Can the grass truly be greener somewhere else?
March 19, 2013 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I'll try to be as brief and succinct as I can. Please bear with me.

The following is the backstory:

Almost 5 years ago, I graduated from college hoping I could get a good job in my field. Well, as we all know, the economy tanked and hasn't recovered since. Luckily, I have a job, but I am majorly underemployed and underpaid.

I had also hoped once I graduated that I could date again, maybe have a nurturing relationship, with the goal of finding a life partner. Well, online dating and trying to meet someone in real life have been abysmal, to put it mildly.

I have put a pile of time, energy, and effort into finding other work and meeting new people with very poor results.

Now before I go any further, I need to mention that when I graduated, I made a very poor decision to move to an area of the U.S. that is not in my best interest to live. In other words, I live in a town of about 75,000 people where the economy is pitiful, the community is very stagnant, and statistically there are more women than men that live here. Yeah, I know, not a moment of the finest judgment.

Here's the current deal:

I need to mention that I regularly see a therapist, take medication for depression, and am working big time on self-care. I am making my best effort to address my personal issues and am committed to growth and evolution in my life.

So, my question is, "Is there such a thing as a good (or at least better) geographic location to build a life for yourself?". I'm not looking for a place to shelter me from the inevitabilities of life. I'm just wondering if there is any possibility of finding an environment that is more conducive to moving forward personally and professionally. And not surprisingly, I want to be part of a community of like-minded people who are healthily ambitious and open to new experiences & activities.

This is sort of a theoretical question, but I want to hear what your personal experiences have been with moving to a different locale to pursue a better life for yourself. Thanks for your input!
posted by strelitzia to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Is there such a thing as a good (or at least better) geographic location to build a life for yourself?

Oh, yes, of course! My situation is a little weird in that I only realized that place was the place I moved away from (and promptly moved back a year later) but there are absolutely places where you will thrive and places where you will wither just based around the person that you are.

There are absolutely places where your field is alive (or at least doing better than where you are), the community is dynamic, and the single people are plentiful and interesting. You'll need to do your research before moving, of course, but don't confuse finding your place in the world with running away from your problems. No matter where you move to, you will be you. It's everything else that will be different.
posted by griphus at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have moved many times in my life. Most times, I was bringing my problems to new places with me. About 5 years ago, I made a decision to move to an area that was a much better fit for me, while also taking care of myself. While it didn't immediately make my life all better, it was a great long term decision for me.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Of course there is. This can be especially true if your field is not in demand in your area, but is in another area. Or if your field is something that has a hub in a major city and isn't commonly found in a smaller place (for instance while it's possible to design clothing in Peoria, it's a lot easier to do so in New York). Or even if what you do is something that a smaller city only needs a few of, like you want to own a coffee shop or become a reference librarian.

It's very realistic that there might be more opportunities for you somewhere else, and if there's nothing tying you to the city you live in, by all means, move!

(Re romance, though, I do think this is a grass is greener type thing. It's hard to meet people anywhere.)
posted by Sara C. at 10:04 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think it depends entirely on what sort of life you want to build for yourself. I transferred to a college in NYC as an undergraduate because I wanted to live here; I wanted to be here before I graduated so I'd be somewhat settled and could look for jobs. The plan worked out, I got a job (a terrible one that paid pennies, but it was a start), I fell in love with the city & the people, and the rest is history. I've had plenty of NYC friends decide to move elsewhere for a variety of reasons. There are so many factors that will determine where you'll fit in- what industry do you want to work in? Where do you fall on the political spectrum? What sort of weather best suits you? How much of your income are you willing/able to spend on housing? Do you want a car, or do you want to be able to live without one? And on and on.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:04 AM on March 19, 2013

"Is there such a thing as a good (or at least better) geographic location to build a life for yourself?"

Oh hell yes! When I was a kid, my family moved all over, and at the end of high school I ended up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I lived there for 9 years, but in the mid '90s I got an offer I couldn't refuse out near San Francisco and moved out here.

I love Chattanooga, Tennessee. There is spectacular rock climbing 20 minutes from downtown. There is amazing whitewater 40 minutes from downtown. There is great bicycling, spectacular outdoors, I have a number of really great friends who still live there, I could probably go back in a heartbeat and find decent work, they now have gigabit fiber Ethernet/

And I can go back for a visit, but I couldn't live there again.

There are things about that culture that are so amazingly stifling that it was great that the few of us weirdos in town flocked together, but out here in northern California, what was the fringe there is the norm. And it's enormously freeing: radical ideas are accepted, the new frontiers are way further out, the possible is that much bigger.

I didn't realize how much the culture was dragging me back until I got out here.

Different circumstances work for different people, but, yes, absolutely some geographic areas are better, some cultural areas are better, and moving can change everything!
posted by straw at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2013

There is such a wide variety of place types in this country that it should be possible to find one that would make you happy ( a happy you should be the first objective). there are literate towns (and cities), outdoorsy towns, towns with great nightlife, small towns with a small town feel, university towns, beach towns, ski-bum towns. alaska has a much more favorable male to female ratio if that's what you seek.
In short yes! the world is big and if there's nothing stopping you go and see some of it and enjoy the new.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2013

To a certain extent you need to bloom where you're planted. But if your therapy has brought to light some definites about you and you're self-aware enough to distinguish between your depression/personality and your immediate circumstances, then moving to a place that feeds your soul and also has decent job opportunities and people your age. I lived for 5 years in a place with no work, very provincial-thinking locals, and an unhappy relationship. The place had a lot to do with my despair, and where I live now is a huge improvement. I do work that matters, there is culture and open-mindedness here, life is pretty good. I did bring my baggage with me though. You'll have that wherever you live.
posted by headnsouth at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2013

As Buckaroo Banzai says, no matter where you go, there you are. Obviously, you'll take some of your problems with you whenever you relocate.

But, of course, environment--both the place and the people--has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves, our past, our future, etc.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2013

Yeah, ok, so "wherever you go, there you are" and etc. But. Oh yes, absolutely, there is such a thing as a better place to build your life.

I started out in NYC for career reasons, and I'd probably have a more "impressive" career today if I'd stayed, like many of my friends. But I'd also probably still be living with 3 or more roommates in my 30s, broke as hell all the time and in debt, and sheesh, probably still anorexic and a virgin.

I moved somewhere where people can live and breathe a bit easier. I don't have a fancy job, but I have supported myself (and supported a couple of non-earning partners as well) in my field of study for a decade, and have zero roommates. Some years have been easier than others. But it turned out that for me, an ability to feel secure and financially independent outweighed a desire to be fancy.

Now my current city is suffering from the housing crisis big-time, and I'm getting priced out as a single-income renter. So, I'm back to looking for a new city--well, I think I have found the city, now I've gotta find the work that's there. Figure out what's most important to you, and find the place that lets you do it. It WILL make a huge difference.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2013

Is there such a thing as a good (or at least better) geographic location to build a life for yourself?

For me there sure was. I ended up living in Washington DC about seven years longer than I meant to. It's a fine town, I like going back to visit, I know many people love it there blahblahblah but ever since I moved to San Francisco, I have at least one moment every single day when I look around and think, "I live here! I LIVE HERE!!!"

It's so much better this way.
posted by rtha at 10:18 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One thought: Is it possible part of you made that original choice to move to the small town *because* you wouldn't be able to get your needs met there? That might be something to discuss with your therapist.

I have a friend who is in a somewhat similar situation, and I have frequently wondered if they stay where they are partially out of fear of getting what they want. This friend has self-sabotaged in relationships in other ways, and I've really wondered if they stay in a rural area with no dating prospects as a form of self-sabotage.

Anyway. I think moving sounds like a great idea. You won't know if you'll bring your problems with you until you give it a try. (I grew up in a rural area, and it was clear early on that the kind of jobs I'd be interested in wouldn't be available in my home town. I've been in a larger metro area for a while -- school and working -- and the difference is night and day. I'm much happier in a place that is well-suited to my pesonality and skills.)
posted by pie ninja at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: Given enough people in an area, you should be able to find your niche socially. I don't think 75,000 people is enough. A city of 75,000 people may have, say, a cycling club*, but probably only one, and if you don't quite fit into it because of a personality conflict, or the type of cycling you prefer, you kind of SOL. In a city of maybe 500,000 people or larger, you'll have more options socially. There will be half a dozen or a dozen cycling groups to choose from, and if you don't hit it off with the first one you ride with, there are other clubs to try. You're less likely to hit social dead ends.

Not sure what your field is, but being in a larger city can't hurt there either.

*Note that when I say cycling club, I'm referring to any social circle, whether it's cycling or home canning or model trains or knitting.
posted by Doohickie at 10:42 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the responses so far! Keep 'em coming.
posted by strelitzia at 10:45 AM on March 19, 2013

So, my question is, "Is there such a thing as a good (or at least better) geographic location to build a life for yourself?"

Unless you are Native American, your ancestors almost undoubtedly were faced with this same dilemma and answered "yes!"

Some places have better economies and job markets than others. Some places have more vibrant social lives than others. Some places more of your friends live than others. Some places have more access to your favorite leisure activities than others. That's been my experience, at least. I would start by prioritizing on the best place to advance your professional life in.
posted by deanc at 10:57 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I certainly believe in "Place-Charming", but for sure, your job and dating prospects will be better the larger the place is.

Plus, it gives you something to research, think about, look forward to and plan, which ALWAYS puts a bounce in MY step.

I'd say, post a question here about the kinds of things you're looking for in a place, then we'll all come back and tell you what we think. Then narrow it down to a couple, then start applying for jobs in them. If you have friends in a place you'd like to move, even better.

When you get a job, move.

I'll warn you, when you're new to a place it's a bit rough at first. Figuring out where to go, getting a little group of friends together, but after about 12 months, you're golden!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:57 AM on March 19, 2013

Sure. I briefly lived in small-town Alabama and it wasn't just a bad professional fit (when I got laid off, there was literally nowhere else I could work), it was a bad personal fit. I remember complaining about there being nothing to do once and one of the guys was like, "Nothing to do? There's a movie theater and a bar. That's what people do. They go to a movie, maybe they go to a bar afterwards, then they go home. What else is there?" It was two different worlds.

So yes, obviously, moving somewhere with more professional opportunities can really help you along, but don't discount the power of a change of scenery. Even simple things like better weather (for whatever your definition of better weather may be) can help your mood considerably. I'm not allowed to live anyplace where it snows, for example, because I get so grouchy the wife doesn't want to put up with me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: I have done this. Admittedly, it was not planned - decision made overnight to escape an abusive situation - but I left Buffalo NY for Toronto about twenty years ago, and it's been the best thing in the world for me. It's only an hour and a half away, but it's good for these reasons, among others:

Employment: The type of work I was doing (selling Antiques, Jewellery, Couture) is a much larger, higher-end market here. I was able to translate this into a side business, teaching, and freelancing in such a way that when I had a baby, I could work her into my life instead of having to shift gears entirely. Now I do other things, patchworking and working for a school; but because the economy here is better than there, I am at least working whenever I need or want to. There are no jobs for me there. None. And none quite for my husband either - the larger ad agencies here mean we can live mostly on one income so our childcare costs are nothing. And Health Care! My goodness, having OHIP has meant the world to us. A dislocated shoulder didn't cause our family to owe thousands. We could have a baby who could grow up to break her arm on the monkey bars and we did not have to agonize for one second about her care. I never have to worry about whether I'm sick enough to go to see my doctor.

Entertainment: The music scene I loved and enjoyed there is still there for me to enjoy - but it's bigger and better here. We produce successful events and support our friends', and it's affordable, while we're at it. There is just so much to do otherwise too - camps for my kid, cultural events, festivals - every single day there is something we could do for little to no money if we wanted. There are urban forests to explore, a lake for throwing rocks in, neighbourhoods to crawl through just for an interesting walk. Which brings me to...

Walkable: Our neighbourhood means I can go a very long time without driving if I don't want to. This is something that makes a difference in the pace of life I want to enjoy. I never, never want to have to get in a car and drive to a store to just get something like a carton of milk. I don't love our public transit - but it's a hell of a lot better than what I used to have to use, especially in this climate. I like cities with neighbourhoods - I just don't like suburbs and I didn't have as much choice there, and none of our friends there are in walking distance from each other, and that would always mean not drinking and driving, or needing to go out to meet at some place and spend money, and possibly driving in bad weather. Which brings me to...

Climate: Weather-wise, though I'm just on the other side of the lake, there's less snow. I do not care for snow. And what there is is not so much for me to have to shovel or brush off my car or drive through, because of the walkable thing. The walkable thing means I am a healthier person. Lots of people walk. And spend time on patios, and at parks and playgrounds and I see my neighbours. Any day I can walk down the street and say hi to four different people from four different walks of life, and it feels great.

And the cultural climate? Well, our friends have similar political beliefs and more of a social conscience than I experienced in Buffalo. My friends there still are also like-minded, but here I am surrounded by people most of whom volunteer somewhere, eat healthy foods and try to shop in good conscience, compost, recycle, vote....etc. There are people that do that there, of course - lots and lots - but here it's nearly everyone, where as there, it's still a bit progressive.

What I would say to you, is to suggest that outline your dream day, and then figure out where you could have it.

When I think about my day, it's pretty great all-around. I still experience depression and anxiety, but I have better support for it, medically and lifestyle-wise. Back where I used to live, it would be exponentially harder for me to find a place where I could get up and make healthy breakfasts and lunches and walk my kid to school; stop for a coffee at the neighbourhood shop with a friendly mom or dad (or invite someone over); get some work done; get my kid from school and take her for a walk along the boardwalk or to a park or to run errands and get a snack someplace charming; take the dog out in the evening and chat with neighbours; go to a meeting for some concern and have a drink after and do it all on foot. On the weekends, there are classes and events and adventures to have. I utilize clothing and dinner swaps, and stay on top of issues with neighbourhood boards and online groups. I feel useful and active and resourceful, and I need that to feel good about myself. And I know if the rest of my days were to go like this, I wouldn't be entirely miserable. I still hate parking issues, construction and other issues the city is having - but the pleasurable part of my life more than balances those things out.

So, what would you like your day to be like?
posted by peagood at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have moved cross-country multiple times. In some places, I have just fit. I felt like I was among peers, like I could belong. In other places, I did not fit. I felt like an outsider, looking in, at a weird way of life, weird values. I felt like I would never belong. I'm not talking about just the Big Issues we usually use to discuss geographical differences, like religion, Red State/ Blue State, etc. I'm also talking about little things, like the fruit selections at the nearby grocery stores, the length of traffic light stops, the regional style of greeting, etc.

Definitely, you can improve your quality of life by moving to a place where you fit.

But, I want to also add to the warnings others have given. Note, I did not say that, in some places, I did belong. Instead, I said I felt as if I could belong. Because, when you first move to a place, you don't belong. You don't know the place. You don't know the roadways, you don't know the grocery stores, you don't know localpolitical issues, you don't know the community. Nevermind the fact that you no longer have friends or even acquaintances nearby. Even in the places where I immediately knew I fit, I still spent a LONG time feeling extremely lonely. One of the most lonely and distressing experiences is being in an empty apartment, needing to move the furniture in, and knowing you don't have a single person you can ask to help you. (And I say this as an extremely introverted person who doesn't even like asking people for help under any circumstances!)

Moving to a new place can be the roughest, toughest, and most painful thing you ever do. But, like everyone is saying, sometimes it's the right thing to do.
posted by meese at 12:11 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

To me 75,000 people sounds tiny!

But even other than size, I think the right city can do a lot for you. For example, I live in Seattle, where there is a large and growing tech industry. This means there are a disproportionate number of geeks, introverts, atheists, and kinky people here, like me *and* that it's much easier for me to find a job. Add in the fact that I love skiing (an hour away from the city), theatre (Seattle has one of the liveliest theatre scenes), water views, and food, and I'm really in a city that's good for me.

What kind of place do you like living in? What do you value? Go out and find a community like that, because they exist. *BUT* also give the new place at least a year or two to get to know you before you give up.
posted by ethidda at 1:19 PM on March 19, 2013

I have moved again and again and again, all over the US and to several locations in Europe, for periods ranging from 3 months to a couple years.

What made a difference to me:

-- weather. Places with really cold dark winters give me seasonal mood problems. Minnesota was brutal.

-- urban density. I don't drive, so living in a place where grocery stores, restaurants, cafes and culturally interesting features are in walking distance or an easy subway ride away makes me materially happier.

-- existing friend group. Living where I have a couple of family members or close friends obviously makes things more pleasant and acts as a seed to building up a larger social group more quickly.

-- regional politics/social scene. I am most comfortable in liberal-but-relaxed places like Seattle, where I feel like people are good-willed toward each other but not in haste to judge others. Small towns where everyone is in everyone's business, or where there's a lot of conservative dogma heard on the streets, make me feel alien even if I don't say anything about my differences.

Employment options haven't correlated as tightly for me, but that's because I can telecommute for my current job, so can do it from lots of places and therefore can choose to live in locations I otherwise want to inhabit. Likewise, I have an LTR and haven't been looking for dates. But I think if I were, I would also find that process easiest in a densely populated area with prevailing politics I found sympathetic. The odds are just better.
posted by shattersock at 3:08 PM on March 19, 2013

I did this a few years ago after my divorce (SF to LA), and overall I'm pretty happy with the decision.

For me it wasn't exactly a "better" location (maybe slightly better for dating, slightly worse for career) but a different one. Moving cities is a _great_ way to break parts of your routine you don't like. My daily life isn't a complete change from what it was, but it is different in many ways that I don't think would have happened if I had stayed there.

And while I had some good friends and a support structure there, it wasn't making me happy. But because I had that familiarity, breaking out of the things that were contributing to the unhappiness would have been much tougher than when I forced myself to.

So even just on that note, it can help. Given that your city seems ill-suited to you, I think it's likely to be a much more dramatic change for you, quite possibly for the better but it will be what you make of it.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:24 PM on March 19, 2013

I was a military wife, so I moved around for two decades. I definitely found that some places worked better for me than others.

Re: Romance.
I was in a city of 100,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area when my divorce began. There was no shortage of opportunities to meet men. There are over 100 cities in the SF Bay area. I got hit on constantly. I moved to a city of 180,000 in the Deep South. It is the largest city locally. Crickets began doing some very serious chirping wrt to my romantic life. I went from "It's raining men" to some kind of man drought.

So, yes, I think place can make a big difference there too.
posted by Michele in California at 5:29 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just some anecdata: I've been happiest in places where I have been considered right-of-center (for example, Berkeley, CA) than places where I have been considered left-of-center (for example, Arlington, VA).
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 9:18 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

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