City Mouse Seeks to Shed Fangs, Become More Like Nice PetSmart Mouse
July 6, 2010 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Help a former city mouse cope with becoming a (semi-)involuntary Land-of-K-Marts-and-Pancake-Houses mouse.

Long Story Short: Two years ago, I left my city apartment and moved in with my boyfriend, T., who lives in the 'burbs. The move was made largely so I could help T. through some really crappy circumstances. I always assumed (make that "demanded/whined") that after said circumstances passed, we'd all move back to the city and live happily ever after. After two years, it's become clear that this won't be happening - not now, possibly not ever. I don't want to leave. Yet I've spent the past two years waiting on an imaginary move (and railing against the 'burbs). Help me be okay with this.

Long Story Longer: T. and I are both single parents (one young kid apiece). We've been raising our spawnlings together for two and a half years - they're stepsiblings, with all the love and bickering that entails. We are a family, and generally a happy one. As such, breaking up our little group isn't really an option for me - we love and support one another; our lives together, while not entirely blissful, are sweet and good.

While T. and I have faced struggles 'n strife, our PRIMARY issue has always been location. I moved to the city following my divorce and LOVED it. I was an obnoxious city girl, badmouthing the 'burbs to anyone in earshot (charming, I know). And while I was glad to move in with T. and help him during his time of need, leaving the city WAS painful. I had to move further from my job, friends, and family. "Going out" on non-custody nights became an ordeal rather than a pleasure. I suddenly had a commute (and two less hours of daily free time). I couldn't walk to parks and bike to the supermarket. I was surrounded by K-Marts and ugly.

Instead of attempting to make the best of the situation or adapt, I... pouted. I burst into tears a few times a month, sniffling about how I HATED the 'burbs and couldn't WAIT to go back to my TRUE HOME in the magical, wonderful CITY. I never really settled into T.'s home - instead, I pressured him into committing to a move. T. would entertain the idea, but always with caution, never enthusiasm, which bugged me... couldn't he see how miserable I was? Sure, he could. What I couldn't see was how hard it would be for him to move. To wit: it would involve a massive custody battle (I can't elaborate, but trust me: it would), uprooting his kid (who's a bit sensitive), selling a house in so-so shape (in a rough economy), sinking deeper in debt (we each have preexisting money issues), etc. It's become clear: he'll be staying in the 'burbs for the forseeable future. Check, my move.

It's not as though he tricked me into moving in with him: it was partially my idea, and due to the circumstances, we were both forced to shoot first and ask questions later. And I don't regret having done so... well, except for when I DO regret it. And when I regret it, I make both T. and myself miserable. We're both sick of it.

I feel like I haven't been able to "settle down" for the past few years, and it's killing me - the nomadic lifestyle works for some, but for me, feeling like a visitor in my own life sucks HARD. I feel like a horrible bitch for incessantly badmouthing my boyfriend's home/location/life, but it often feels semi-involuntary and largely due to frustration and uncertainty. It feels like everything's unsettled, and I hate it.

As for T.? Considering my assholery, he's been a saint. But he's tired and frustrated. He loves me fiercely, but my emotional volatility (and poor attitude towards his house/location/life) has grown wearisome. He wants me to be happy... and I've spent the past few years communicating the message "THIS PLACE DOES NOT MAKE ME HAPPY!" On the other hand, I've come to wonder if my unhappiness isn't largely my own construct... if I'm not self-flagellating (and catching T. in the crossfire) on a daily basis. I just don't know how to STOP.

Bottom line: I want to be with this man (and maintain our little family) more than I want to move. I just don't know how to REALLY commit to this arrangement, how to get okay with it all, and how to stop making us both miserable. Help.
posted by julthumbscrew to Human Relations (35 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Does he have an opinion on city vs burbs? Beyond the money/custody/practical issues. If he doesn't care one way or another, perhaps a move back into the city is warranted.
posted by notsnot at 8:01 AM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: Notsnot: he loves the city. However, as I said, he realistically CANNOT move now - it is really, really, REALLY not a viable option at the moment.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:02 AM on July 6, 2010

Put together a game plan for what you guys need to do do move back to the city, when you can. Make a list of the conditions. Do NOT put a date on things. But definitely make it a stated goal; perhaps that can put your mind at ease to some extent.
posted by notsnot at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there a city nearby? Perhaps you could rent a room somewhere (permanently or occasionally) and have some time in the city with your young one. Plan city vacations with the whole family. Join some activity that mostly happens in the city, to force you to travel there and get your fix.

Re suburbs -- Drive to parks and walk walk walk? Get a dog? Plant tomatoes, do other plants ... Make friends with other burb-hating parents? I donno.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:10 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of it might depend on what you mean by the suburbs. Are they actually part of the incorporated city but farther from the center, or are they small cities/towns that exist on the periphery and have been swallowed up into a suburb existence? I don't know much about the former but I can give some good advice on the latter.
posted by charred husk at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: Claudia: we're an hour-ish from Phila., two hours from NYC. I realize I'm ABSURDLY lucky in this regard and should probably stop my whining. ;-)

Charred Husk: we're definitely outside the city proper.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're not a bitch for hating the suburbs.

Your boyfriend's right about moving being difficult, and maybe he can't do much about his kid's mom right now, but the house's condition is absolutely something you guys can focus on right now. Maybe get an appraiser, find out how much the house is worth now, and then just start This Old House-ing the thing until you're more confident about selling it-- in very small increments if money is a huge issue (paint a couple rooms a month, make sure the wiring's in good shape, garden a little for curb appeal). It'll give you a project to take your mind off how dull the suburbs are, and when your boyfriend's finally in a place where moving is a possibility, selling the house will be easier.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another idea -- go to (suburban) farmer's markets, buy fresh produce, cook cook cook. Enjoy how big the kitchen is compared to city kitchen. Invite like-minded burb-ites (who don't love the burbs) to dinner.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:21 AM on July 6, 2010

What are the good things about living in the suburbs? Each night, write down three.


1. Because we have a backyard, we can occasionally let the kids play unsupervised.
2. We have lots of neighbors with kids, so it's easier to drop the kids off to play at a friend's house.
3. When we travel to the city it seems even more fun and exciting!

I mean, there *are* good things about where you live now,you just have to acknowledge them. If you spend your time focusing on the good things, instead of always looking for the bad, you will come to appreciate that while the burbs may not be your personal slice of heaven, they have advantages. And figure out if there are ways to do the things you really miss most about the city in your new location.
posted by MsMolly at 8:24 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

City person living in the suburbs here (because of work/money issues also).

The thing that has made the situation tolerable for me, is to realize that just because you live in the suburbs, doesn't mean you have to live a suburban life. Your situation sounds a lot more complex and intertwined than mine but a few things I've done that help:

-I visit cities often. Not sure how feasible this is for you, but with the advent of cheap bus services, I go to NYC, DC and Baltimore on a regular basis on the weekends. I get my fill of museums, concerts, clubs and independent films, then retreat to my quiet, CHEAP, suburban existence for the work week.

-I don't drive. I walk/bike/bus everywhere. Everyone here thinks I'm crazy, but that's fine with me, it's something that separates me from the suburbanites, and that makes me happy.

-I keep up with the cultural things I like via online sources and attempt to seek these things out as much as possible, even if that means having to wait a few months to rent the DVD off Netflix instead of seeing it opening week in the theater.

-Even in the most sterile suburban areas there are usually some independent, quirky cafes and stores around. Seek them out and regularly patronize them.

-I don't watch TV. I read, write, learn languages, go for walks in parks and travel...pretty much all things I'd be doing in the city.

-Finally, and most importantly, I've set a time limit. At a certain point (for me it's 2012) I will be back in some city, somewhere. I know I need to have sorted out my financial situation by then, and it keeps me motivated and on track to save money. If you're truly miserable there, you need to set a goal that will get you back, where you will be reminded every day. I suggest you read blogs like Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar to help you with the money issues.

Good luck!
posted by the foreground at 8:25 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I just don't know how to STOP.

Shut up about it. No, seriously. Stop talking about it constantly. Your partner knows just how much you hate where you're living, there's no need to constantly reinforce it by complaining. The next time you feel the urge to spew out how much you hate it, bite your tongue. People sometimes get stuck in this vicious cycle where hearing the constant OMG I HATE THIS kind of amplifies the original thought.

My husband is a city dweller, and we are being forced by circumstances to live in the suburbs, and hearing his constant refrain of how much he hates it is extremely tiring and sometimes makes me want to smother him with a pillow. *I* don't even like the suburbs that much, but I dislike hearing about how much he hates it even more.
posted by crankylex at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

You need to figure out what you love more - your boyfriend, or life in the city. While you mentioned you have a nomadic life, in that you have not committed to settling down in suburbia, you also touched on the fact that you and your boyfriend have not formally committed to each other. What are your longterm plans together?

If you intend to remain together, sacrifices will have to be made. You already seem to be making a sacrifice, in the form of a 1-hour commute. Is this really sustainable for you in the long term?

Why can't your boyfriend move? I assume it's because of children and issues around visitation rights. Will this ever change? Or is your boyfriend pretty much tied to where he is now?

You need to figure out what your own long term plans are. If your longterm plans are with your boyfriend, you need to settle down in the burbs. I've moved around a lot, and have lived in some pretty boring places, and I've learned that you need to invest a certain amount of effort in building a life, wherever you may be.

Join a club. Work out at the gym. Support a cause. Open a coffee shop. But if you decide to stay in the burbs, try to be more engaged with life there. Plant a garden if there are no parks nearby.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of suburbs were once small towns or cities that were close enough to a large city that it became subject to it. In many cases, these small towns still retain a lot of their previous identity. Try ignoring all of the Wal-Marts and Pancake houses and look to the parks, downtown (if still there and operational) and other small town features. Try to think of it less as living in the suburbs and more about living in a small town. Its a slower pace of life from the city, a lot simpler. Are you close to the country? There may be a local farmers' market activity or a local art scene going on around there.

If that doesn't fit the place you're in, you still probably need to appreciate slowing down and simplifying.
posted by charred husk at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Part of feeling like a nomad could be due to your never really wanting to "settle" in the house because you thought you'd be moving. Spend some time, energy, and maybe a little money making the house more homey to you. You moved into your boyfriend's space, but you're sharing it and you should have some ownership and say in what it looks like and how it feels. even a few small touches can make a place feel a lot more like your home rather than just a place you're living in. What did your place in the city look like? What did you have there, in your home, that you don't have in the 'burbs?
posted by SugarAndSass at 8:30 AM on July 6, 2010

After years of urban life, we moved to the country. Really the country--we live in the middle of 100 acres of mostly woods and worry about raccoons and possums getting into the garbage. Now, I love the woods, but the surrounding rural area leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to shopping and dining--even for groceries and a quick lunch. But I grew up in the country, so I am used to surviving without the frills, to some extent. However, there are some things you should do to feel more at home in the burbs.
*Go into the city at least once a week for lunch or dinner or tea with a friend who is sophisticated.
*Find the least-objectionable place to buy groceries--a place where you can get at least some of the food you like--don't surrender to packaged lunch meat and white bread just because you can't buy anything else easily. If you have to, shop in town and store/freeze some of the foods that make you feel less a victim of the boonies.
*Stay up with what's going on in the city and involve yourself to some extent in some worthy cause that requires that you interact with educated urban people--maybe an arts board--in the city. (I know that there are many good causes that need skilled labor less than unskilled labor, but you need the stimulation of charity work that involves your mind and social skills.)
*Do whatever it is you can do to make yourself feel like yourself and not like just another whatever-it-is-you-dread-to-become--a housewife, an uninformed prole, a dowdy suburban soccer mom, whatever. Write a blog, take classes, read good books, become the best, most interesting gardener/hostess/chef/decorator, etc. Life is more than where you live and even great artists and intellectuals had to take out the garbage and worry about whether the roof leaked.
*Relish the good things about where you live. Are the taxes lower? Are the schools better? Is the traffic less congested? Do the kids thrive in the burbs?
*Make yourself a center of urban activity/thought/life in the burbs, either to share with others or just for your own family. And stop scorning the people who live where you do. Some of them probably deserve your scorn, but there are rotten people everywhere. Try to find out what is unique about the folks you meet--some of them may be remarkable.

Life is a balancing act. Take the good and try to live with/modify/ameliorate the less-than-good.

If it helps, try a new way of thinking of your life. Realize, for example, that you have many, many more choices than 90% of everyone who ever lived. Be grateful for the peace that creates boredom. Happiness really is a matter of self-hypnotism.

I realized several years into living in the exurbs that my life was a whole lot like those I had read about for decades in English novels. I live in a house in the country--a country house--and my life has one of its centers in London--well, not London, but a middle-sized city that has bookstores and music and shopping as well as a lot of my friends. Your problems--and mine--aren't new. They're well-known in English literature and many talented and gregarious people have confronted them. It can be done. You can create an interesting life outside the city. And I'll bet your mate and children will thank you for your efforts.

Good luck!
posted by Jenna Brown at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

It sounds to me like the main problem is the uncertainty. As you say several times, you feel you need to commit to this, but can't bring yourself to.

I think, as a couple, you need something you can both buy into. A goal to work towards, even if it's just a Paradise Falls money jar, can focus your energy and frustration rather than turning into unchanneled unhappiness. When trouble comes, you have a track to get out of it. Frustration is bearable if there's a way out. If you feel trapped with no end, you'll split up eventually or go insane or end up on the 5 o'clock news or something.

It needs to be an honest commitment on both sides, but if you come up with a plan, a goal for both of you as a couple, I think you can make this work. I can't suggest what that future should be, but that's what I'd want to do in your situation.
posted by bonehead at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Set a date that you will be back in the city.

I'm a city girl, too, and was in a similar situation, where my boyfriend didn't want to move into the city. I ended up breaking up with him, and am now with a lifelong city dweller. It's a better match for me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First, I have to say that your self-awareness is pretty exceptional, and you have that working in your favor. Others responses will help you more with practical solutions to feel more comfortable in your situation, but all I have to offer is my story.

I was just like you, living my whole life in Seattle, Vancouver, and Amsterdam and thinking the middle of the US was a vast wasteland of losers and that those who lived in the suburbs had just gone along with the sheep-like milquetoast life plan of marriage, house, kids. Everything I thought would bring "real" life to a sad, hopeless end. My city life of excitement, that sense of "holding one's own" and being streetwise, the ability to have everything I wanted instantly gratified, being surrounded with people who confirmed my own superiority with ten-cent words and plenty of drama-- I couldn't imagine giving that up for anything.

The solution for me came through humility. I don't mean this at all in the faith-based sense, I mean I came to see myself as neither superior nor inferior, just equal. I didn't get this quickly or easily-- it was started for me without my willingness when I spent 5 months in rehab, where I was broken down-- peeled like an onion, really-- and built back up again slowly. I didn't have the option of going back to city life, and so I moved to a town of 40,000. I was miserable, and continued to talk trash about the strip malls, the lack of anonymity, the seemingly lower level of education, the need to drive everywhere, etc. But slowly I came to realize that my life was comprised of my friends, my boyfriend, my home, my cats. It had very little to do with my surroundings. Now, going back to the city (or any city) was not possible for me if I wanted to stand a chance of staying clean, but as much as I fought it (and it took two years), I began to accept the town (though I still wasn't overjoyed with having to live there).

Cut to now-- I left that town 9 months ago to live in a small, remote town of 4,000 to pursue a business opportunity with my boyfriend. Living in a small town is so unlike the old me, and completely shocked everyone I knew. BUT: I am happier than I have ever been in my life. Sure, there's no charm to this place and nothing to do (but again, in my case, my options are limited within sobriety), but my quality of life is higher than it's ever been, and my life-- my LIFE-- is the people around me, my boyfriend, my cats, my house. And I love it. I had to grasp a really interesting and difficult concept: people with poor grammar (saying things like "I seen" and "boughten") are not beneath me. Some of them are much smarter than I am. My university degree isn't more valuable than the years of education they had getting their hands dirty and helping run a business from the age of 12. This was fucking enlightening, and I wouldn't have been open to accepting this (or even open to the move in the first place) if I hadn't gotten a little humility along the way.

At 25 my friends and I would make plans to go to a monster truck rally just for the irony and to feel superior. Nasty, really, but that's the way I was. Two weeks ago I went to a monster truck rally and just enjoyed the sunshine and the company, and didn't judge anyone there. Could hardly believe the change myself.

As for the self-pity part, well, I've learned that the cure is gratitude. So ridiculously simple, not always easy, yet almost always true.

It won't happen fast, but I'd guess that based on your ability to see your part in everything and your willingness to make a change, you've got a pretty good chance. I wish you the best, and totally feel where you're coming from.
posted by mireille at 8:33 AM on July 6, 2010 [37 favorites]

My parents were Army people and when I was 10-11 years old we lived in this town and hated it. My mom had a really hard time with people here and was often in tears after some kind of hurtful conversation. We'd just moved stateside after Europe, and I think we all had some culture shock. It was a miserable few years, and I swore I would never come back.

Fast forward 15 years and a really good opportunity comes up for my husband and I to take our family and move to the same town. The opportunity was too good to pass up, so we made the move. I live literally blocks from our old place that I hated.

I was determined that I was going to love it here. I swallowed my pride and decided that even if people were outright rude to me I was going to smile and tell them how much I loved my new town. I researched 'Fun Things' for me and my kids to do, and really searched out what good things my town has to offer. One of the first places I went was the city run website, I knew if anyone was going to brag about the town that'd be the place.

I ended up falling in love with this town. As an Army kid I never really felt like I had a hometown, but this place feels more like home than anywhere else in the world. I'm always coming here to the green to suggest people spend their vacations here or consider it a place to raise their families.

I'm not saying attitude is everything, but maybe if you stopped considering yourself a city girl and started looking for the good things you might have an easier time. Are there any Mom & Pop restaurants in your area? I've found that they usually have the best pie. Are you close to any recreation areas? Maybe now is the time for you and the kids to learn how to fish, hike, camp, or whatever it is you can do in your area. Can you redecorate your new place? A fresh coat of paint that you chose could help you feel more settled. If you're renting and paint is out, maybe you could teach yourself to sew and make some new slipcovers for the furniture. Show your funky city style in your new place.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:35 AM on July 6, 2010

Would it help if we were to compile a long list of what makes the suburbs great? There have been a few things mentioned already, but maybe a long list might be something to look over on your bad days to make you feel better.

Also, seconding the idea that doing whatever you can to make your boyfriend's space feel like your own space will help a lot. Is it possible to move within the same town or neighborhood?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2010

I'm sure this guy is great, but I don't think any one person is worth a life in the suburbs. There are plenty of wonderful men who don't live far away from culture, good restaurants, and interesting people.

Personally, I would set a firm date to move back to the city (a year? two years?) and make it clear that you're moving whether he's ready or not.
posted by ripley_ at 8:56 AM on July 6, 2010

True story: A friend of mine who loves alternative music decided our tiny city needed an alternative music scene. So he basically went to the city officials and said, "Nothing goes on in Nice Park on Wednesdays -- we should have an alternative music series." And the city fathers were like, "We have no idea what that means, but put together a proposal, fill out the permit paperwork, and we'll help you get a grant to fund it." So he did, outlining all the great visitors it would bring since people will drive six hours to see AlternaBand X, and the city fathers approved it and helped him get a grant, and now he basically runs a summer concert series where he gets to invite bands he thinks are awesome, meet them personally, and influence the musical taste of the entire city. And he's become well-known in the local arts community and the local political community because of it. And they've started inviting some of "his" bands to community festivals since they now have a proven local audience!

In smaller cities and suburban towns, there IS a cultural life ... but it's a participatory cultural life. You can't just GO to the opera ... you're going to have to play in the pit orchestra to make the opera happen. For people who prefer to just passively consume culture, this is an enormous hassle. But for people who like to participate in culture and MAKE culture, this is a fantastic opportunity! If you were competent enough to do it in college extracurricularly, you're probably competent enough to do it in your smaller town. Love art? Work with the town government to build a local exhibition -- invite an up-and-coming photographer from Philadelphia and show some local photographers within 60 miles or so in the same show ... the historical society, or the high school, would totally host it. And in smaller places, without as much going on, you'll get a lot of interest from people who might not normally be interested in a photography exhibition/folk music festival/ren faire/whatever. Seeking out the things you liked to do in the city and making them happen in the suburbs may make you feel a lot more connected.

If the grocery stores are awful as some folks above suggest, you may be able to talk to the grocery manager to find out if he can order hummus or whatever it is you're jonesing for ... sometimes they'll just order it, other times, knowing there's interest, they'll keep it in mind when once five people have asked, they go, "Oh, we should get that ..."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:57 AM on July 6, 2010 [24 favorites]

First, your unhappiness is NOT just a construct. For some or many people, location really matters, on many levels. And yes, commuting sucks, traffic sucks, and generally the suburbs suck (imo).

But all is not lost. You're on the right track by realizing that both your location and your attitude are your responsibility... But first, a quick story. Someone I know was in your situation, in reverse: the country was where she grew up and so she wanted her kids to grow up climbing trees, riding horses, being out In Nature, etc. She moved to a ranchette and... missed the city! She had to start spending all her time driving them around; there was less to do; her new neighbors were not the liberal urbanites she was used to. She considered moving back. Had she made a mistake, she asked herself. But she'd dreamed of this for years! Her conclusion was probably obvious to many but an insight to an idealist like me: different places have different pros and cons; wherever you are, you get good mixed with bad and vice versa; and you can always do one and then later the other.

So, I think the decision you face is at least partially about whether you can detach from the city as The One True Good Place. If not, that's defensible. Proximity to friends, less time commuting and more time at home with your kid -- these are very valid reasons to move back. But if you can accept this as a contingent, pros-with-cons, what-we're-doing-now solution, then to make it as tolerable as possible, I'd throw myself into all the positive cultural constructs of the suburbs, and maybe even indulge a bit in negative stereotypes of the city. The city is dirty and unsafe. But in the suburbs, you can bike ride in the middle of your quiet street at night. You can see the stars. You probably have land that you can garden (don't want you kids growing up thinking that veggies are manufactured in the supermarket, do you?). You can be more in touch with the seasons. You may have room in the house for DIY crafting. You can own and not rent, so you can make the house what you want. Without the corrupting influence of the city, out in the bramble-filled woods, your children can be who they truly are. They can learn self-reliance by their time in the wilderness. Etc. I'm getting a bit far afield here (haha), but my point is that throughout the last few centuries, cultural attitudes have swung back and forth, so if you start looking to make this mental switch, you may find rich reservoirs of attitudes that you believe in some part of yourself. And my intuition from your question is that if you found some reasons to decide to like it, then settling in might come much easier.
posted by salvia at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

Eyebrows makes a great point about participatory cultural life. But there may still be passive opportunities in unexpected places. Do you have a college or university nearby? Some years ago I was driving through Texas and we stopped at this small north Texas town for the night. My dad saw a sign for a play at their tiny community college, so we went. Was it the best play ever? No, but it was a fantastic time, and I'm glad we saw it.

One thing that's attractive to me about suburbs or places further from the city is closer access to nature. I love biking, and I do bike in my busy city with aggressively bad drivers, but it's certainly not the relaxing experience biking was when I lived outside of a city. The few good bike trails nearby are packed. Going somewhere to hike is a 1 1/2+ hours' drive. I really miss the easy and convenient access to doing things outdoors that I used to have. Does your suburb give you more opportunities like those? Take advantage of them.

I will disagree on the set a date to move back to the city advice. If he cannot make the move in the definite future then you're basically setting yourself to break up in a year or whenever that date is, which will just be another year to get more attached and make the break more painful for the kids. If it's ultimately move to the city or break up then the responsible thing to do is break up now. Not that it sounds like what the OP wants, anyway.
posted by 6550 at 9:14 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: Consider whether or not you've been using your complaining to punish boyfriend for having to move. Consider letting him off the hook now. Consider allowing yourself to love where you live even if it isn't the city life you thought you were going to finally get.
posted by thatone at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you been hating suburbs for so long that it's become part of your identity, "I'm a suburb-hating person!" - to the extent that you're partly hating on where you live just because that's what you do?

Have you seen a little kid deliberately making themselves miserable about something, because they said they didn't want to do it, so they are determined to hate it no matter what?

If that's you, you might need to rework your sense of identity a little bit. Never mind "I'm a person who hates the suburbs", how about "I like cycling" and "I like having a rich social life" and "I like to have beauty in my surroundings"? Let go of your determination to hate things, which is eating you up, and concentrate on working out what you'd like more of in your life and figuring out how to get it.

Before you can do that, you need to give yourself permission to like the suburbs, at least a little bit. It's not like the city will hate you for it.
posted by emilyw at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Emilyw: that is REALLY freaking helpful. Especially since I have a kindergartner who pulls that exact same stunt TEN TIMES A DAY - I know the behavior, and that IS partially what I'm doing - I'd just never viewed it that way. Thank you. :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:35 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I disagree with emilyw. It is definitely possible to hate the suburbs for good reason.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow, so much hate for the suburbs.

I grew up in a city (Tampa) and moved to a suburban area soon after I married. I've been here over twenty years now. At first, the transition was difficult.

But the suburbs have so much to offer that I think maybe you just aren't open to even seeing it. The prejudice you have in your mind (and apparently a lot of others here do as well) is blinding you to all the positives.

We're close to nature. We have a yard where our kids can play, and our cats can sit in the sun. I've woken up to tortoises raccoons and tortoises before. There's parks where geocaching allows me to enjoy the sun and the shade and the water. I can swim in the pool at night and still see the stars in the sky.

We know our neighbors. In the suburbs, people have homes rather than transitory apartments. They tend to stay longer, and you really get to know them.

People in the city are not, as some have suggested, better educated than those in the suburbs. City kids get bussed to our schools for the best education, since we are in the "better neighborhoods." We have bookstores and libraries. We have the internet (in fact I've had Wifi and cable internet since before my friends in San Francisco even had it available to them). As far as popular cutlture goes, we have laptops and iphones and Netflix just like you. We may not go to opening night at the theater, but that's about all we've missed out on.

We have K-Marts and Wal-marts, yes, but there are also local markets. You have to learn how to find them. And yes, you will likely have to drive more than you are used to in the city. You will also have shorter lines and less traffic in the burbs than downtown, you won't have to hunt for or pay for the privilege of parking, and you can find merchandise at reasonable prices.

People in the suburbs dress for comfort and function. We don't throw our paychecks away on designer clothes and (as mentioned before) theater tickets. You can be comfortable in your home and not feel like you have to be wearing the latest trends or sporting makeup when you just run out to get the mail.

Because we save on those expenses, we tend to have lots of creature comforts in the suburbs. For example, we have a solar-heated pool, a jacuzzi, a couple big-screen LCD televisions and a nice home entertainment system set up with Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii, with additonal Xbox 360 and PS3 in the bedroom for multiplayer gaming. I really don't feel we miss much in the way of entertainment. Your neighbors may have similar setups and may be inviting you around to their home for parties and the like.

You may find that you can join babysitting co-ops, too, a big plus for parents like your partner.

So I guess I am saying that you need to knock down some of your preconceptions and get to know and appreciate where you are living instead of whining and cursing about it, always looking for a way out.
posted by misha at 9:48 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

My parents were divorced when I was a toddler and my mom moved a lot - I had 19 homes before I turned 18, that I know of, including Lone Oak, Texas, back when having a population over 500 was a pipe dream. There are worse places to live than the suburbs, and the worst places usually have a grumpy mom who hates her current home. My mom only liked one of our towns when we found out the Kroger could special-order caffeine-free, NOT diet Coke. She moved 10 years ago but the store still has it; we had to arrive when the truck did to get it, it got so popular. I suggest you figure out what you like about your city and see if you can't replicate it in your current home. Whining about your current situation is pointless and sets a terrible precedent for your housemates, especially the young ones.
posted by SMPA at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agree with the shut up about it for a while
posted by A189Nut at 10:02 AM on July 6, 2010

"I couldn't walk to parks and bike to the supermarket. I was surrounded by K-Marts and ugly."

Another thing you can do -- sort of following on my earlier comment about making culture -- is work to fix this! There's a HUGE movement for mixed zoning, New Urbanism, walkability, etc., in suburbs across the country. If your suburb doesn't already have this on its radar, do some research and make a presentation to the zoning commission or the town council about walkability and the benefits of mixed zoning and how awesome it would be to have corner markets in residential neighborhoods. Maybe even make a few modest proposals (like shade trees over sidewalks on busy thoroughfares, to make them more pleasant to walk, since busy streets and unrelieved expanses of concrete get so HOT).

These kinds of things get done because people like you do them! You'll end up on appointed committees for walkability and things like that. If you're going to be there indefinitely, you might as well start making it over to be more awesome -- and I bet most people would love to be able to walk to neighborhood parks (even "pocket parks"), even if mixed zoning is a harder sell. Town out of money? There are TONS of grants out there for creating parks. Charities devoted to it. Etc. You seem to have a very clear vision of what would make this suburb a better, more pleasant place to live -- I bet if you turned the energy you're spending on hating it to awesomeing it up, you could totally accomplish it!

Which still doesn't help with the commute, but oh well, audio books.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:23 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

This phrase occurred to me: "No matter where you go, there you are."

I see so many reasons to love where you are right now. You're in a loving relationship. Your kid probably attends a really decent public school (or your tuition for private is cheaper). Your cost of living is significantly lower. You are still within spitting distance of more than one major city. You have an entire house to fix up as you please, instead of a landlord.

You can do almost anything that you enjoy doing from right where you are. Like emilyw said, do what you like to do, with people you love, because THAT Is who you are.

Develop an attitude of gratitude, and shut up about it already ;) [Note: this does not mean to become resigned to something. You can still possibly work toward the goal of moving to the city again someday. Just don't make it your primary focus in life.]

I think right now you just have to give yourself permission to be happy. You won't be betraying your city-loving self. You'll be embracing your life-loving self.
posted by wwartorff at 11:20 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, are you west of Philly? Ditto that if you'd like help brainstorming what's potentially cool out that way, I'd help. (In fact, I bet a lot of people from that area would, so maybe that's another question?) It'd be easier if you gave us more description about the kinds of things you like and the actual physical environment (or not to sound like a stalker, but Google maps would be enough, if you could find a way to tell us an intersection more-or-less in your neighborhood). Also, I love Eyebrows McGee's ideas about getting involved. It's true that it is completely possible (assuming you can get home from work in time for the Planning Commission hearing or whatever).

But on a re-read what strikes me is this bit about feeling unsettled and like a visitor in your own life. It seems like there's a chicken-and-egg thing here: you hate it and want to move, so you're unsettled, so you hate it more. Just discussing future plans with your bf and planning to plan together in a way that eventually does a better job of meeting both of your needs might be a good way to go.
posted by salvia at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2010

Focus on convienance. Seriously that is the #1 good thing about the burbs.

Rain and sleet outside, will you be walking 10 minutes to get to the crowded miserable subway? No, you'll be getting into your car with your coffee while listening to the radio on your commute in. No shoving. No weird people rubbing up against you.

Cheap. Everything is cheaper. Seriously, everyime you go to the grocery store you aren't hit with sticker shoch over the price of a tomato.

Not to mention hauling your groceries home. In the city you have to earn that 12 pack of beer as you walk half a mile home and possibly up 4 flights of stairs (probably while it's cold and raining). In the burbs you throw that 12 pack in the trunk and maybe a couple bottles of wine just because you can!

Space! Storage space! Closet space! Maybe even a spare bedroom or office! A real kitchen! A dishwasher! A washer and dryer in your house! Windows that aren't 50 years old! Living in the city is basically like going back in time 30-40 years convenience wise.

I love the city too. I realize I live in LA, which is technically a huge city, but it's really more like a suburb. It's nothing like NYC or a big city on the east coast. I hugely miss living in a real city, but at the same time I find living here that my life is easier, I'm more relaxed, I get more exercise (because I don't spend every evening running errands that take 5 minutes here instead of 30 in NYC), and I save a LOT of money. Sure I don't have as much fun. I don't get invitations everynight to do 2 or 3 awesome things that I just CAN'T pass up, but that also means I spend less money, I drink less, I eat out less, so instead I exercise more, sleep more, relax more, and generally don't get overwhelmed by all the little things. It's certainly not as exciting of a life, but it's a much healthier lifestyle and I still have a healthy social life even if that doesn't mean I'm constantly on the go, as fun as that is. Oh and I've lost like 15 pounds, which is kind of great too.
posted by whoaali at 9:53 PM on July 6, 2010

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