Moving Far Away
December 12, 2004 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Drastic measure: hitting the reset button on your life.

My wife and I are, shall we say, in a slump. Our relationship is great, but our careers and general lifestyle are not satisfying. So we were talking about moving... far, far away [+]

I'm 29, my wife is 28. We're both physically healthy and gainfully employed light-blue collar workers (I'm a programmer/analyst, she's a business analyst/trainer). We've got a mortgage on a small townhouse. The car is paid for. We're debt-free. We don't have any kids, and won't have any unless we are absolutely sure about wanting to be parents. Not a bad situation.

(Why do we find this to be soul-numbingly boring?)

Anyhow, we think that a change in scenery and culture is in order. We're talking about moving out of Canada, well at least out of Edmonton. Europe (Germany, Switzerland, France, etc...) beckons, so does the U.S.A.

However, I have my concerns (who wouldn't) so I'm asking the wonderfully diverse population of MeFites, who may have gone through the same thing, to answer some questions:

1) Did you relocate to another country? Did it shake things up in a good or bad way, if at all? Are you happy with the decision?

2) Any advice for others who may want to attempt the same thing?

[More background info]

- I'm a Canadian citizen (and I may qualify for German citizenship through my Dad, but we're still looking into this).

- My wife is an American citizen, but will be obtaining Canadian citizenship sometime this year. Her family members are in Michigan, Florida, and Germany.

- I have a technical diploma and a solid resume; my wife has some college, a technical diploma, and is building a solid resume.

We think we're in relatively good, though deffinately not optimum, shape to consider this sort of action, though I'd deffinately be open to some feedback regarding this.

Thanks muchly.
posted by C.Batt to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total)
My fiancee and I are also moving out of Canada, to the Netherlands. Get your German citizenship if you can, it'll allow you to live and work pretty much anywhere in Europe, hassle-free. Which means if you travel light, you can just hop around for a year or two until you find somewhere you like.
posted by Jairus at 10:53 PM on December 12, 2004

Edmonton! I lived and left there long ago, and good riddance. You're making a good move.

Within Canada, Montreal feels positively European, and I'll bet you could be happy there. But actually moving to Europe sounds much more exciting. Best of luck.
posted by painquale at 11:09 PM on December 12, 2004

1) Don't move to the US.

2) Germany, and Western Europe in general, is wonderful. Qualifying for German citizenship, as Jairus said, would allow you to move pretty much anywhere in Europe easily, so I say go for it!
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:15 PM on December 12, 2004

I know many who have relocated to Germany and are doing very well. The job situation is apparently looking pretty good, and gives you access to the rest of Europe. You do sound awfully bored. Take the risk, risk is good.
posted by codeofconduct at 11:47 PM on December 12, 2004

My wife and I moved from the US to London. I should tell you up front we had different motivations than you--we weren't necessarily looking to shake things up, but it just so happened that the most exciting and interesting job offer my wife had at the time was in another country.

It has definitely been a change, in some good ways and some bad ways. One thing we've found is that living in Europe means you're only a short, inexpensive train or plane flight away from another country, and EU employers have good vacation packages, so you have lots of chance to travel. If you guys are variety hungry, that will be a plus.

Also, make a list of the things you DO like about your current life, and be sure that the place you move to will provide them--or, at least, will provide enough of them that you end up in the black, overall.

However, I would STRONGLY urge you to make sure you know the answer to the rhetorical question you asked--"Why do we find this to be soul-numbingly boring?" Moving to another country changed many aspects of our lives, but many of the core aspects are the same. We were happy with our lives before, so we're happy with them now--but if you move without knowing what change you want, you might find that you've changed some things but not the things that were making you bored.

More practically, if either of you is heading to the new place without a specific contract in hand, assume s/he will be unemployed, and budget accordingly. Trust me on that.
posted by yankeefog at 1:35 AM on December 13, 2004

Even if you get German citizenship, your wife may have issues or at least it might take a while for her to be able to work. And languages will of course be an issue, especially in France/Germany. Outside the UK and Ireland the Netherlands and the Nordic countries are the easiest if you only speak English, but will make job-hunting harder and impose a ceiling.

You're young, go for it, I'd say. My only caveat is, sometimes the things that bother us in our lives are not really tied to where we are. Moving to somewhere completely different is a hugely stressful exercise for you and potentially your relationship and it would be a shame to note that soon you would be soul-numbingly bored there as well, just because you never knew the reason for your unhappiness in the first place. A boring job is a boring job in Germany as well, at least after a while.

I relocated to study, and am looking to relocate again but within Europe. Living in a new country has changed me into a completely different person than I would have been otherwise.

I'm sure you'll do fine and learn a lot. Good luck.
posted by keijo at 1:53 AM on December 13, 2004

My wife, 10 month old son and 2 yr old daughter moved from England to California 5 1/2 years ago.

There is nothing like landing in a new continent with nothing but a few suitcases to spice things up in life. If thats what you are looking to do, you will acheive it. Personally, it's been a fantastic move, really solidified our family - we are truly dependant on each other and no-one else - and thats something that wouldnt have happened without the move.

I'd like to do another hyperjump somewhere (Aus? Mainland Europe? or more adventurously Japan) but Mrs BadSeamus wants some stability and constancy nowadays, so its unlikely, at least while the kiddies are school age.

If you do go though, prepare yourself for the possibility that you may never want to come back. For me the clock in the UK stopped when I got on that plane, everyone I knew back there is doing the same old stuff, the same petty arguments and opinions rage - and a move back would be like a move back in time - and consequently I know its pretty unlikely I'll ever do it - it took us many years to realize this.

The toughest point for us was 3 to 6 months in. We made a pact, that if we both hated it for 8 weeks straight, we'd come back. We knew that each of us would go through cycles of extreme homesickness but that they would be temporary. The pact stopped us knee jerk running away, and was in hindsight a master stroke, YMMV. Good Luck.
posted by BadSeamus at 1:56 AM on December 13, 2004

Just a few months ago I upped and left where I'd been for years, just because it was no longer feeding the flames of excitement. I had done that once before, too, in my early 20s. Here's what my experience has taught: I have found that there will be a lot of people who remind you that wherever you go, there you are -- that moving will not solve basic, underlying personal problems that are making you unhappy.

Well, that's probably true. But if you're just bored? If you just have an an inkling that you were cut out for a slightly more surprising life than you've been living? Then nod at the warnings and just go. I'm not sure why people feel obligated to tell us not to get our hopes too high, we're just going to get into trouble, we might be disappointed, etc. Maybe they've had bad experiences with change. I've learned that we people are so much more adaptable than we think we are. Just after this most recent move, I felt an incredible lightness for months on end - just marveling at the idea 'you can do this? You can just go somewhere different and start a new life?' Well, you really can. And it makes you feel young, because everything is possibility. It makes life unpredictable again, for a while, as you really don't know what's around every corner or what festivals are going to happen or who you're going to meet. It reminds you that you are more than the trappings of your life, and also reminds you that our sense of control over our own lives is always an illusion.

Of course, you will be essentially the same person, with the same problems, that you were before - as many will remind you. But even if you hadn't moved, you'd still be that person. So why not trade up to new surroundings? Why not see if there's sometwhere you fit better, have more fun, find good friends, eat more food, develop a new interest? Why not just accept that if you're longing for change and adventure, then novelty might be a requirement of your personality? I say congrats to you and your wife. You're choosing a really exciting, positive, growth-inducing way of handling ennui. Others might prefer illicit affairs, descent into alcoholism, compulsive consumerism, or just a long grey life in front of the TV, stretching into the grave...but that's not for you.
posted by Miko at 6:44 AM on December 13, 2004 [1 favorite]

er. that's 'eat new food' ...I am not recommending increased caloric intake.
posted by Miko at 6:46 AM on December 13, 2004

Wherever I go,
I go, too,
And spoil everything.
--Samuel Hoffenstein
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:08 AM on December 13, 2004 [2 favorites]

I won't speak to the wisdom of it, but moving to the US will be easy for you so long as you don't have a conviction record or incurable disease.

You'd do so by having your wife file an I-130 (to import you) and then a I-129F for a K3 visa that expedites the process; it puts you into the same (relatively quick) process that fiancees use instead of the (rather slow) process that spouses / kids / etc use. Once here you'd file an I-485 for "adjustment of status" to green-card holder.

Don't do anything until your wife has Can. citizenship. There's a residency requirement to keep her permanent residency in Canada and if that lapses, you'd have to go through the same crap and expenses as you did to bring her to Canada in the first place if you decided to move back to Canada.

Unless you move to Detroit, Michigan will probably feel a lot like Ontario but with more hicks and guns. You'll still find yourself at Timmy's a lot, you might still pick up CBC. Florida is just hell IMHO, and I have never seen a land as utterly jam-packed with morons as that. But if you like warm urban life, you might enjoy south Florida, I suppose.

"Don't move to the US" is an awfully flip, unhelpful answer, especially for a country that big and varied. I would tighten my belt in other places and take as many trips as I could, including the EU. Visit places you might not expect to like and that might not be super-touristy. That's how you find out that while you couldn't live in Madison, Flagstaff seems awfully nice, or whatever. If what you want it "Different from Edmonton," there's a lot to pick from, but you might try a trip to New Orleans, San Antonio, Tucson, or Charleston SC first.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:30 AM on December 13, 2004

I heartily second Miko's advice. A while ago my SO moved from Boston to Washington, DC. I followed him there several months later, and within about two months it was very apparent that Washington DC was making us miserable -- like, close to clinically depressed miserable. We got along fine and had friends, but we didn't leave the house very often, hated even taking walks because everyone around us was so... not what we were interested in. We finally snapped and decided to chuck it all and move to San Francisco a few months ago. ALL of our friends in Washington said it wouldn't change anything, we were just running away rather than dealing with our unhappiness, we'd regret it.

Most of those friends came to visit a month ago, and they were amazed at how happy we were -- and we were amazed at how relaxed they were outside what I now call "The city that shall not be named."

For me, the choice was fairly easy -- we had been happy in Boston, which we liked, we were miserable in Washington, for reasons pretty easily attributable to the place (no real arts scene or intelligent conversations about anything other than politics, no real style or energy on the streets), and so we needed to move. And I knew this even as a person who HATES change.

I've also lived abroad in the past (Italy), and would say that that's more of a change, obviously, but still fun. There's something nice about that feeling of accomplishment when you just go out to the market and are able to make yourself understood! I did, however, suffer through a HUGE bout of homesickness at about the three-month mark. But I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

So I would also second the advice to make sure you know exactly what you want to change, and then go find a place where those things are better.

And my general standard advice: be willing to temp for a while to get money and contacts in place -- or wait tables, or do some other easily attainable job that may not be what you want from your career -- if you, like me, are the type to easily freak out about lack of income.
posted by occhiblu at 8:11 AM on December 13, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, you people are great. Thanks for all of the feedback so far.

Miko, occhiblu:
the wife and I are, more-or-less, unafraid of change so I'm not that worried about going into this head-first. I've done some fairly reckless things in the past, and that's probably why I'm feeling so stagnant right now :-) . My only real worry is establishing steady employment.

In my line of work, I don't think I could afford to do anything BUT more SA/programming work. It seems that the moment one stops, then they're left behind and if they want back in, they need to almost start over again. So I need to establish something, even if it's just an entry level job (which I'm WAY over qualified for) just to keep my toes in the water.

As for why I'm unhappy:
Edmonton is just not for me. If you are content to work your 9-5, go home at night, and retire at 65 - and you don't mind the cold - then it's a great place. It's great in the summer if you like the great out-doors, which I don't care for one way or the other.

As for the US:
I'm not anti-american. Not the most positive about the socio-political situation, but it's not bad. I was in Venice, Florida last year at this time and I loved it. Sarasota was also great and I couldn't stop thinking about living there (maybe it was just the weather). Though I'm thinking it'd be too slow there. My wife loves Boston, and for some reason she also suggested Philly (but I've never been to either place). AFAIAC, as long as it's a large metro area with a culturally diverse population, I'll probably find something to be happy about.

Keep the responses coming!
posted by C.Batt at 8:56 AM on December 13, 2004

Boston's great, and has a large tech sector, so I would certainly encourage you to keep that one in the list of possibilities.

And I didn't really jump head-first into the California move -- it was a bit more planned than I made it sound in my first post! -- and I had a job and apartment lined up by the time I packed up in Washington, but my friends were still snotty about it. We had the "Look, Washington's a great city for certain things, but not any of the things I need, so I don't see why I should stay unhappy if I can fix much of it by moving." "But it won't change anything, and Washington's great." "But not for me." "You're not trying hard enough" conversation ad naseum, and it was really unexpectedly draining. I was all psyched about the move and everyone around me was telling me how unhappy it was going to make me. I knew they were wrong, but it was still draining (and, I think, the start of a slow death of some of those friendships).

I'm bringing this up again mainly because I think it's something you've got to factor in with any responses you're getting to this question in real life. People don't like to be left behind, and in my experience at least they can get jealous enough to prefer that you stay miserable than change and be happy.
posted by occhiblu at 9:07 AM on December 13, 2004

Response by poster: That's the same stuff I keep hearing everywhere (except here, notably). My thinking is that they're stuck, they know it, and just like people stuck in a loveless relationship or with crappy kids, they want everyone else to experience the same soul-numbing drudgery.

It goes in one ear and out the other.

I heard the same fearful nonsense when I hopped on a plane on New Year's eve '98/'99 and went to meet the women whom I knew I was going to marry. 6 years later and we're still quite happily together, though we're both in need of something... somewhere more socially dynamic. We don't want to grow old and die in Edmonton.
posted by C.Batt at 9:42 AM on December 13, 2004

Any USian thinking about getting another citizenship should be careful not to lose their US citizenship if they get naturalized in another country. Although supposedly US citizenship can only be lost voluntarily, because of the legal standard for how evidence is examined in nationality cases one might in fact lose citizenship involuntarily.

Right now, the US State Department uses a more generous standard intended to prevent loss of citizenship for routine naturalization in a second country, but this could always someone seeking dual citizenship should see a US immigration lawyer in order to leave a paper trail showing that he/she doesn't intend to give up US citizenship.
posted by insideout at 9:43 AM on December 13, 2004

If a big criterion for y'all is having more of a social life, you might want to be careful about moving someplace you don't speak the language. (I don't know what other languages you speak, so this may not be a concern.) I spoke OK Italian (one year at university level, along with pretty good French (eight years in school), which helped), and one of the main reasons I left was because I felt like I could never really have the conversations I wanted to with natives, because I could never say exactly what I meant; I always had to dumb it down to my level of (non-)fluency. My social life was about 80% in Italian and I was frequently complimented on my skill, so it's not like I was avoiding native speakers or uncomfortable speaking the language socially, but eventually I realized I just wasn't "myself" in some fundamental way. And the native English speakers I knew there were all very transient types, so while some of my relationships with them were deeper, they weren't very long-term.

This might not be true among Germans and the Dutch, though, who probably have more English skills than the average Italian.
posted by occhiblu at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2004

That's the same stuff I keep hearing everywhere (except here, notably).

This is just about the most revealing and significant comment I've ever seen on the overall personality of the Metafilter crowd, and is a large clue to why this site, out of all the discussion boards on the Internet, does so well.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:16 AM on December 13, 2004 [1 favorite]

Move to Perth. According to my sister, and based on the number of fellow Edmontonians she's encountered there, there is a wormhole between the two cities.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:18 AM on December 13, 2004

Why not move to Toronto or Vancouver? Both great cities, both have pretty big tech sectors.
posted by sid at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2004

Four years ago I packed up and left Detroit for Seattle. At the same time, I more or less gave up freelancing and started working a Real Job again. Best thing I ever did. It's not "just a change of scenery" if the place you're living is literally depressing you.

The one thing I was worried about was losing my friends. But both of my closest friends told me I was crazy not to jump at the opportunity. Sooo... either they didn't like me as much as I thought, or they hated Detroit like I did. I prefer to believe it's the latter. ;)
posted by kindall at 10:51 AM on December 13, 2004

Although supposedly US citizenship can only be lost voluntarily, because of the legal standard for how evidence is examined in nationality cases one might in fact lose citizenship involuntarily

It's not something to realistically worry about. Especially WRT Canada, as Canada doesn't have even nominal renunciatory elements in its naturalization process (AFAIK).

Still, it can't hurt to write up a letter saying clearly "WHILE TAKING CANADIAN CITIZENSHIP, I DO NOT INTEND TO GIVE UP U.S. CITIZENSHIP. YOU HEAR? I INTEND TO KEEP U.S. CITIZENSHIP," have it notarized, and keep it in a safe-deposit box with similar stuff.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:02 AM on December 13, 2004

The people above have stated it better than I can but:

Do it whilst you're relatively unencumbered. I was 32 (no SO, no kids) when I decided that I wouldn't spend any more time in Texas than absolutely necessary. At 33 I quit my job (same company for 16 years, six of those in Texas), cashed in my 401k and headed to Seattle (I had visited years before and fell in love with the PNW). It was (and still is) the scariest thing I've ever done. I was told by many people that I was nuts. Maybe so, but I'm now in Canada (BC) and have absolutely no regrets.

Follow your bliss but remember: no matter where you go, there you are.
posted by deborah at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2004

I feel like I'm always leaving places, though to other folks I often seem like I'm staying in one place. I left the East Coast of the US for Seattle right after college and still think it's one of the smartest things I ever did. I left Seattle twice, once for a few months to be a stage manager in Florida and once for a year to go to Romania with my then-husband. Both trips were fun and eye-opening and I returned to Seattle with a better appreciation for the place, and the US in general. Recently I moved almost all the way out of Seattle to a small town in Vermont. It's nearly 100% different from Seattle and I like it just as much if not somewhat better. I've been potentially offered a short-term job in Australia for next year and I'm pretty sure I'm going to take it.

When a pal of mine uprooted himself and his wife from Seattle to take a job in Brooklyn NY, I asked him "Aren't you worried you won't like it?" and he said "Not really, me and my wife are generally happy people, and we'll probably be happy there." It's taken me a long time to realize that, for some people [and excluding some circumstances like bad city-fits like the one occhiblu describes] you bring your happiness with you, it almost doesn't matter where you are.

In answer to your question, living together in Romania where we were quite dependent on one another probably prolonged my relationship that was going to end anyways. It's a bit weird working out different levels of new skills [I was a better language listener, he was a better speaker, together we were like one person, alone we were hopeless] with a partner you've been with for a while. It can also sometmies be tough if you each have different ways you want to experience the new place [you want to go to bars, she wants to travel] but all of this is just relationship stuff that can be worked out by people who want to work it out. Feel free to email me if you have any Boston-specific questions. It was my nearest city for the first 20 or so years of my life.
posted by jessamyn at 12:15 PM on December 13, 2004

Response by poster: sid,

I've suggested Toronto to my wife, but for some reason she has a very negative impression of the city. (She's from Michigan and has been to Toronto at least a half-dozen times; I've been there once, 20 years ago, so I'm not qualified to comment). I know that the tech sector in TO is BOOMing right now too (at least according to job sites like Monster)

Vancouver is a nice place to visit, but I don't want to live there.

Oh, update on the German citizenship thing! Turns out my Dad is in fact a citizen and even has a current passport (I have no real idea why, he hasn't been back since 1986). According to the consulate site, because I was born after Jan 1, 1975, I can claim citizenship with no restrictions. Provided that all this is true... yay!

One last thing. Mo Nickels,
MeFi rocks the casbah. I'd been wanting to join for what seemed like years but kept missing the registration windows. I was in-like-flynn on this last go-round.
posted by C.Batt at 12:24 PM on December 13, 2004

Great advice from MeFites here about actually making such a move. But if you don't yet have a specific place you'd like to return to and settle in, why not take advantage of your flexible situation, take some long weekends, find cheap airfare, and travel around?

I've broken slumps by taking mini-adventure weekends in the U.S. Just picking a new place to go, then dropping in without an itinerary, packed to go exploring and discovering, can be great mental refreshment. And the U.S. is so varied in climate, geography, culture, and heritage that you can have many different experiences without needing language guides or exotic immunizations.

If you return home relieved to be back, it tells you one thing -- and if you find you'd rather have had all your stuff shipped to the new place instead, well, that tells you another.
posted by Tubes at 12:29 PM on December 13, 2004

C. Batt, it sucks that you've been getting negative and unsupportive reactions from friends. I hope it was clear that my suggestion that you think about the specific things you want to change, and how moving will change them, didn't come across as being negative. That definitely wasn't my intention.

By the way, given that you are now German and the whole EU's your oyster, be sure to check out this AskMe thread about moving to London. Of all the cities my wife and I have lived in, London is our favorite. But DEFINITELY don't move here unless you have a job set up. The insane expensiveness is one of the only things we don't like about the city.
posted by yankeefog at 2:24 AM on December 14, 2004

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