Moving to a new city without a safety net
October 1, 2010 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I yearn to move to a new city, but feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to make it happen.

After attending art school in Baltimore (where I was incredibly happy), I moved back home. The last decade has been marked by significant losses: my parents' divorce, the end of a seven-year relationship, a dwindling sense of self-confidence in my creative work and the loss of my "dream job" at a museum (which has led to feeling persona non grata in the arts community), the death of my beloved cats... I just had another minor disappointment with the end of a potential relationship, and realize that I'm naturally going to be feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with my life right now. But the one constant over the last few years is the nagging feeling that I need to make a huge change in my life and get the hell out of this town.

Almost all of my friends have moved away and I'm having trouble meeting new women to hang out with. I'm single and not having the best of luck meeting men that I can connect with, because the dating pool is limited. I honestly can't find the kind of classes or activities that I'm interested in (but an internet search shows that these things are available in other cities). My father still lives here and I'm an only child, so I worry about leaving him by himself.

I was in therapy for many years and have found CBT exercises to be extremely helpful, but I don't think getting back into therapy is the answer. I need to take action. I also have a family history of anxiety and depression and suspect that I probably have dysthymia, but I really, really don't want to take SSRIs (I tried in the past and it made things worse). I just want to be happy again, to get motivated to make art and make friends and live a full life. It doesn't seem possible here.

I know that moving does not guarantee that I'll make new friends, or find the perfect guy, or that anything will be better. But I can't help wondering if a change of scenery would help. I crave the psychological "reset" that moving could provide. But I don't know where to start--or even where I really want to go. I work from home, so my job can move with me. But while I can survive on what I make here, it would probably not be enough for a bigger city, and I would rather not live with roommates again. I could probably get some financial help from my father, but it would be temporary. For better or worse, I would be doing this alone.

If anyone has experienced this feeling--or better yet, acted on it--I would love to hear your advice.
posted by lucysparrow to Human Relations (24 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that would help is knowing where you're living now, or at least the general economics of the situation - that will change your options.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:33 AM on October 1, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in Western New York. I make less than $40,000 a year, but I'm in a good position to move up in my organization over the next few years and increase my salary.
posted by lucysparrow at 11:38 AM on October 1, 2010

One tiny thing to say: being alone forces you to confront a lot of things about yourself you can use relationships to bury. I recently ended a complicated relation ship and my own art has rebounded even amidst the emotional rollercoaster. Why? because with no "duty" or "schedule" to meet, when an idea strikes I can roll with it.

And beyond that, when I want to be alone, I am, when I want to be busy, I am. You gain control over yourself by being alone, and, during times of turmoil, can be essential.

Also, try Canada. We're pretty cool.
posted by bobby_newmark at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I know I've had dreams of running away and starting over. It's exciting, the idea of a fresh start and a new perspective.

Except what you left behind tends to follow you. The baggage you had at the old locale almost always follow you wherever you are. Just be prepared for that.
posted by inturnaround at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2010

But good luck no matter what you choose, Lucy. :)
posted by inturnaround at 11:43 AM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: That totally helps, thanks!

So, I moved the hell out of my parents' house as soon as I could, and came to Austin ten years ago. I love it - it's livable at a sub-40k wage, there's a ton of fun things to do, lots of fascinating, well-educated people, and I adore the weather overall.

That being said, moving is a HUGE stressor. Particularly when you're making a really drastic move. If you're prone to brain chemistry issues, moving is probably going to make them worse before they get better. If you decide to move - and it probably would be a good thing for you, really - I'd recommend you talk with a therapist beforehand to make sure you're prepared for this specific major event. It's also worth making a trip to the place(s) you're looking at - go cheaply enough that you can see the actual neighborhoods you'd be apartment-shopping in, visit the grocery stores, etc. Get a feel for what real life there might be like.

I totally support leaving the nest (living where I grew up would drive me in-freakin-sane, although it's a perfectly nice place) but a major move is not something to do impulsively or as a quick-fix.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: I did this. I lived in Rochester for several years after college and battling depression and the end of a long relationship and a general sense of dissatisfaction with the weather/culture/city/etc, I picked a spot on the map that was closer to my family in Austin (but not so close that they could visit) and more metropolitan and totally different than anyplace else I'd ever lived. I ended up in New Orleans, pre Katrina. Best move I ever made. Not because NOLA was the most fantastic place to live-it has it's ups and downs but because I needed to get out of the rut I'd fallen into. The change of scenery totally revitalized me. First, you spend the first six months distracted by all the new stuff, figuring out how to get places, finding good restaurants, that kind of thing. Also, it gave me a new group of people to meet, which I desperately needed at the time.

Since you can move anywhere and take your job with you, I'd pick a medium to large city that's not hugely expensive, that has a bustling cultural scene, that is way different from where you are now (and that should be easy, western NY is pretty quiet), and give it a shot. You're single and flexible so take a chance on yourself. You can always move back if you hate it, or try another new place.

Last thing-once you've done it once, it's easier to do it again. I spent three years in NOLA and am now in Minneapolis, also an awesome and not so expensive place to live if you can get over the cold. And we're getting ready to do it again.
posted by supercapitalist at 11:50 AM on October 1, 2010

I've done this. Not on the exact same terms - no major disappointments factored in, just an extreme boredom and frustration with the fact that my life was not evolving anymore. I was in a rut, I was bored with the city I was in, the guys I was meeting were not what I was looking for. Luckily, my best friend was feeling the same in her city, and we decided to try NYC together. It was one of the better decisions of my life, and I couldn't be happier that I took the risk. It was scary but needed to be done.

Sure, be careful about dragging your old baggage with you, but if a fresh start is what you think you need, then go for it! You can always move back home if you need to.

PS - When I first moved to NYC, I was making $40K a year. I didn't have a lot of spending money, and I didn't save as much as I had before, but I wasn't eating only ramen or anything. Not saying you could/should move here, but that if you are willing to make some adjustments, you could probably do a larger city.
posted by coupdefoudre at 11:58 AM on October 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the answers so far. A few details I should have mentioned:

- I really do like Toronto and it seems like a perfect solution (urban, but still close enough to visit home). But could I keep my job and move there? Would I need to apply for a work visa? (YANML, but general advice is appreciated).

- I like cities with a sense of history. As far as weather goes, I love fall and like winter. Not too crazy about summer. The most important thing is to find a place with a lot of things to do (art openings, film, creative classes and activities, etc.) that will help me befriend (and date) more people who share my interests. Adequate public transportation wouldn't hurt.

- Cities I've considered: Boston (I have family in CT); Minnesota (no idea why, it just seems intriguing for some reason); Toronto; Portland, OR (figured this was too expensive and it's so far away).
posted by lucysparrow at 12:09 PM on October 1, 2010

Ten years ago I moved from DC to San Francisco. The first couple of jobs I had here paid about $30K/year, and while SF is expensive, I still managed to have a life. A lot of people in this city live on less than megabuck$. I didn't have my own place, but I never had more than one housemate at a time, either.

San Francisco may not fit all your criteria - we don't have much of a fall (fall is when our summer happens, really), and our winter is rain, not snow. But there are a ton of arty/creative things to do, many of them free or cheap, and the mefites here like each other a whole bunch and have meetups pretty frequently. If you live in the city or in Oakland or Berkeley, public transit is really not bad. It's not great, but having a car is mostly unnecessary.

Oh, and when I made the move I was in my early 30s, and finding housemates who were also grownups/professionals/not partying till the wee hours was not difficult (it helped that they were friends of friends.

This is a very long wordy way of saying that somewhere like Portland may not actually be "too expensive," although if the West Coast is too far away from family, well, then it's too far away. I grew up in Boston and loved it, and still miss a lot of things about it, but it's also "expensive" in the way that PDX and SF are, so think about what "expensive" means to you.

You loved Baltimore - why not move back there?
posted by rtha at 12:20 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: I up and moved to DC without knowing a single person here. Three years later, I'm married, I've got a great friend group, a great job (the second full-time since I've been here) and I'm starting up a new business. Things are pretty awesome, compared to when I arrived and had an hour-long metro commute into the city and was living in a place I not-so-affectionately called "the halfway house."

I think being in a city vs. being in a small town or suburb makes a HUGE difference in terms of your ability to network and make friends. When I got here, I went out *all the time* just in an effort to have interactions. Eventually, that worked for me.

Also, having roommates may be irritating but it's built-in people to talk to.

DC is awesome, by the way - constant events, happy hours, festivals, volunteer opportunities (great for meeting people), social networks.
posted by AquaAmber at 12:32 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: I don't know if another anecdote will help, but here's one.

So, I planned to throw everything into a truck and move from California to Seattle. I took all the right steps up until the day of the move. Breaking things down into small chunks made it easy. For example, I was going to be without health insurance. Fine, I made sure I had dental work all up to date on my soon-to-be-expired insurance from the job I was going to quit. I needed boxes. Great, I scoured the loading bays of grocery and drug stores and nabbed what I needed. A box that formerly held pregnancy test kits now held my computer. Kick ass.

Then the night before the move, as I was almost done packing, I reached a magic moment I'll never forget.

That moment was, "Wow. I guess now I HAVE to move. Because it would really, really suck to have to UNPACK all this shit!"

I had hit my own little personal Rubicon, the point of no return.

Take small steps and get to that point. It's counter-intuitive, but it's really liberating to reach a point where you have no other option except to jump for it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:47 PM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can rent a 1 bedroom in Portland, OR for like $500 a month if you scrounge around a little. Near public transit, even. It won't be upscale but it won't be totally sketchy either. Not sure if you would consider that "expensive," but it sounds feasible with your salary.
posted by rkent at 12:50 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: What are you waiting for? MOVE ALREADY.

PS. Why do you keep picking cities with so much bad weather? Austin, based on plenty friends' experiences, sounds like it would be AWESOME for you (similar artsy vibe to Baltimore.) Personally, Savannah is the only other city besides NYC or LA that I would seriously consider living in - it has a vibe I really love + big arts community. Tucson has an arts community, as does Santa Fe. There are tons of locations with better weather than Toronto or Boston (2 cities I know very well). Pick someplace really different from where you are and JUST GO.

PPS. Have a great time! Enjoy the challenge and the ways a new environment will shape you. Don't listen to folks who tell you, "You'll just bring your baggage with you!!" Most people who say that have never gone outside of their comfort zone (too scared) -OR- have a personal investment in you sticking around. It's amazing how changing your environment can change your perspectives and reactions, challenge your beliefs. etc. JUST GO.
posted by jbenben at 12:58 PM on October 1, 2010

I've done this a couple of times, and it's true that you take a lot of your baggage with you but it's also true that moving/changing your life can be great and is generally not as big a deal as some people seem to think it is. You're still going to be you; there's no such thing as really starting over. But one of the great things about moving to a new place is it gives you a handle on the things that were "you" problems and the things that were "place" problems. You can learn a lot about yourself.

I generally fall on the "just do it!" end of the scale.

As for specific city recs, I don't know if I'd recommend Boston. I lived there for most of the past 10 years (just moved). It is a wonderful city but it can be very difficult to make friends, because there's not much of a culture of talking to people you don't already know. You have to take the initiative. And it's expensive. But there's always tons of stuff to do. And because it's so expensive, it's pretty much socially acceptable to have roommates even if you're a "grownup", and that can be a good way to get to know people.
posted by mskyle at 1:11 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Move to L.A. Drive there. Get some sun, go work in a coffee shop, get a roommate... Best of luck ;o)
posted by rocco at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: I think a lot of these answers haven't addressed the "how" part.

As someone with the same disposition as you, I would have to say "baby steps."

First, identify the cities. Try not to have more than three on your list so you don't get overwhelmed. If you can't visit each of these places, at least do as much online/talking to folks research as possible. I find that helps a lot and can even help you with specific questions like where do the artists live in City X. And of course, Metafilter.
You'll probably also want to be sure at this point that your job will be OK with the move.

Second: Visit your first choice city. Go with your gut. We dysthymics are a pretty intuitive bunch. See how it feels when you arrive. Explore it. Talk to people while you're there.

Go home and think about all the things that make you afraid about your choice and write down a solution for it.

Ex. I'll be lonely: Join a meetup, signup for a class, online dating.
I won't have enough money: Write out a rough budget. Do an income comparison from your current town to New City.
I need a good doctor: See if you can get a line on a good psych before you get there.

And then do that for all the "what ifs" (I recommend "The Woman's Comfort Book" for those "what if" times.)

Find something that calms you whenever you get that freakout "OMGwhatdidIdoI'msoscared" moment. (For me it's Nas' "Whose World Is This." YMMV).

Despite struggling with dysthymia and resultant anxiety for most of my life, I've moved to about five cities over the last 20 years. It's always a tiny bit tough and sometimes I've found it wasn't the right move. But I always feel better for having tried.

I'm glad you asked this question. I'm in love with Phoenix now (cuz it's almost winter!!!) but I've had my heart set on Chicago for some time now. It might be time for a visit.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've heard great things about Pittsburgh. Also Chicago. Both for art scenes and affordability. But it sounds like you've got some great ideas already.

Just for perspective, let's talk about New York. (I am not saying you should move to New York.) Working from home gives you a lot of neighborhood flexibility in New York. It's an expensive city, but there's a huge, huge premium on location. Since you don't have a commute to optimize, that frees you to live in one of the farther out, more affordable, perfectly nice neighborhoods, places where you could easily find a $900 or $1000 studio, if Craigslist is to be believed. If you're living in Deepest Brooklyn, you won't even be that far from the creative scene in Not-So-Deep Brooklyn. And you save money by not needing a car. Totally do-able on 40K.

Given that New York is possible...I think you can go anywhere. You've got it made! Heck, why not camp out in Europe for a few months, if it strikes your fancy? Maybe it would even help you to go somewhere temporarily on purpose just to get the ball rolling? It's a little easier to leave if you're just taking a duffel bag and your laptop...but then the act of leaving can be a mental game-changer. Can you sublet, or store stuff at your dad's place?

Having moved many times myself, I can advise two things:
1) Wherever you go, find something to move there for. Doesn't have to be something big like a job--it could be a friend who already lives there, or a place you absolutely know you want to take classes. Gives you something to build on.
2) Friendly places (that might mean smaller) really do make it easier to meet people.

My best move ever went like this: I was also living at home after college, also unhappy. I moved to a new (small but lively) town where I had one friend. Within TWO WEEKS, literally, I had an entire social scene and a new sweetie.
posted by the_blizz at 1:58 PM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

At some point, you just have to go if you're going. Myself, I sold my car (my only possession of any value at the time), and moved to NYC 10 or so years ago. It's like getting in the pool: if you dip your toe in the shallow end and try to inch your way in, you'll never make it (and you'll gasp a lot). Just jump in the deep end; you'll figure it out when you have to.
Cities that strike this uninformed stranger as suitable for what you've indicated you're looking for:
Pittsburgh (cheap, not that far from dad, some arts, lots of young people, pretty cool)
Philly (bursting with history, cheaper than NYC/Boston if not actually objectively cheap)
Montreal (speaking of history)
Both Portlands (the Maine one is closer, smaller, and more historic. The Oregon one is newer, bigger, and a much bigger change of pace from your current surroundings)
Seattle (never met one person who didn't love it)
New York (if you're going to run away to the city, why not run away to the city?)
Chicago (see the rationale for New York, only with better hot dogs)
posted by willpie at 2:06 PM on October 1, 2010

This isn't exactly something I've done, but I do remember the exciting feeling of starting fresh with new possibilities when I simultaneously ended a long term relationship and moved to a new city to start grad school.

My two cents: you say that you don't want to live with roommates. Have you ever lived alone before? I was SO EXCITED to get a place of my own. I picked an apartment I love, it's in a great area, I thought I was set. The first few weeks were pure "I can do anything I want, whenever I want!" bliss. Then the weather started getting colder, I got sick a couple times, it started seeming awfully quiet in here. And gradually I realized that living alone is...lonely. I miss my old roommates. They would drag me out for drinks once in a while, they were good motivation to pick up after myself, they were fun to chat with in the kitchen late at night...I just felt better all around when I lived with other people.

I'm sure lots of people really do love living alone. I'm just saying, if you don't already know from experience that you're one of those people, having a roommate or two might be not only a great way to bring down your expenses but also an actual improvement to your lifestyle.
posted by ootandaboot at 2:09 PM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay, I have some experience in this... I've lived in nine states in the past 15 years - 13 cities and 23 addresses. I've also never made more than $25,000 a year so I can live on a shoestring. I've never lived in any of the cities the OP is talking about so I can't speak to them, but I've lived in comparable...

Here goes. Everything I've owned for the past 12 years I've been able to fit in the back of a four door automobile - a sedan. I think it's way easier to buy furniture once I get somewhere than to schelp it across the country. It's also way less stressful if you don't have a million boxes staring you in the face when you get to your destination. Then again, I don't get attached to things, so it's easier for me to weed out stuff I think is unnecessary. Whenever I move, I sell, give, or throw away everything but the bare essentials and off I go. Well, now I live in an 18ft motorhome, so I don't have to do that anymore...

Anyway, pick a city that you think you will like weather-wise and people-wise. Go to city-data and check out the forums. You can find a lot of information there about particular cities. Also, pick a city size-wise that you will be comfortable in. I'm stuck in a small town right now and I'm miserable.

Don't mull on this too long or overthink it. Once you decide to do it, just do it. You'll be fine. People move all the time.
posted by patheral at 2:54 PM on October 1, 2010

Maybe try a medium sized city (if you don't like crowds but still enjoy the company of people) for some time to just give a test run before you pack everything and move there? Try somewhere that is not too far from home, so you could possibly visit your Dad monthly or bi-monthly. Eventually when you feel more comfortable about this, you could try settling down there.

While doing the test run, you have to try to engage with the local community there. I agree with patheral above, that you need to find a place that you like weather-wise and people-wise! Preferably staying there for longer than a month during the trial. That will allow you to wear off the curiosity of a visitor.

P.S.: I've lived in 6 different cities and 3 countries. I know how hard this is. Good luck.
posted by easilyconfused at 3:40 PM on October 1, 2010

Lucy - I can't answer your question directly, but I wanted to chime in here just to say that you write exceptionally well, with intelligence and insight, which leads me to believe that there are city folks who will want to give you a non-trivial job. Your post is not happy, and yet it is engaging, and it makes me optimistic about you! Go get 'em!
posted by Dave 9 at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2010

Best answer: Move! Do it!

I've moved several times for the exact reason you're considering -- needing to hit that reset button as hard as you can. True, the emotional baggage follows, but having an entirely new world to explore can open up wonderful, new ways of looking at yourself and where you've been. You should feel confident about moving with your salary; it's plenty to undertake a big step.

I have to recommend Pittsburgh, PA. What a great city! It's completely underrated. Lots and lots and lots to do, good public transportation, many neighborhoods each with their own style, plus Pittsburgh housing is jaw-droppingly affordable. The cost of living in Pittsburgh is astoundingly low. The city has a real heart and the best kind of city grit. Pittsburgh has a great sense of history -- it's the former heart of the steel industry. There are traces everywhere of the former steel magnates and how their wealth shaped the city, right down to their impressive (and kind of creepy) giant family mausoleums in Frick Park. Of course, thousands of immigrants came to work here, and their story can be seen in the history of individual neighborhoods -- and often in the discriminatory decisions by the city to isolate or disenfranchise poor and/or non-white communities in city planning decisions. The Mattress Factory is a funky, contemporary art museum you'd have to check out, along with the art offerings of the colleges. Pittsburgh is the highest ranked American city on the Economist's list of the world's most livable cities! MeMail me if you want to know more about Pittsburgh.

The logistics of moving can be intimidating, but don't let them be. Put important stuff in boxes and put 'em in your car. Get furniture and everyday crap like dishes and paper towels when you get there. Don't let the tangible logistics get in the way of a much-needed emotional break. Good luck!
posted by missmary6 at 4:59 PM on October 1, 2010

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