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.