The Seattle Freeze is a condition simply described as politeness without friendliness; distance; suggesting to hang out with someone you met last weekend and them acting like it’s the most garish suggestion imaginable. Unfortunately for me, the Freeze is real. Seattle, where I spent my formative years, is a really challenging place to make new friends.

In Seattle, it’s completely natural to be running around in the same social circle as a person for five years and never “meet” them, once. Up there, it’s not cool to be, well, like me: hyper, socially proactive, stoked about stuff. Everyone tries so hard to be cool that they miss out on a lot of stuff. By the time I was 16 I was 100% over that attitude.

When I moved to California for college, I was stunned by how different the social atmosphere was. Random people were coming up to me at shows and parties, introducing themselves, and chatting with me! I was BLOWN AWAY. Here were people with no reason to talk to me, but they did anyway! They were so approachable! So affable! I had entered the land of happy people, people who can be simultaneously cool and friendly—traits that Seattleites seem to consider mutually exclusive.

That was two years ago. Now that I’ve gotten to know the social climate here a little better, I know that Californians aren’t just friendlier and happier and more energetic than other people, and more fun at parties—they’re also a lot better at hiding their dark sides. I say this because most of the friendliest, funnest, most amicable people I’ve met here have eventually unveiled personality twists that I never, ever would have expected. This shit is like reality TV! It keeps happening: I meet someone who seems on my level in terms of enthusiasm, fun, love of adventure, love of music, etc.—one of my people, I think at first—and they turn out to have a crazy secret or something. It’s disappointing to realize that people who are fun and stoked and have their shit together are probably few and far between.

I just found out one of my closest friends has been a lifelong habitual abuser of heroin and is currently on a destructive bender. I never would have expected that from this nice, awesome person I look up to. It made me rethink everyone else who’s disappointed me. There was the friend who picked a fight with me and totally ruined my positive perception of him. There was this really fun musician dude I met and hung out with for a bit, until he made the world’s creepiest moves on my roommate a lot, and once on me (he left her a 45-second voicemail of SEXUAL PURRING (ew sorry that’s a phrase now). There’s this other dude I thought was the sweetest, coolest EVER, and I was so flattered that he wanted to be friends, but then I heard remarks from others who’ve known him longer about behavior on his part that makes me uncomfortable. There are a lot more stories like that, too, of people I meet and think are great, then they turn out to be Sketchy Vibes Central. I said all of this to one of my older buddies in Oakland, and they replied, “Yeah, I know. It’s kinda like a California thing.”

Hold on, what? Is there not one location on the planet whose social culture supports people who are simultaneously HAPPY and OK? At least in Seattle, where people were cold and indifferent to me, they seemed like normal people under the Freeze. Is it possible, anywhere, to have your life in order, be stoked, like to party, and not be too cool to have fun? I haven’t figured this out yet, and I feel stupid, like my good-human radar is broken. Right now the moral of my story is: most people who seem happy are secretly fucked up. ♦