Why is the world so big? How do I make it smaller?
April 25, 2010 8:42 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when the people you love and care about live very far apart? Is there a way to live a multi-city life, or should I just grow up, pick relationships to prioritize, and resign myself to seeing everyone else a few weeks out of the year?

I feel like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, after he was attacked by flying monkeys. There are pieces of me here, pieces of me there, pieces of me everywhere...

My parents, who I love very dearly and get along with very well, live in one city, along with my only sibling. My boyfriend of over a year lives in another city. And most of my friends, including my best friends of many years (who are about to have a baby!) live in yet another city. These cities are far enough apart to make flying between them expensive and draining.

I'm also a fairly ambitious person. I'm between jobs now, and still searching for what I want to do next, so "I need to be in X city to do Y" doesn't factor into things, but it might in the future. (It also might not. I love writing and am interested in nursing, both of which are flexible careers I could do anywhere.)

I find myself wishing desperately for another era in which everyone you know and love lives nearby and you don't have to make these kinds of choices. Of course, in that era we didn't have skype and gchat and email to ease the pain of distance, but regardless - my inability to create a community in one place is really frustrating for me.

I guess this is sort of a multi-part question:

~ Have you experienced this sort of frustration/heart ache? What was your situation, how did you deal with it?

~ What writings (fiction or non-fiction) and music have helped comfort you when dealing with this?

~ Are there career choices or other solutions to this problem? I admit part of why I am drawn to nursing is feeling like maybe I could just move around from city to city whenever I was missing someone too much. But maybe I just need to grow up and pick who I want to be near and understand that people who live far away will just not be part of my life in the same way.
posted by shaun uh to Human Relations (23 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
One of my closest friends lives 2074 miles from me. In our entire friendship, we've spent maybe a week together. But we talk constantly, be it on the phone or mms or email or skype. I guess it helps that our friendship has developed over these media rather than in person, but we're really damn close, and lack of physical contact hasn't hindered that. Back in February, we worked together for a few days, and it was like a highly rehearsed dance. He'd ask for something, and I'd hand it to him before he finished his sentence. That sort of close, almost telepathic communication that takes ages to develop--we've developed it while being on other sides of the country.

The Jason Webley song Against the Night is my "late night, why am I so goddamn lonely" anthem. FWIW

There is a certain element of global community based in interests rather than proximity that is fairly prominent these days, maybe moreso in the nerdy circles that I run in. But I feel your pain. I'd love to gather all the people I love around my dinner table. Never gonna happen. *sigh*

And there is the thought that you can create a community in one place. But it'll be full of new people, not necessarily your current loved ones. Not much of a salve, I know.

I'm going to keep thinking about this. Totally a fascinating topic.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:07 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to say that I can totally relate to what you're going through. I think you may be on to something with your last sentence, especially if you are between jobs and can decide where you want to start a new chapter. After that, I guess the best any of us can do is keep in touch and look forward to chances to see each other.
posted by melangell at 9:10 PM on April 25, 2010

pick relationships to prioritize, and resign myself to seeing everyone else a few weeks out of the year?

In short: yes.

I think most people experience this either after high school, or after college. It was after college for me, since many of my high school friends went to the same college I did. Most of my friends live in Texas, along with my family. Since I live in LA everyone wants to visit, and sometimes they do. I go back to Texas at least twice a year (summer, and around Christmas). Many of my friends now live all over the place, but since they grew up in Texas they visit Texas around the same times I do to see their families.

What made this less unbearable to me was a couple things: I've always been with my husband regardless (i.e. he is the priority) so I never have to feel entirely lonely. I get along with my family but to be honest, I can only handle that in small doses. On the whole I do miss people, but admittedly not as much as you sound like you do. I can't answer anything on the writings/music part because it's never been so upsetting to me that I needed to console myself specifically about that.

If I wasn't with my now-husband the entire time, though, I think I would have felt lonely much of the time and would have thought about the whole thing constantly. Having a long distance relationship can be trying even when you have plenty of friends around you, so I imagine it'd be worse if your friends were far away too.
posted by Nattie at 9:13 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have experienced it literally since I was born and my much-beloved grandparents lived 4 hours and 17 hours away respectively. I used to cry at the end of visits because I knew it would be so long before I saw them again. (Hell, I STILL cry at the end of visits for that reason ....)

I went to college out of state. I went to grad school WAY out of state. I studied abroad. I got married 1200 miles from home to a man from about as far in the US as you could get from my hometown. My in-laws live in the OTHER corner of the country, 2 plane rides away. My husband and I were bi-state-ally married for the first two years of our married life with a 6-hour commute between our homes. My wedding invitations went to 17 states and 2(3?) countries for just my close relatives. My immediate family is now in 5 cities in 4 states, which is better than a couple years ago when it was 6 cities in 5 states and 2 countries.

I don't really have anything brilliant to say about it except that this is life, and yeah, that sucks. My life's always been this way so I don't really know differently. It hurts and it's sad, but as much as I'd love to have all the people I love in one place, that isn't reality, and I wouldn't want to deprive others of spreading their wings and exploring the world (the way I did too).

It doesn't really ever hurt less. But unlimited long distance plans, e-mail, and video chat make it a lot, lot better than it was when I was little and long distance was tolled (and sounded awful, especially trans-oceanically)! Video chat in particular helps a lot.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 PM on April 25, 2010

(To clarify, by LA I meant Los Angeles, not Louisiana.)
posted by Nattie at 9:15 PM on April 25, 2010

I think everyone here can relate to what you're feeling. It sucks so hard. My own story is boring, but it boils down to I returned to my hometown to find my old friends gone, and my new friends 200 miles away. It blows.

Throw down roots. Or don't. I say decide where you need to be. Screw your career. Seriously - screw it. Is that what you care about? I don't think so; it seems like you care about being with the people you love - and god damn, that matters. Right now you have the flexibility to go closer to the people you love...so do it. It really sounds like you want to. Unless going to one of the cities (family, boyfriend, or friends) will totally stymie your career, I say go and rock the heck out of it.

Otherwise, what's kept me sane: texting and calling my friends daily, about the stupid things. Meeting new friends. Becoming part of this community. Reading and re-reading books about the city I've come to accept as my own (Annie Dillard, god bless you.) It's starting to feel like home, and maybe it is. Maybe I'll miss it as much as I miss the earlier places, when I move on. I bet I will.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:20 PM on April 25, 2010

I wish there were a solution to your problem, but I don't think there is. You have to choose. My parents live on opposite sides of the world, and I often worry about what I will do when they are old and need me to take care of them. Until teleportation becomes a reality, all you can do is your best. Try to get better at managing the distances. Once you settle down somewhere, you will create a community there. It's normal to feel unrooted at this time in your life. It will get easier.
posted by prefpara at 9:27 PM on April 25, 2010

By the way ...

"I find myself wishing desperately for another era in which everyone you know and love lives nearby and you don't have to make these kinds of choices."

I don't think there ever was such an era. (At least, not without getting pretty medieval and I can do without the plague, thank you.) My great-grandparents left behind their families in Ireland to come to the U.S. before transatlantic telephone. My grandparents went overseas to fight in a big damn war, and family mobility in the 50s and 60s was pretty high too. In the 1800s, Americans immigrated and emigrated and moved their butts westerly with the wagon trains and railroads.

And even before that parents would send their children off to apprenticeships or boarding schools or the convent or university or whatever. At least today visiting is easy and possible, unlike 100 years ago when crossing the Atlantic to visit the fam in the Old Country was a longish voyage ... and 100 years before that when it was a DANGEROUS voyage!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:29 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my professors lives in the Bay Area for the academic year, then he & his partner move to the family farm in the UK each summer. They live with his parents & work on the farm for a few months.

They've done this for 17 or 18 years now and are quite happy with the relationship it fosters with his parents, as well as the opportunity to work with their hands.
posted by jenmakes at 9:39 PM on April 25, 2010

I grew up in Minneapolis where my parents still live, and I now live in San Francisco. With parents in their 60s, some scary numerical realities creep in if I let myself think about them.

Given the life I am living, though, I would be miserable in Minneapolis, even with the ability to see my parents all the time instead of twice a year.

I come from a functional family where we all love each other, but we weren't as close or "family oriented" as people from more traditional cultures are. When I look at the lives of my Filipino and Hispanic friends I know the life I am living would destroy them emotionally. I see how much love there is in their homes but at the same time I've spent enough time around them to see the very strict limitations that life places on a person, and I've used that as a piece of motivation to make sure that I use what I have at my disposal to make my life worth living.

You don't have to go nomadic like me. If you're pursuing nursing, for example, why not move back the the hometown if it's a city you're otherwise comfortable with?

No, it's not easy. It will never be easy. I've gotten better over the years at taking better care of my friendships and family relationships (and that CAN be done long distance), because after our own self-worth and self-love, they're all we have.
posted by MillMan at 9:49 PM on April 25, 2010

I agree with prefpara: unfortunately, at some point you just have to choose.

But whatever you choose: SKYPE. It has saved my life. I'm not too far away from home (only 6 hours) but I only get to go home twice a year-ish due to money issues...and skype has seriously saved my life. The ability to call anyone anywhere I have internet and SEE them is more comforting than anything. Even if I'm sitting in the library with headphones on, typing to them and listening to them talk...it's amazing and it does wonders for me. I can skype my parents and see them (and my puppies) and it's exponentially better than talking on the phone.

You may already be using skype, most of my friends do- but I am amazed at how many people don't take advantage of it.
posted by kro at 10:08 PM on April 25, 2010

One thing that my family has done that works quite well is to meet together at a music/camping festival twice a year. My brother invited some of his friends from school a couple of times, and now this is their reunion spot, and it has grown to include other families and friends of friends . Maybe you could scout out an event like this, something that would cater to different peoples interests, and begin inviting people.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 10:16 PM on April 25, 2010

Facebook has filled a niche in bringing together relatives from around the globe. Trivial things usually, but keeps you in touch. I've discovered relatives I didn't know I had, old friends, and of course family.

I was so reluctant to join one of these social websites, partly due to MySpace, but it's interesting to know what's going on in their lives through Facebook, which is more advanced than competitors.

Other than that, there's always the phone. For example, my Grandma isn't online, but can always reach her by phone (which usually takes up an hour of my time ;)
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:21 PM on April 25, 2010

When I look at the lives of my Filipino and Hispanic friends I know the life I am living would destroy them emotionally.

MillMan, it's interesting you said this, since I think Filipinos know very, very well what the OP is talking about, because of the large number of Filipinos working abroad (13% of the country's GDP comes from remittances from Filipinos abroad). Every single Filipino I know here in the States has close relatives -- siblings, parents, grandparents, etc., even children -- back in the Philippines, and in many cases go years between visits. Each one deals with the distance by remembering that the reason for being apart is to have a better life than could be had in the Philippines and to help provide a better life for those who decided to stay home.
posted by odin53 at 10:27 PM on April 25, 2010

Heh, I feel like I say this every time a career question comes up, but if your friends and family are located in and around major VFX-industry cities, ones that host either independent facilities or client outsourcing shot factories-- Vancouver, Los Angeles, NYC, Wellington, London, Toronto, a few places in Australia, Mumbai or Chennai, San Francisco, Mexico City-- and you like working your ass off, often without insurance or the guarantee of a steady gig, the visual effects industry might work out for you. (Bonus points if you are a CS major, obscenely well-organized and capable of imparting the benefits of your organization to others, artistic, or a sharp financial manager.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:21 PM on April 25, 2010

I felt like the ultimate rootless Scarecrow for a few years there. For me, the pain went down with age, with getting more tight with my SO, and with living in the same place for a while. It accelerates (I'm told) when (if) you have children. I think that pain was worst in those few years when I felt like I was choosing a city.

It sounds like you're doing great at maintaining lifelong relationships. I found a lot of my relationships reached a communication equilibrium where we knew how often we would talk, and that meant we were still strong friends, even if that frequency wasn't every day or every week. There is the childhood friend I still catch up with, and the local friend I talk with often, and with each, we witnessed different parts of one another's life. But that doesn't make the friendships less real or valuable. This may be small consolation if you just want to hang out with the person, but for me a big part of the pain was worrying if we'd still be "friends."

Also, something to consider in your career decisions: frequent flier miles and travel for work.
posted by salvia at 12:55 AM on April 26, 2010

Unfortunately, this is inevitable for a lot of people. Even staying put doesn't work - I lived in the same city as several of my good friends for years, but most of them have moved for grad school, new jobs, and so on. Even if I'd stayed I'd be alone. Facebook, email, text messaging, etc. have all helped.

I think it's a balance between letting the people you love know that you love them, and letting them go - sometimes they have to go off on their adventures and can't keep up the weekly correspondence. They will come back. It comforts me to view some of my long-distance friendships as elastic: we may not talk as much as we did when we lived in the same neighborhood, but if we were together again we'd be peas and carrots.

Practically speaking, if proximity to others is your main reason for living anywhere, pick a city with a large hub airport that is closest to the most people you're likely to visit. You're more likely to get direct flights you can afford, and it'll be easier for your friends and family to visit you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:28 AM on April 26, 2010

Well, you should probably prioritize living in the same city as your boyfriend, since that will be the most important relationship of your adult life.
posted by yarly at 5:10 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

As others have pointed out, if your friends are spread out, you can't spend all your time with all of them together. What you have to decide is how much time you want to spend creating your own home vs how much time to spend with each spread-out person. Most people resolve it by living in one place and then vacationing in the other for a few weeks each year. But you don't have to do that if you don't want to.

If you really want to try to make it work, then your idea of picking a career which can be moved anywhere is a good one. Or a job that involves a lot of travel, if that travel goes to the places where your family is. Or a job that you can work at for a while to bank money, then quit while you travel around, then you can pick up that job later.

Some ideas:
Airline industry jobs
Work from anywhere jobs (web design, programming, writer, etc)
Jobs which let you get a job anywhere you go: doctor, nurse, schoolteacher, trades (plumber, electrician, construction, etc), temp agencies
Seasonal work: summer tourist gigs, christmas jobs, crop picking

The part that you will sacrifice in all this is that YOU don't get to build any roots because you are always moving trying to support the roots of other people. But it's a valid choice if that's how you want to live.
posted by CathyG at 7:45 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nursing is a great idea - nurses are in need all over, moreso than certain other careers (like mine). And with the baby boomers reaching retirement age, the medical and health occupations aren't going away. I think you're right on track with that. If your parents were to need you, you could find a job near them and move. Not so, for many of us.

One thing I can say about this situation: build roots of your own where ever you end up living. Your friends will have (are having) families of their own and it's natural that you won't see them as often. When you do see each other, you just pick up where you left off. Good friends are like that.

Assuming your parents are in good health, they may also be willing to visit you quite often, especially once you seem established in your own city. When I was younger, the burden fell on me quite a bit to be the peripatetic one and always come "home" for everyone else's convenience. It really wasn't until I was married that people started realizing that they could and should come out to see me. That's not to say that you should rush to get married, but I'm saying that perhaps the more established and permanent your situation appears, the more your friends and family may be willing to do their share of traveling.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:53 AM on April 26, 2010

Just as a vote of confidence, living in two cities can be done.

I live in two very different, very distant cities - Cincinnati, OH and Los Angeles, CA. It can be done, but it is hard. I spend a significant amount of time commuting between the two cities and constantly find myself lamenting about shirts in a different wardrobe or missed parties, gatherings, etc on both end. I spend about three weeks in each location before flying back, or in some instances I've flown from one city to the other for a weekend or a meeting. I keep my apartment in Cincinnati for EXTREMELY cheap (cheaper than a storage unit in LA) and my boyfriend and I share my apartment in LA, which makes it a little more do-able than swinging two mortgages/rent bills a month. It's a very strange situation and luckily my job allows me to commute between the two cities with relative amounts of ease, however the time difference has caused lots of problems with communication, technology, and general sleep patterns in relation to work.
posted by banannafish at 10:03 AM on April 26, 2010

Family will always be there. They won't love you any less nor think that you love them any less if you chose to pursue your career. After all, that's what they raised you for it? To go out and fly, not stay at the nest.

I put my vote in for 'growing up' because that's the point of life, isn't it?

As for my own situation, I live with my mom in CA and my father live in Taiwan (and my brother too now since he recently started a career there) We're still a family and we've been doing this for over 20 years (I'm 25.) Constant travel between the two places is impossible. My father will visit twice or thrice a year for a few weeks at a time. We keep in touch via phone, skype and facebook too.

Over time, I find ways to make the most out of my father's visits. I understand that I'll never have that day-to-day relationship with him like I did during grade 6 - 9 when we moved back to Taiwan. The relationship evolves. I'm sure I will have different relationships with him as time goes on.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2010

Family will always be there. They won't love you any less nor think that you love them any less if you chose to pursue your career. After all, that's what they raised you for it? To go out and fly, not stay at the nest.

This is not always true. My family has never forgiven me for my decision to do this. They have either deliberately or subconsciously excluded me, and it has never been the same. I also have friends who considered me leaving a particular place to be abandonment of them, and it took years to work things out, and was never the same.

There is not always a good side to this.
posted by micawber at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2010

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