Please help me to find some clarity on where I should live.
March 8, 2011 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I am having a pretty hard time making a life decision on where to live.

I'm hoping that I might get a bit of clarity by posting on here.

I recently moved back to the states from the UK after having lived and worked there for many years. While I was there, I did my best to fit in and find things that I enjoyed doing and in general take advantage of living there even though I never felt it really lived up to my beloved Minneapolis, where I am from and have now moved back to.

The trouble is, I put in roots more than I thought while I was there and I'm finding that I miss it a lot. I love it here, I moved back because I missed it here so much, missed friends and family etc., but now I'm kind of feeling the same about the UK. I know that part of being an expat/repat is that I'll probably always miss the place that I am not living but I am wondering if people who may have been in similar situations might be able to offer some insight as to their thought processes which helped them arrive at a decision on where to settle.

A few more bits of info:

- One of the superficial things I really disliked about the UK was the weather - I had serious problems with SAD and depression in general. BUT, it was so easy to get away to a sunny country and to other countries in general (close proximity + lots of holiday time), with so many choices available, whereas here a quick beach holiday pretty much means Florida or Mexico. Plus, Minnesota winters are COLD, so between the extreme cold here and the constant rain there, it may be a toss-up WRT weather.

- I have been unemployed for six months now. The job market is picking up, and I will eventually find something, but it would be much easier for me to find a job in the UK because of my specialised UK qualifications. This is becoming more relevant because between my move back and being unemplyed for longer than anticipated, I have built up a lot of debt, which is in GBP. For several reasons, it would be easier to pay this down more quickly in the UK.

There is also a good chance that I could go back to my old job if I went back. I have an idea of how much I could make at that job, plus I know I would have six weeks vacation. The estimates I've gotten from people who work here is in the range of $70 to $100k but that is kind of up in the air if I will be able to find a job in my field over here anytime soon with only UK qualifications and experience (though I attended university in the US). I work in the field of finance and investments.

- The two things that weigh most heavily on my mind right now are: debt and my age (35). The debt is scary and I have it in two countries (including student loans), but would probably be manageable if I were working.

I feel like I am at the age where I really have to make a decision and I'm scared it will be the wrong one and I will just end up wasting more time in my life and get to the point where I won't be able to accomplish anything because I'm too old. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh but it has been weighing on my mind so much that I will get to age 40, age 50, whatever and not own a house, have no savings and nothing to show for myself. I am at that point now and it is deeply depressing. I know my potential for earning money is pretty good but that's meaningless if I can't get a decent job because I'm past my prime. If I had not left my job in the UK six months ago, I would be on a very good career path, which is why part of me wants to run back and start it up again before it's too late.

I guess I have a few questions:

If you have ever lived for a significant time in a place far away from your "home", which you came to love for entirely different reasons, how did you eventually decide where to settle?

At what point should a job be the most important factor in deciding where to live?

I guess that's all I can think of for now. I hope I haven't come off badly in this, I'm sorry if I have, my mind is just a mess and a lot of my close friends have lived their whole lives in one place so can't really offer mcuh advice other than to "pray for guidance", which I can totally respect but which is not really what I'm looking for. Thanks.
posted by and hey Charlie to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's a problem in opportunity cost, isn't it? (Also known as: "The grass is always greener....")

Whatever course we pick for our lives - simply by making a choice, we are closing off the paths that we DON'T take.

I don't know as the problem even has a solution - except to remember that you are lucky to have the ability to make these choices. (Most people's circumstances are too constrained for these questions to ever arise.) And I know that some stranger on the internet isn't going to be able to solve it for you: YOU have to make the decision, and YOU'LL have to live with the consequences.

But a few random thoughts en route to a solution:
- money is nice to have.
- having money lets you keep options open.
- whatever decision you make, there will be nights when you will lie awake mourning the paths that you didn't take.
- if you decide to go for the Big Bucks, multiple homes becomes a real posssibility.

And don't let this paralyze you: "not deciding" is also a decision.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:34 PM on March 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was once told that it takes 2 years in a new place for it to feel like "home". I heard it so long ago and have come to believe it so thoroughly that I can't recall the source. But it has held up for me through several moves.

I'm from the Twin Cities too. Went to school first in Oregon (loved it!), moved back to Morris, MN and then Grand Forks, ND for an ill-fated relationship, then to Chicago to escape said relationship and get on with my life.

I feel at home in Chicago, and I am happy here. I've been here almost 4 years now. I miss aspects of everywhere I've ever lived, even Morris. My husband & I are looking for good jobs in Minneapolis to get back there to start a family - lower cost of living, more yards for little ones. When we get back there, I will miss Chicago, I am sure! But I miss Minneapolis now.

Don't worry about what you miss. Focus on what you love, whenever & wherever you are.
posted by kitarra at 9:39 PM on March 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For what it's worth, 35 is just a number. I think you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself based on it, and it doesn't sound like it's a healthy stressor. I realize that the debt and time spent looking for a job have been draining, but those are things you can work through with time. From your description, it sounds like you're letting the debt drive your thoughts on where to live, and that may not be the best approach.

I think you should focus on how to make the decision to move back to the US work for you, and outline some projects or goals (eg - volunteering, spending quality time with family, a new hobby with friends) to make it feel more like home. Give yourself a bit more time (6 months isn't enough) to try to accomplish those things before you consider moving back to the UK.
posted by hampanda at 10:16 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I definitely understand how you feel. I'm 32 and have spent the better part of the last 7 years living in China. I went back to the States last year, but then found a good job here (in China) and have been back since last June.

I think you're right in that after a certain time, both places start to feel like home. Which is good, but can be very confusing. I love both my hometown in the US, as well as life in China, but for very different reasons. I do get homesick, often, but I am working on creating a lifestyle (eventually) whch does not tie me to one place. Maybe you can think about the for the future when considering careers or life plans.

I sort of let my job decide where to live, because I have found a job in China that I felt is ideal for me at this time. If it wasn't for this particular job, and if I foudn an ideal job in the States, I'd probably be there. But there are more opportunities here. Also, I'm able to save much more mney here due to lower cost of living.

In the end, I think you don't need to agonize too much over decisions. each place has its advantages and disadvantages. Maybe first you can think about what you want your life to be like, generally (lifestyle, career activities, time off) and THEN decide which country fits the bill better at this time. Money is not a bad factor to consider either, but I think it should be one of many factors.

Good luck and remember, you are not alone in these feelings.
posted by bearette at 11:57 PM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: I don't have a good answer for you, but jumped in for sympathy. Couple years in the UK, and have decided that it's time to move back to the States in a few months though I have trouble articulating why. Mostly I just think it's time to go re-root myself before I become a permanent expat. But like you, I threw down more roots than I realized and it's wrenching to contemplate pulling them up yet again. I fully anticipate returning to the U.S. and feeling a bit deflated about the things you describe.

That said, I'm still pretty set on going back, despite my love of living abroad and all the stimulation that comes from being a bit of a global nomad. What helped me decide, essentially, was having to face down a very real and concrete prospect of never really moving back home again. My whole being rebelled, and that's how I knew I wasn't cut out to be an expat forever.

For what it's worth, it sounds to me like you might be conflating your anxiety about financial worries with your ambivalent feelings towards Home and Abroad. While there is a link, as you point out, in that you might have better immediate earning potential in the UK, I think it's worth considering the two things separately to see if you can sort out where your heart lies independent of what will alleviate the immediate financial stress. My completely uneducated guess is that if you were able to find a decent job at home in a reasonable timeframe, you'd feel pretty good pretty quickly about missing the UK and the dearth of holiday in the U.S. (sob!)

Keep in mind that if you choose to stay in Minnesota for now, it doesn't have to be forever. Same for if you go back to the UK. It's not the last move, just the next one. You're probably comparing yourself to the folks you know back home who've had mortgages for ages now and you don't want to keep drifting, but 35? You're fine. You could reinvent your life entirely two or three times over if you wanted to.

Have you considered moving elsewhere in the U.S.? Still closer to home, but potentially more job opportunities.
posted by oneaday at 12:31 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm from the US and I've lived in the UK for about seven years. While i've never seriously considered going back to the US, i know how it feels to have two "lives" put in front of you. Sometimes when i'm visiting family back in the States I see what I don't have here (my entire family living on one street, a strong sense of community, etc.) and i start to think wow, look at what i'm missing out on. And that's from someone who really never wants to move back to America. I can only imagine how it must feel if you're not as certain as I am.

When I took the initial decision to move over here, i was a lot more conflicted and got through it by telling myself this: there are no bad decisions. You are a capable adult with good earning potential, you will make a good life out of whatever choices you make. If you can't find a job in Minnesota, you'll find one nearby. If you move back to the UK, you'll settle and start achieving your goals. You can't make a bad decision, because it's not like Option 1 = Ultimate Doom and Option 2 = Shiny Happiness. Either option will be great, because you'll make it great.
posted by ukdanae at 1:15 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If I were you I'd give myself a deadline after which if you haven't found a job, move back, pay off your debts and save like crazy. It's not like this is your one and only chance and if you don't make it back permanently this time you've blown it. With more savings and once the economy (hopefully) improves you'll be in a good position to try again in a couple of years if you want to.
posted by hazyjane at 4:12 AM on March 9, 2011

Best answer: I expatriated to Holland in 1991 and repatriated back to the States in 1999. Not a month has gone by that Ms Primate and I haven’t considered, occasionally only briefly, going back. External factors have forced a decision upon us now, and in fact, I had an AskMe deleted only two days ago asking, essentially, what you have (the mods felt it was “chatfilter,” perhaps justifiably in my case).

My situation is a bit different than yours; I have no appreciable debt beyond a mortgage that praise the baby jebus, is not underwater, but on the other hand, I have two young children to consider. Still, I’m agonizing over this decision, and I understand keenly your pain despite our disparate situations. I think I can offer one bit of perspective and one bit of advice.

The perspective bit is that the decision does not get any easier with kids and a mortgage complicating the calculations. So, I’d bear that in mind, one way or the other in your situation if you’re likely to encounter either in the intermediate future. Your decision isn’t permanent, but you are at a life period where moving (or not) will have additional consequences later on, the weight of which you can’t right now foresee.

That having been said, the advice bit is to ignore the above and to ignore your feelings and concentrate on the quality of life you want to have right now and, in, say, three to five years from now. Your friends and family in either country can’t determine that for you. Economic security can, at your stage in life, have a significant impact on quality of life, and, more importantly, your freedom to make other decisions.

The solace is that, although there is no right decision, either answer is, ultimately, right.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:45 PM on March 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you so much to everyone who has responded so far. You have REALLY helped me to gain a bit of perspective and clarity, which I was really needing. A few things stand out so far:

For what it's worth, it sounds to me like you might be conflating your anxiety about financial worries with your ambivalent feelings towards Home and Abroad.

This. The debt is weighing heavily on my mind. Moving back to the UK is predictable. I know what I can make, I know how quickly I can pay it off. Plus, I have an apartment there that is insanely cheap. INSANELY. So that just amplifies my ability to pay off debt/save money.

I've been told that I have pretty good earning potential over here, but until I get a job, who knows? I THINK, all other things being equal, I would probably lean slightly towards living here but, as all other things are not equal, I could most likely enjoy living there again if there were clear financial benefits.

Then there are a bunch of other feelings I have that just cloud and complicate my thinking - not liking the political culture here, not liking the food and weather there. Also, my age, which I have mentioned. At 35 it's not so bad, but if I make a decision I am unhappy with, how easy is it to just pick up and start over in another country when you're in your late thirties or early forties? I am trying to leave these things out of my considerations to a certain degree because I do start to become paralysed with indecision and fear.

I do not have children and do not have plans to have children, nor do I have a mortgage, so at least I don't have to worry about those things.

I am headed back for a quick visit soon to see how I feel about possibly living there again, and to chat with my contacts about potentially getting a job there. At the moment I am leaning towards moving there to work and live if I literally get an offer I can't refuse. If I don't get any indication of a good offer, come back here and take my chances that I will be able to get a good job here, and wait tables in the meantime.


- And don't let this paralyze you: "not deciding" is also a decision.

- Don't worry about what you miss. Focus on what you love, whenever & wherever you are.

- You could reinvent your life entirely two or three times over if you wanted to

- You can't make a bad decision, because it's not like Option 1 = Ultimate Doom and Option 2 = Shiny Happiness. Either option will be great, because you'll make it great.

have all been immensely comforting and I have read them over and over. Thank you.
posted by and hey Charlie at 11:37 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a bit late but I wanted to point you towards this episode of the show with Ze Frank and it took me a while to find. This part in particular always comes to my mind when I am having trouble making a big decision:

The actual decision that you make doesn't really matter to the degree that you think it does. But the stress and anxiety that you feel when you think that you have a choice does matter. It makes you less happy.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 4:45 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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