I did many things over Columbus Day weekend this year—celebrated Erin’s birthday and played with her adorable new kitten, got some sushi with Julie, ran the half marathon, ate pizza with my roommate, watched Mean Girls and Legally Blonde on TV, ate a pumpkin muffin, and spent all day Monday and Sunday afternoon and evening lounging around the house recovering. Unfortunately, one thing I did not do was meet Jen Friel.
One of the many websites I’ve discovered through 20-something bloggers is Talk Nerdy To Me Lover, run by the incomparable Jen Friel. This girl has fascinated me since I started reading TNTML. She’s a study in contradictions: a gorgeous girl who has built her online following around her nerdiness, a girl who is smart enough to finish high school at age sixteen but chose not to go to college, a former professional model and actress who would rather be the one running the show, a girl from a well-off Connecticut family who spent a year couch surfing and living out of her car in the name of following her website dreams. But I’m also fascinated by her willingness to be open and put herself out there. She calls herself a “lifecaster” rather than a blogger, and she does not hold anything back in telling her audience about her life. She protects certain people’s identities and doesn’t write about certain things for business or legal reasons, but other than that, her life is right there, out in the open.
Those of you in New England who have Comcast cable (like me!) can find Jen under your On Demand options, too. She explains how here!
One other cool thing about Jen is that she does her best to meet new people wherever she goes. When she was in Boston in September to film her show, she didn’t have such a good time, and she explains why here, here, and here.
So when she was back in Boston over Columbus Day weekend, I shot her a note hoping that we could meet up, and it made it onto her blog! But unfortunately, the timing never worked out between Erin’s birthday, Jen’s filming schedule, and me having to recover from the half-marathon. I am happy to say, though, that despite one asshole at Trader Joe’s, she had a much better experience this time around. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be a part of it.
Her experience in Boston got me thinking, though. Is it really harder to pick up guys in bars here than it is elsewhere? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was. On my ill-fated night in New York, I was in a bar for about fifteen minutes, and I was surprised at how many people talked to me. In Boston, though, I barely know anyone who got a relationship or even a hookup by meeting someone at a bar. One time, Julie and I were at The Burren when the bartender told us that two guys at the other end of the bar wanted to buy us refills on our drinks. We accepted, and I think waved at them from across the bar, and…nothing. They didn’t even come over to say hi!
So, yes, having had zero luck at finding a boyfriend here, I would say that Boston is not the place to go to find a date. However, I kind of do take exception to her characterization of Boston as a cold, unfriendly city, although Jen’s certainly not the first person to say so.
This is the thing—I think what people mistake for unfriendliness in Bostonians is really just a desire to give people their privacy and space. It’s a mentality that’s the complete opposite of that of a lifecaster who shares anything and everything about herself with the world. I’ve never been to LA, where Jen lives, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s much different there. It’s full of people in the entertainment industry, so I would not be surprised to learn that people there reveal more about themselves and try to connect with more people that they meet.
But in Boston, I don’t assume that people want to talk to me; I assume that they don’t. I want to meet people at parties, at work, at events, but when I’m riding the T, walking down the street, or eating in a restaurant, I just want to get off the T/get to where I’m going/eat my lunch. If I saw someone sitting alone in a bar, I’d assume that she was either waiting for her friends or wanted to be alone and undisturbed—because I know that if I were in a bar alone, that’s what I would want.
I don’t think it’s a friendliness/unfriendliness thing as much as extroversion/introversion. Boston is an introverted city. People here don’t dislike each other; they just draw energy from themselves more than they do from others. Of course there are people who are rude and inconsiderate, but don’t those people exist in every city?
I obviously can’t speak for all Bostonians, but I can tell you from my personal opinion that when dealing with strangers in public, I try to think of how I would want people to act toward me. If I were sitting in that seat on the T, I would want someone getting on the train to find a seat other than the one right next to me so that I would be more comfortable. If I were alone in a restaurant, I would want to be left alone.
But sometimes it’s not so easy. The golden rule isn’t foolproof—not everyone wants others to do unto them the way you would have others do unto you. As Sars has discussed at Tomato Nation, what if you see someone crying in public? What should you do then?
I remember one incident that happened almost a year ago—the Friday before Halloween last year. I was taking the T home, and a girl got on and sat down across from me. I couldn’t tell whether she was wearing a costume or not. She was in her twenties and pretty, with chin-length blonde hair that stuck out a bit on the sides. She was wearing black fishnets, tall black boots, a short skirt, and a red top along with a lot of makeup. It was something a goth teenager might wear, but on her it looked out of place. If it was a costume, though, I couldn’t tell what it was. She was staring at the floor as tears filled her eyes.
What had happened? Had she been rejected by someone she liked? Was a family member dead or dying? Had she gone to a party and felt unwelcome there? Had she fought with her friends?
I’d cried on public transportation before, and I remembered just hoping desperately that no one would notice and giving a quick, “Yeah,” to the one person who asked me if I was okay. I was grateful then to live in Boston. To me, the lack of response felt much more respectful.
But this girl wasn’t me. What if she was sitting there becoming more depressed by the thought that no one noticed her tears? What if she was new to the city and taking this as a sign that everyone here was unfriendly and cruel? What if this wasn’t just a momentary sadness and she was considering suicide?
I leaned forward and said, “Are you all right?” The corners of her mouth turned up a little bit and she said softly, “Yeah, I’m okay.” She didn’t say anything else until we got to Central Square, where she got up and said, “Thank you,” to me with that same small smile as she got off the train.
I think there’s a time and a place for being open and friendly, but there’s also a time and a place for keeping to yourself and giving those around you their privacy. Bostonians tend to value the latter more, but that doesn’t mean we’re not nice people. I remember one time a woman started to feel sick on the T, and everyone was giving up their seats, asking her how she was, walking with her once she got off the train.
I know I’m a bit biased, having lived in this area my whole life, but if I didn’t love it so much, I would have left by now. There’s an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie walks out on a guy after he says he doesn’t like New York, saying, “If Louis was right and you only get one great love, then New York might just be mine…and I can’t have nobody talkin’ shit about my boyfriend.”
Substitute Boston for New York, and that’s exactly how I feel.