critique. Disturbing it would be like ripping a canvas off the walls of the Louvre, and greeted with about as much kindness.

San Francisco isn’t a friendly city. Neither was Boston, but I admit surprise at not having found some shreds of easy hospitality in such a seemingly hospitable place. In the past two weeks, I ate dinner alone at the bar of two different, well-regarded restaurants; both times, the bartender/server regarded me as some sort of invisible half-person. At the first, though there was no crowd to confuse her, the bartender served three couples and groups who came in after me before I was even handed a menu. She served them up special samples and let them try drinks, simultaneously plopping down my own $9 cocktail without a word. At the second, I got up in the middle of dinner to use the bathroom, leaving my bag on the seat. When I returned, a cheery couple had taken my seat and the one next to it. The couple realized, and offered to get up, but of course I couldn’t be a bitch and kick them out; grateful that I’d already finished eating, I quietly downed my drink and paid my bill while standing. The bartender who’d served me didn’t even notice what had happened. 

These are little incidents, petty Yelp-review trivia, but they also seem to have put a point on what I’ve been feeling during my time here: San Francisco is not an open society. Everyone here is content with their friend groups, their rituals, their scene; trying to find a path into one without a specially gilded invitation is downright impossible.

My one means of entry has been the recognition of my status as my boyfriend’s girlfriend. His scene is diverse and smart, full of people who have been friendly and kind; if we broke up tomorrow, though, I know I’d never see them again. And on nights when he’s away, I have no one to call; nowhere to go, ever, that doesn’t require his presence. I love him, and his friends, but that feeling is stifling.

Of course, I’ve gotten all the typical advice. Friends from work? Hard to do when you work from home, and mostly independently. Join clubs? My primary interests are reading, drinking, and watching movies–not exactly the Rotary. Take classes? The only free ones are at City College, and primarily consist of pre-conquered fields like learning how to use a computer and speak English. I even posted an ad in the “strictly platonic” section of Craigslist, describing my interests and looking for a casual friend to share the same. No one ever responded. 

I still have friends–in Boston and Berlin, Gainesville and New York City, Paris and Philadelphia. They write, call, Twitter, and generally inquire after me, but they can’t exactly come over for dinner. They could tell you that I’m funny and tenacious and full of interests and shower regularly, but why would you care? You don’t know them, either.

When I took the risk of moving out here without a guaranteed net of friends to fall into, I had no idea how poorly that gamble would pay off. The cliches of the “lonely city” and the isolation in a sea of faces? How were those possible? Sure, you couldn’t know everyone, but it seemed like you couldn’t help but know someone. Needless to say, these theories all rang back at me painfully when I clicked “Post” on that Craigslist ad. The sea of faces swelled past. From the lighthouse above, my lonely beacon revolved for the last time, and went dark.


4 responses to “The Continental Drift

  1. I’ve been hearing this from a lot of people. One friend in a similar situation in SF got told this:

    “San Francisco doesn’t do scrappy. The town has no underdog mentality. You’ve got to be the very best and at the top of your game from the time you arrive.”

    Which seemed like it might resonate with you – poeple having their own lives set up already with no desire to include more people in them.

    In any case, I’m sorry this has been so hard.

    Also, I kind of hate myself for even suggesting it, but… does the Harvard club of SF do bar nights for young grads? The one up here does pan-Ivy bar nights, which I have never been to, but people seem to be making friends and forming posses there.

    Yeah ok, I feel dirty for suggesting that.

    Thinking of you.

  2. A lot of what you’re describing is very familiar to me. I can believe San Francisco is a colder city than, say, New York, but I also think people in general are bad at genuine (democratic) interaction these days. I had some really lousy times in NY too!

  3. I think to some extent, anywhere in the contemporary western society is now like this and it sucks!

    I’m British but I now live in Canada with my wife. I had lots of friends in England and it was very difficult to leave them, but the thing that got me through the severing of those ties was thinking to myself: “Well, you made good friends here, I’m sure you’ll do it there too”.

    Wrong. The fact that I moved from an artsy college town to in England to rural Ontario certainly didn’t help, but arrkay is right; to some extent you always need a foundation to build on in order to make new friends. In some places its probably much worse than others.

    Besides, I came across your blog via mkupperman on twitter, so if I can start talking to you from Canada, some minded SF residents have to find you sooner or later. The thing is there are lots of other people in the same situation as yourself, so once you find them you’re sorted. I hope that was of some help or comfort anyway!

  4. I am hesitant to post a comment for fear of coming off as some creepy weirdo, but I am going to take a chance and see what happens.

    I stumbled upon this blog by accident. This morning I came across a scene from Trauma being shot a couple blocks away from my apartment, and for some reason I thought to myself that it would be cool to be an extra on that show. A google search for “be an extra on trauma” led me to an article you had written, and somehow here I am.

    I was really surprised to hear you describe San Francisco as such a cold and unfriendly city. I moved here 3 years ago not knowing a soul, and my experiences have been the opposite. I fell in love with the city instantly. I suppose I was just really fortunate because within a few months of living here, I had found a wonderful group of friends who were in the same boat as me; mid-twenties, new to the city, trying to make sense of their life.

    Maybe things have changed for you in the 7+ months since this entry was written, and I hope they have. But if they haven’t, or if you feel like meeting someone new, I thought I would say hello and introduce myself. My name is Serena and my interests pretty much revolve around good food and wine bars. I love to read, and I just started grad school at USF.

    Writing this is making me feel a bit odd, as if I am writing some sort of online dating profile, but oh well. Your entry resonated with me and I would hate for anyone to not have the same friendly experiences I have had in this great city. I know how lonely it can be to move somewhere new and not know anyone. I lived in Scotland for a bit and once posted a platonic friendship ad on the UK’s version of craigslist. I couldn’t believe that I was lonely enough to do that.

    Anyway, shoot me an email if you would ever like to grab a drink or something.

    Oh and by the way, you are a fantastic writer.

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