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The Geography of Friendship

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Recently a new friend of mine had her 30th birthday. In true celebratory style, her friends flocked to Chicago from all over the country to celebrate. There seemed to be guests from everywhere: New York, Boston, D.C., San Francisco, Jacksonville, Atlanta -- the list goes on. A chunk of the guests were consultants (my pal just graduated from business school) and have relocated several times in the last five to 10 years.

At dinner on Saturday night, I got to talking to one guest about the difficulty of friending. "I think a lot of it is regional," she told me. "I've lived in some cities where people were friendly and happy to make new friends, and others where people wanted nothing to do with anyone they didn't already know."

In the friendly category: San Francisco, Chicago, and sometimes New York.

In the not-so-friendly category: Long Beach, Calif. and Boston.

Her theory, at first, was that smaller cities where transplants are unusual, like Long Beach, are less welcoming. "No one ever leaves Long Beach, and no one ever moves to Long Beach," she said. "Everyone has been friends with their same people forever. When a new kid comes to town, no one has any time for her."

Of course, this theory didn't totally hold up with the whole Boston thing, considering it's a city overflowing with transplants. But interestingly enough, this woman was the second person to tell me that Boston is an especially tough place for meeting new people. I'm not sure why. Maybe because most of said transplants arrived for school, and don't venture outside the classmate crowd?

Personally, I think Las Vegas is one of the best cities for meeting new people. Maybe not for making real friends, as almost everyone you meet is a tourist, but those neon lights make everyone friendly. I've never lived anywhere other than New York or Chicago, so I can't really speak about other cities, though I've heard that Texas (the whole state!) is great for friend-making, while Seattle is, well, not so great.

The dinner guest had a fabulous theory for testing out whether a city is generally friendly or not: "You can tell by whether or not other girls talk to you while you wait in line for the restroom. In San Francisco, everyone chats while they're waiting. In Boston, silence."

I love this. It's a brilliant barometer. There's not much to do while in line for the ladies' room other than talk. Sometimes it's Chatty McChatville and other times, radio silence. I've never thought to use this as the gauge of the city where I'm, you know, peeing, but I can't wait to test out the theory. In the next month I'll be using restrooms in Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. I'll report back.

What do you think? Are some cities friendlier than others? Do you buy the big-city/small-city theory? What about the Restroom Line Principle?

You can follow Rachel's awkward and hilarious escapades in her search for a new best friend on her blog, MWF Seeking BFF. Her book about her search will be out next year.

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