Leaving the city?
May 26, 2012 9:46 AM   Subscribe

For the past few months I've been strongly considering moving from NYC back to the flyover state I came from, that my parents and extended family live in. I made the initial move to NYC in a matter of weeks (from decision to actual Greyhound bus ticket to temp job). Now I'm older and more cautious.

I'm single. I can't see myself buying a home and settling down in NYC. I'd like to be closer to my parents as they age. I miss the easy access to nature. NYC seems to have me stuck in an extended adolescent phase (I'm edging towards 40). I wonder if it would be easier to find a mate if I weren't in NYC. I stayed in NY for a long time thinking that my career might take off but it hasn't - and it isn't going to. I'm just not very career-oriented. Moving would be a pretty uncomplicated process - just clothes and books and musical instruments. I have friends I care about here but there's no role I fill here that can't be easily replaced by someone else.

There are many things I love about the city but I'm also stressed at being surrounded by noise and people and yet so unconnected. No one hugs here. I miss the hug greeting. I feel almost instantly happier when I get out of the city to open skies and green spaces.

I have this fantasy of having a house (a house! to myself!) sitting on a porch looking at a garden (a garden!) and drinking iced tea and listening to the birds while having meaningful chats with friends and family. Being part of a community. Being there to make a casserole when a cousin has a baby or an aunt breaks a hip. However, most of my friends back home have gotten married and had kids while I was gone. Everything will be different. My first year back I expect to struggle with depression and re-learning to drive.

What questions can I ask myself that will make this decision more clear? What other factors should I consider?
posted by bunderful to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Will there be dating options for someone your age?

Will you be able to find jobs that pay the rent/mortgage on places you'd be happy to live? You can spend a lot of time on craigslist looking at what's available for housing.

Struggling with depression--will you need a therapist/psychiatrist? Are they available in that location? In some places there is a definite shortage of trained mental health professionals so you might need to do research and arrange for that ahead of time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:56 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What the young rope-rider said, plus: Are your friends still available for socializing, or are they in domestic fortresses?

Also, let me just say that gardens and long talks are GREAT.
posted by feets at 10:09 AM on May 26, 2012

Consider that getting out of NYC and getting back to all the "community" things that you miss does not necessarily mean you have to go back home, especially since home will be full of old friends who aren't really your friends any more.

Have you considered moving somewhere that's close enough to home that it's simple to visit, but far enough that you'll have a true fresh start? Where there won't be judgement (or just a mis-match of lifestyle with friends) or weird expectations around a lack of spouse/kids/career? Somewhere new that could give you the feeling you had on moving to NYC - that 'i'm starting something new and positive' feeling?
posted by Kololo at 10:21 AM on May 26, 2012 [15 favorites]

Will you be in or near a city where there are dating options for someone your age?

It really sounds like you've had enough of NYC. Nothing wrong with a change!
posted by J. Wilson at 10:32 AM on May 26, 2012

I'm a little biased because I move A LOT and I'm well over forty. I'm just nomadic that way.

You moved away from your home town for a reason, what was that reason? Is this a case of the grass being greener? This doesn't have to be a stay or go situation though... What you really need to ask yourself is what will make you happy in the long run? If NYC isn't doing it for you, then move. However, Kololo is right, it doesn't have to be back home. My advices is to sit down and write a list of what you want out of your ideal home. Do you want a place with a large dating pool? More job opportunities? Convenient shopping? Good public transportation (you mentioned re-learning how to drive)? Close to family? Hot, cold, or mild weather? Big city, small town, or somewhere in between?

You don't have to be cautious, but before moving again and finding yourself unsatisfied with your new living situation, it's best to ask yourself a few questions beforehand.
posted by patheral at 10:36 AM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, I think you are making a great decision! I, too, moved from NYC back to Southern State and I am, all in all, so much happier. You asked for questions to ask yourself; here is what I focused on:

-I love green grass, trees, birds, woods, hikes, nature. This was #1 missing for me.

-Friendly neighbors, friendly populace. I am in a large Southern city, but when I moved back, I was soooo happy and relaxed to be back among happy, friendly, relaxed people. Going to the store was a pleasure, not an ordeal!

-I definitely feel part of a community, and that's without family!

-Dating as a near 40-year old was no problem, but my city is >1MM.

posted by Punctual at 10:39 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going through something very similar, falling a little bit (or a lot) out of love with New York City. And especially Manhattan...it feels like a great place to be an aspirational 27-year-old, but there's no sense of permanence here, with skyrocketing rents pretty much insuring that your favorite restaurant/shop will last no more than 10 years, probably 5.

Lush, green nature without hot dog carts, garbage, and a million tourists is so wonderful.

So what I did is moved upstate for about 70% of my time. (I'd make it 100% if I didn't have a partner with a job in NYC whom I adore.) What I love about it is that I have access to all the nature I need, as well as quick access to the city when and if I need it.

There are some fantastic bargains to be had in verdant parts of Orange and Sullivan Counties in New York, as well as Pike County in Pennsylvania. Both are near the terminus of the NJ Transit/Metro North train lines. It's really the best of both worlds. If you find the right little town, you can have the friendly neighbors, woods, and a real sense of community.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:21 AM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh I have been in this question. You need to know:

How often do you want to visit your parents? Is this is a "we can eat dinner together on Friday nights most weeks" or a "I can visit them on a whim though it'll still be a weekend kind of commitment" or a "I just don't want to have to spend $400+ on a flight" kind of thing? In general those answers convert to "30 miles from where you live," "100 miles from where you live" and "less than 250 miles from where you live," if your parents live in Ohio - or something like the difference between Pickerington, Dayton, and "a good twenty miles outside Morgantown, WVa," if your parents live in Columbus.

How important is it that you see the people you already know, frequently? That is to say, you can take a casserole to your aunt if you live 80 miles away (okay, you probably want to take several casseroles at once,) but you pretty much need to be within 10-15 miles to see your high-school/young adult friendship types on a weekly basis.

How important is it that you have grown-up-style interactions with your friends? Because as a single woman with friends who have kids, let me tell you: you will have little to no trouble seeing them as long as you are OK seeing them on their terms. This is not "hang out for drinks while watching HBO" lifestyle, but if you're OK with munchkins running around, many (if not most) parents of kids are OK with having you around despite your lack of accompanying munchkins.

Can you make a decent amount of money doing what you are good at doing, in the place your family is in?

How important is it that you express yourself musically in front of/with others? What kinds of musical performance/growth opportunities will you have in your hometown or within 30 miles of it?

How important is it to be able to do things after 8pm? On Sundays? With your subcultures (SCA, LBGTQ, atheist, AD&D, gamers, people who really like Jon Stewart)? In general, take a look at how you actually live on a day to day basis, and figure out what you're going to miss. Do you need access to really authentic Mexican food and the opportunity to sit in a room hearing five different accents simultaneously? Do you need a library and the ability to rent Region 1 DVDs in Russian on the spur of the moment? Do you rely on ultra-high-speed internet access and a Starbucks around the corner from your place? How will you address these kinds of desires? Be really careful about this one: you have (by my standards) decent access to nature, so you want to be super aware of how easy you need the stuff you are going to miss in your new life. Not having an IKEA within twenty minutes of my house drives me nuts (I keep meaning to send them a letter - Cincinnati is a two hour drive, man;) what do you take for granted now that will drive you nuts later? My grandmother made my grandfather abandon rural Kentucky in part due to a lack of fresh tortillas.

Is your hometown in the right kind of climate for the gardening style you prefer? (I ask this seriously; my mother wants to move to central Michigan but have lemon trees without a greenhouse.)

Think also about hurricanes, tornadoes, catastrophic floods, and Level 3 Snow Emergencies. It is so much nicer to deal with those in high school and when you're young and earning a daily living isn't life-or-death, than when you're 40 and HAVE TO BE AT WORK TODAY OR TERRIBLE THINGS WILL HAPPEN.

Do you have any serious medical or psychiatric issues? Basic situational depression/anxiety can be handled with biweekly and monthly trips to a M&F style therapist, and hypothyroidism requires occasional blood tests and a prescription that's easy to get. If you have complex PTSD or relapsing/remitting MS, you probably need to be in a city with a decent medical system, and that implies a population north of 500k. Think genetics too, here: are you at high odds for something like cancer? Note that this doesn't necessarily always argue one way or the other: nursing home care seems to be best, in my area, in the outer suburbs as opposed to the central cities or rural areas.

How hard is it going to be, financially/logistically/psychologically, to get the car/house/etc.? Cars and houses require downpayments and credit scores and verifiable income. Do you actually have that? Are you okay with leasing/renting, but never being able to paint the walls, having to wait on someone else to fix the A/C, and/or having to limit your driving a LOT (12,000 miles a year goes FAST in the country)?

How often do you want to be able to experience a Big City? How big is Big Enough? Do you feel that Columbus, St. Louis, or Philadelphia are sufficient, or do you need Chicago and NYC? I'm six hours from the nearest top 3 city, but in the middle of a top 15 city. I grew up in Los Angeles, and it amuses the heck out of me to hear people talk about Columbus like it's anything more than a big town. Portland and Reno feel a bit like a shoebox to me, and my next-youngest sister pretty much has to visit NYC or Chicago to feel like she's really been somewhere of the "right" size - I don't have the thirst for Huge, so it doesn't bother me, but she can't really stand living here as a permanent situation.

Conversely, how much nature (especially in terms of square mileage) do you need to get to before it's big enough for you? The largest "very very natural" area within easy (worth it for a few hours of enjoyment) drive of me is only about 1,200 acres; to get to a national forest it's more like a two hour drive and I really need to stay overnight to make it feel worth the effort. Your parents might not actually live close enough to what you really want - I know people who've compromised by living two hours from Mom and Dad so they could be within 30 minutes of Spectacular.

Can you really handle living back home for an extended period of time? This is really tough to figure out without actually doing it - if you can, arrange for a sabbatical or long vacation and go back for at least two weeks, living as close to the lifestyle you want as you can manage. That means visiting the Tractor Supply and striking up conversations at the diner and bringing dessert to your friends' house for dinner with them and their kids and trying to find a midnight showing of an upcoming release (if you're into that.) If you can't swing this, at least try to construct a narrative - and here you need to extend that out for a few months - of what you would actually do each day.

Is it OK with you if the dreamier components of your ideal lifestyle are a gradual acquisition? That is, are you deeply dissatisfied and have a List Of Changes Which Are Really Needed Right Now, or is this something that you're OK with feeling like you're getting closer to over time? I ask this in part because some of your aspirations are "stretch" goals for someone who can move everything they own with little effort and still has to work for a living, and in part because you can move to Not New York City and set yourself up for a retirement that is VERY like what you want eventually, with a lower degree of culture shock than you're currently setting yourself up for. Like, you can get those hugs-for-greetings and a quieter pace of life and extremely close nature less than 50 miles from NYC (random example.)

Background: I moved all over the place as a kid, gave up on California after trying to hack it for a few years as an adult and realizing it wasn't for me, and am constructing the kind of life I actually want and can manage in the midwest (but not in a small town; I learned my lesson about wanting a certain level of services.) I want a garden and chats with friends on a porch, but am making do with a townhouse that has its own enclosed patio and visits to my mom and sisters on the weekends; they are about 40 miles from my place.
posted by SMPA at 11:26 AM on May 26, 2012 [25 favorites]

I drafted a loooooong comment, but SMPA really nailed it. Can you at least clarify whether you are considering moving to a place like Atlanta (a region of 5 million), Kansas City (pop 600k), Lawrence, KS (pop 85k, college town), or... I don't know, Pratt, KS (pop 6800, down from a high of 8100 in the '60s)? Those have very different pros and cons.
posted by salvia at 1:11 PM on May 26, 2012

Friend of mine tried this and moved back to the small mining town he's from because he got in a similar MUST GO HOME state of mind. He's discovered some downsides, like: All the reasons you left, whatever those are, are still there. He's a single liberal bi-poly intellectual type in a veeerrry conservative part of the country and it's not exactly teeming with guys/girls who are down for open relationships and voting for Obama and eating organic and whatnot. He was horrified when one of his dates told him "A woman's place is in the home" and she expected to be a housewife because it's God's role for women. People don't do geeky things like play D&D and read fantasy books there and play video games there (well, their kids do, but it's not something the grownups do). He's ironic and sarcastic and doesn't believe anything he says and finds he alienates people because that kind of irony doesn't really fly with people there. He's finding it pretty isolating and really hard to meet people, not because he can't find the brainiac intellectuals that love Firefly and polygamous relationships, but because most/all people like that move as soon as they can.

As for me, I move to the rural south for a job for a while and while I'm from the small-town south originally, I found it completely stifling. A lot of the things an urbanized yuppie like me takes for granted were just nonexistent. No good ethnic food, no wide selection of stores outside of Wal-mart/Target/chains, nothing's open on Sunday, nothing's open 24 hours, there was nothing to do, food selection was all deep-fried/fast food, there was all of one (1) bookstore and it was full of weird Christian books and stuff by the people on Fox News, so on and so forth. That was to say nothing of the right-wing politics, bonkers political ads, etc. I ran screaming as soon as I could. I couldn't live in a place without decent tacos (to say nothing of the rest of it). What kinda life is that? I nodded my head at SMPA's grandmother because, shit, I dunno what I'd do without fresh tortillas and breakfast tacos. It's amazing what becomes important to you when you're missing it. Like, yes, in the larger sense I was not politically suited to live in the rural south long-term but the fact that I had to shop at Wal-Mart just because there was no alternative and eat fast food because there was nothing else drove me up the wall as a yuppie douchebag liberal. My wife does not want to leave Austin because she's found a dentist she likes and Alamo Drafthouse. Seriously. Sometimes it's the small lifestyle things that outweigh everything.

That said, while I enjoy big cities like NYC, LA, and San Francisco, I really enjoy the laid-back Southern people but with big(er) city amenities in Austin where I live now. It's possible you could find a place between, closer to your parents and with lots of nature but still close to whatever drew you to NYC in the first place. If you care to. Just thinking about it: New Hampshire, Vermont, upstate NY, or further south, parts of Virginia and Maryland are pretty rural. My cousin lives out in a very rural part of Maryland and lives the classic (self-described) redneck lifestyle surrounded by chicken farms, but he's 2-3 hours from DC. If you want to go back, then go, but I'm making sure you know there are options between New York/move back home.

Just to elaborate on some of the points SMPA raises:

So you want to meet potential romantic partners. Question is, is there going to be a pool of potential romantic partners there? If it's a quiet suburb/small town kind of thing where people move after they get married/have kids, you may find the pickings are slim. And even if there are a lot of single people, are they necessarily the kind of single people you'd want to get involved with, be it politically or interests-ly or whatever? (Like my friend above searching for the geek girl of his dreams when any geek girl flees that town as soon as they can go to college and if they come back, they come back married)

So, your friends, do you still have anything in common with them? What I mean is you may be welcome at their home and they may enjoy your company, but I've found parents soon find themselves doing nothing but parenting things and will be talking about school and the playground and kid's TV shows and you'll be wanting to talk about music and the latest (grownup) movies and whatever it is you do and you tend to drift apart just because you live in two different worlds. And it's not bad, per say, it's just you've got different interests and lifestyles and are at different places in their lives. When they can't come over for bullshit sessions on the porch because Daisy's playing soccer or Junior's got piano lessons, are you able to accept that or would you resent them because you moved back just to be with them and here they are not wanting to hang out with you? If you're going to their place to talk to them, are you going to be able to deal with them not being up for more than light conversation because the kids are running around and the dog is barking and they haven't read a book without pictures since the babies were born?

What I'm stabbing at in a larger sense is your friends and family all have lives of their own and while you'll certainly be welcome, are you going to be okay with it if it's not the romantic life you're envisioning in your head? If dad has bowling and mom has her bridge games and they can have dinner once a week, but it's not what you expect? Are you going to accept that or resent them for it? I had a set of grandparents that didn't mind entertaining me when I dropped in because all they did was watch TV and a set that were always courteous and happy to see me but not about to interrupt bridge night/dinner with the gals/whatever they had going on, so I'd have to make my own fun while they were out. I never minded because I understood--drop in on me and I may not be home because I took a last minute trip to the beach for the weekend--but I know a lot of their potential guests resented it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:22 PM on May 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The place you left may no longer exist in ways that are important to you. Spend some time there again the next time you're back taking careful note of what's changed. For example, the city I grew up in used to be vaguely affordable, real estate-wise- now it's in the stratosphere. Given the professional choices I've made, I'd never be able to buy a home there. By the same token, there's a major industry there now that wasn't really a national presence when I was still in high school.

Can you do this on a trial basis- perhaps go visit for a few weeks instead of just a weekend, and plan it as a research trip?

On a personal note, I left New York last year for a job in a midwestern college town. Being here is often utterly frustrating, but life is so much easier, financially and existentially. New York is often not the greatest place for grown-ups - financially, emotionally, professionally, and otherwise- unless you're very wealthy and can cushion yourself from the hardships of living there.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder if it would be easier to find a mate if I weren't in NYC.

Not saying that finding a mate in NYC is particularly easy, but the more sparsely-populated a place is, the smaller the dating pool, and the less choice you have. Obviously this wouldn't make much of a difference moving from, say NYC to Chicago, but it definitely would moving from NYC to St. Louis.

Another thing to take into account -- it's not uncommon in cities like NYC, SF, or Chicago to be single at 40. In other, sleepier locales, it's far less common, although you may find some divorcees I suppose.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:57 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another way to look at population size and lifestyle: the primary census statistical areas by population size. There are HUGE jumps after NYC and LA (which are themselves very very different from each other,) and somewhere between #25 (Portland/Vancouver) and #45 (Greenville SC & environs) you find yourself transitioning from "places where I can get just about anything I really want if I try hard enough and I probably don't have to cross a state line to do it, but if I have to it's no big deal" to "places where there's stuff that's just not here." Every place I've been outside of the top 100 has had noticeable deficits in the "24 hour pharmacy/real Mexican food/decent department stores and awesome not-department stores" stuff that characterizes a population center of sufficient size for me. I'd get very itchy living in any of them long-term; I have a hard time tolerating it when it's an overnight stay on the way to something awesome. There are regions of this country I won't enter without packing food ahead of time, the restaurant pickings are so freaking slim.

You might need something in the top 30 or just something in the top 400 or maybe you really are going to be OK in a town with 30000 residents and no population above 100,000 within an hour's (long, lonely, easy-to-spot-cows-and-corn, sorry-no-rest-stops) drive. It just depends. But it's important to know what you need and how easy it is to get it where you're thinking of going.

(Don't bother with comparing average density rankings - density and resulting cultural stuff drops like a rock as soon as you're a relatively tiny distance outside of the central city everywhere other than the Megalopolis, and you can still get teeny tiny towns even there, or very close by.)
posted by SMPA at 5:59 PM on May 26, 2012

Best answer: What questions can I ask myself that will make this decision more clear?

I would ask myself: what would have to happen to life here in NYC to make me NOT want to leave? (SO, new job, bigger apt., more opportunities for weekends away...) This might help you nail down whether you truly, genuinely wish to return to the old hometown (or environs), or whether you're just looking for a change (perhaps to another city nowhere near home).

I would ask myself: if I had the money and flexibility to fly home to see Mom and (Step)dad once a month, would this scratch the itch? Or is it more than that?
posted by skbw at 7:26 PM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Foxy_hedgehog makes a great point and this is a question I've been wondering about too. Do I really want to turn 40 in a fifth floor walk up where doing laundry is a major form of exercise?

As everyone has mentioned, you really have to test the waters first. Hometowns definitely change, as do your old friends' lives especially where kids are involved. And, as a previous commenter mentiond, sometimes one of the only constants can be your remaining irritations at the reasons you left in the first place.

I haven't left because I guess I think it would be easier to ensure you had a job lined up first. It would be very difficult for me to reappear in my hometown, single AND unemployed.

However, life is short and time moves on. Had I moved back 5 years ago, I might be totally settled in right now.

Do some reconnaissance work like people mentioned and try to spend some extended time there.
posted by bquarters at 7:48 PM on May 26, 2012

I left a big city (one of the alpha+ global cities) four years ago to move to a small, isolated town in Scotland. It turned out to be an excellent decision for me and I don't regret it at all.

As far as missing restaurants and foods from the big city, I thought this would be a much bigger issue than it turned out to be. I love to cook so I can make most things myself that I crave. During any particular week I might serve up Turkish, Lebanese, Indian, Italian, French or Southwestern US - inspired dishes. I can buy most ingredients locally nowadays but anything I can't find I just order over the internet. No, I don't get to eat fresh Durian or Mangosteens except when I'm on holiday, but I can live with that. There are a lot of local specialties I do enjoy. I save a ton of money by not being tempted to go out to restaurants most nights as well, and the food I make is a lot healthier than most restaurant food and I know exactly what goes into it.

I do miss having a movie theater nearby, but I enjoy going out to plays and concerts instead, and we always seem to have a lot of different acts passing through plus some local bands that are very good. I also helped start up a film club that's going pretty well despite a rocky start. In a small town it's a lot easier to organize community events than in a big city, I've found.

In terms of dating, I was single when I moved here and never had much luck with meeting anyone right for me in the big city. I don't know why but in my small town I received a lot more male attention and dated some great guys. Then 3 years ago I met the man who I plan to spend the rest of my life with - he lived about a mile away from me in a village of around 8,000 people. He believes it was fate - I'm a bit more pragmatic and put it down to good luck plus the fact that sometimes it's better not to be overwhelmed with too many choices. Taking the time to get to know someone, falling in love and slowly realizing it's meant to be worked out much better for me here than in a place where it's easy to just discard what you have in search of an elusive fantasy ideal in a huge and overwhelming dating pool.

I don't miss the crowds, the pollution, the rudeness, and the sense of everyone being in everyone else's way that I felt in a big city. I do miss the diversity of the big city. In a lot of ways small-town living is more socially conservative than what I would prefer. There's a lot of gossip that goes on, and scandal sticks to people for life. I avoid it as best I can but sometimes the loss of anonymity does have its downsides.

I do miss the world class museums and the incredible architecture, but the beauty of nature and diversity of plant and animal life makes up for that for me.

Owning a house also suits me much better than apartment living. It's great to have the privacy and the ability to make as much noise as we like (as I type this my partner is practicing the trumpet down the hall without a mute). It's great having space, a big garden, uninterrupted countryside views.

So I would say, think carefully about what's important to you. Where I live works for me, but having said all that I'm not entirely sure it would work in the US. Scotland is a fairly left-leaning country (there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs). I don't think I personally could be happy living in a place in the US where Republican politics dominated the political landscape. It's important to me to be at least somewhat in tune with the political will of the place I live, but perhaps that's less the case for you, and perhaps restaurants and bars are more important? I don't know, but it's definitely something to think about.

Finally, I can't advise about whether or not to move "home," but would say to keep in mind that the place you think of when you think about home doesn't really exist anymore. For me, the best way to approach my move was to think about my values and to find a place that suited them the best. The place where I'm from doesn't suit me, but my chosen home does. I can't speak to whether or not the same would be true for you.

My partner and I don't think we'll stay where we are forever, as I'm the restless type at heart and like to move around, and he is wanting to change careers which would involve living somewhere else. However, we'll stay here for the next few years and I'll never regret having spent this part of my life here. Anyway, it seems like a lot of the responses in this thread have advised caution, which I definitely agree with. But there's a lot to be said for following your dreams and seeing where they take you as well. Good luck.
posted by hazyjane at 3:47 AM on May 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'd be moving to a small city with a population of more than a quarter of a million, or with a short drive of it.

Thanks for all the advice!
posted by bunderful at 7:45 AM on May 27, 2012

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