“Do you like Seattle?” I asked my friend, whom I hadn’t seen in eight years. He’d been living in Washington for three. Before that, he’d spent most of his adult life in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where he once spent a summer on my former roommate’s couch so he could use the house copy of Final Cut Pro to edit his feature film.
Seeing him for brunch in September after I moved to the Pacific Northwest made me feel less homesick.
“No,” he said. “Sorry, I know you just moved here.”
He wanted to move back to California in part because he hadn’t had long-term luck dating and making friends and was caught up on all the Netflix shows.
Seattle “has no culture or diversity,” he said. “They think they do, but they don’t, and people hate when I say that.”
We talked about being in our 40s, not having our own families, and living in perpetual limbo.
“Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?” he asked.
I don’t own a couch because I’ll just have to move it again at the end of June—to where, I have no clue.
“I don’t know,” I said, but I understood what he meant.
One night a couple weeks before Christmas, when I, too, grew weary of Netflix, I ventured out to check off a cocktail bar from a recommended list of go-to Seattle spots.
I chose The Backdoor, a self-proclaimed speakeasy. Modern speakeasies are usually quiet and classy, perfect for a whiskey-sipping old lady like me. I fixed my hair, took off my day jeans, and put on my night jeans—my version of dressing up.
When I got there, a sign on the door said it was closed for a private party for 30 more minutes. I considered scrapping my solo date night and heading to Whole Foods, but I waited.
The Backdoor is not a speakeasy. It was too bright; they played loud hip hop and bad 80s music, and there was a disco ball. It reminded me of Taco Tuesdays in my 20s. I was the oldest person there by 15 years. No one glanced in my direction.
Being an invisible middle-aged woman is drama-free, but that doesn’t mean I always want strangers to look through me as if I don’t exist, especially now that I live in a state where I can count on two hands how many acquaintances I have, and I don’t see most of them, except my uncle and my roommate, who is usually traveling. As I suspected, a lonely telecommuter is much lonelier in a new place.
I tried another bar—a place I’d already been a couple years ago when I was visiting: Bathtub Gin. In 2016, when I told a bartender there, who was also from Long Beach, “I like rain,” he said, “Wait until it rains every day for a month.”
I can’t say I wasn’t warned.
Bathtub Gin is a speakeasy, and I felt hip knowing where the hidden door in the alley was without circling the street confused—like last time. Inside, I beelined for the busy upstairs, ready to mingle.
A server stopped me and said, “There’s plenty of room in the downstairs library.”
“Okay,” I said, deflated as she guided me away from possibility.
In the quiet, dim downstairs library, where low-level jazz music played, I was relegated to a high-backed leather chair, sitting across from two older gentlemen from the UK and three Millennials who huddled together as if to keep warm. A tiny, fake Christmas tree stood in the corner.
I sunk into the chair and ordered a drink called a Dapper as Fuck.
I smiled a couple times at the UK dudes and eavesdropped on the Millennials’ conversation, trying not to be too obvious and creepy.
“If he comes by my desk and swings his balls in my face, it doesn’t work for me,” I overheard, but I missed the context of that juicy nugget.
I was as incognito as the little Christmas tree.
The leather chair swallowed me like a toddler. It took work to reach over the armrest to grab my cocktail. As people chatted around me, I scrolled through Twitter on my iPhone, which is what I would have been doing at home. Here, I was alone in a crowd, and it was more expensive.
I went home having talked to no one aside from wait staff. That night I was invited to an LA literary community facebook page. I joined.
Recently at a trade show in San Diego, several people asked, “How do you like Seattle?” I said, “I want to like Seattle.”
When I drive around, I think this place would be cool if I had a life here.
It’s so pretty! It’s so green! The neighborhoods are so cute!
Before winter, I put in more effort. I signed up on Meetup.com to find other hikers and writers with whom to congregate. I joined a hiking group for singles in their 40s. All the invitations for day hikes, however, went something like this: “Let’s meet at 6:00 AM for coffee on Saturday morning, drive two hours, hike eight miles, and then drive back!”
I did the math: an eight-hour Saturday starting before the sun came up, none of which included food or bathroom breaks. Plus, the invitations had multiple grammatical errors. This was not what I signed up for.
Who are these fanatics? I wondered. What about hiking four miles locally at a reasonable time, then hitting happy hour?
And the one legit writing group I found meets on Wednesdays at 3:00.
Don’t these people have jobs?
I deleted my account.
Then I signed up on Bumble. Again.
I have never been on one online date, despite having scrolled through more than one dating app on more than a few occasions.
The last time I was on Bumble, I came across a friend’s abusive ex-boyfriend with court records to prove it, who is now married with a small child. I reported him to Bumble and deleted my account. (Bumble thanked me.)
This time, I was curious to find out if the men on Bumble in a new location might be more appealing than the ones I found in Los Angeles.
Spoiler alert: Online dating profiles are the same depressing charade everywhere, only more men in the Pacific Northwest post smiley photos with giant freshly-caught fish, whereas in Southern California, one can’t swipe twice without matching with an avid surfer.
I swiped right on about four or five men, only one of whom liked me back. Our conversation was limited. I introduced myself. Ten hours later when I was in bed watching TV, he responded, “How’s your night going!!!” with three giant red exclamation points. I waited until morning to respond because “I’m watching HBO, falling asleep” isn’t sexy, and his timing was presumptuous. He didn’t write back.
I deleted my account. Again.
Did I mention my stalker?
One of the perks of my apartment complex is a bright, clean gym in the leasing office. Early on, I used it often. But one day, as I walked through the door, a guy dressed in street clothes pretending to lift weights greeted me, stood next to my machine, and talked to me through my entire workout. He was from the Midwest, so I chalked up his friendly exuberance to origin.
We exchanged numbers with the intention of going on an innocuous, neighborly walk sometime in the future.
I knew I’d made a mistake when, that night, I received a goodnight text. When I was working the next day, he asked what I was doing and proceeded to ask question after condescending question, until he was providing unsolicited, audacious advice without knowing anything about me. I got angry. I stopped responding. He kept texting.
So much for being nice.
Saturday morning before 9:00 AM, after I’d blown him off, he texted, “Chelsey, wake up!” and said we were going for a walk. I responded I was already up, reading a book, and feeling sluggish. “Have a good walk,” I said. Then the full-on harassment commenced. He begged and became incensed when I didn’t text back. Two hours later, he called. I didn’t answer. I was scared.
I was also pissed my exercise sanctuary was ruined.
The next time I went to the gym, I did so during lunch with an elevated heart rate before getting on the elliptical, hoping he was at work. Two minutes later, he stood behind me, asking, “When are we going for a walk?”
I told him I was leaving town, which was true.
Now I have anxiety every time I go to the gym, so I usually don’t bother, despite not having seen him since before Christmas.
When I went home for the holidays, my girlfriends’ response was questionable once we found his photo online: “He’s cute. You should give him a chance.”
“Did you hear what I just said?”
I told them his full name in case anything happened to me. I’ve been listening to too many murder-related podcasts. Around a kitchen table, they held a mock Dateline interview in response to my future demise and posed pensively for Instagram photos, as if I was already gone.
“Being stalked is not the opposite of loneliness,” another friend said.
That’s when a long-forgotten Twitter stalker popped into my private messages. “Hi there,” he said.
I blocked him.
“It’s all about the people,” a fellow Californian said. She lives in Ohio and warned me before I moved. We often discuss our similar dilemmas. We were edged out of California’s steep housing market, but we spend our days missing loved ones, and the amount of money we save on housing is spent on plane tickets to visit family instead. It’s a wash, so what are we doing?
Moving to Seattle was like my first time snowboarding when I couldn’t tell what foot to put forward until I had the rental board in the snow and clicked into it left-foot forward and thought, “Nope!” and instantly knew I was goofy.
It took driving a moving truck more than 1,100 miles to figure out I don’t want to make a whole new batch of friends in a darker, wetter, colder place; I just want to see the ones I already have.
But I haven’t given up yet. Hugo House is a bright spot, where I’ve taken a few writing workshops, participated in a reading, gathered the oomph to finish a difficult essay, and realized for sure my idea for a short story is, in fact, a novel. (I’m doomed.)
Everyone has been gracious, but I’ve only made one friend there so far, a lovely woman I’m meeting for dinner this weekend, weather permitting.
Turns out, while Seattleites are pros when it comes to rain, they have no idea what to do with snow. With the snow came the shutdowns. Everything was canceled. The grocery store was some Red Dawn end-of-the-world shit. The bread aisle was empty. The water and other survival goods were cleared out. I didn’t know whether I should be more worried, or if everyone else needed to calm down.
The ducks outside my apartment weren’t concerned. They were frolicking in the fluffy white wonderland. I was giddy at first too. Snow is a novelty, but the novelty has already melted. I’m not sure how people do interminable winters confined indoors. My cabin fever has spiked, and right now I just want to go home. Wherever that is.