How do I feel okay about moving far away from people I love?
March 15, 2017 10:00 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I may be moving to Eugene, OR this summer for my graduate school. My mom, sister, and niece all live down in Florida. How do I feel okay about being so far away from them? Have you done this happily (or have you regretted doing this), and are there tips/experiences you could share?

I'm not entirely sure why this is bothering me so much. I haven't lived in Florida in about 20 years (right now I'm in Pittsburgh), so this isn't like I'm going from living across the street to living across the country. While it's always been something I regret in some ways - I just can't live in Florida ... really, I can't see myself living ANYWHERE permanently, there are just too many interesting places to experience. But somehow living practically as far away as I physically could while still remaining in the continental US feels different - I'd be 3 hours behind them, plane rides will probably be long and expensive enough to preclude the long weekend visits they've always done up to now ...

On top of that, my mom is turning 70 this year, though she's in good health; still it's hard not to worry in ways I haven't up to now. My niece is only 4, too - I don't want her to grow up with me and my wife being these abstract people way over in who-knows-where.

On the other hand ... the idea of living in Oregon really appeals to both me and my wife - we're considering a number of places but it's the biggest "adventure" of all our options. It's possible we'd only be there until my graduate program is complete (3 years including the clinical fellowship year), although of course I realize that where you study is where you'll make connections and thus will be where it's easiest to find a job ... and one other thing that's making this difficult is that Vermont is another possible option for us, and I've always loved the idea of living in New England so giving that up for now is tough, too.

So the long and short of all this is that my wife and I are really attracted to the idea of trying out Oregon, but simultaneously I'm worried about being so far away from people I love. It would really help me to hear from other people who have moved drastically far away from their loved ones - how has this worked for you? How do you maintain a feeling of closeness with them? In all honesty I think I just want someone to tell me it'll be all right - I realize that's not exactly an appropriate AskMe request, though, so in lieu of that, I'd love to hear how similar situations have worked for others. Thank you for any insight you can provide!
posted by DingoMutt to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
People move. People stay in touch. I left my home for the army. Then for overseas...then for another state. My son lived overseas. My other son also. We are in constant touch via skype or phone or daughter lives states away and calls daily. Life is not and can not be rooted to one city, one farm, one state. Jobs, schooling, marriage, etc. all require changes. You will always be connected if you want to be.
posted by Postroad at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

We moved away from my parents and sister, and we've talked about moving again. We used to live an hour away from my family, so now unless we move closer, everywhere we go will still be a flight away, unless my family wants to drive for a long while, or take the train. While moving farther away means a longer flight, the difference isn't as significant as our first move. I call my parents weekly to chat, and we do video chats, too. My wife's family is dispersed across the country, and she keeps in touch by texting, calling and Skyping at varying intervals.

In short: beyond certain thresholds, distances don't matter as much, really. Time zones can be tough in terms of calling or video chatting, but as long as it's only a few hours difference instead of a half day, it's not really that big of a deal. Enjoy your adventures, and remember that your family is just a flight away.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I bet part of it is that the world seems more precarious than it did when you left for Pgh--that could be a part of your feeling a little iffy about this anti-coccoon move. But Oregon is still in the country. If something major happens, you can take a leave of absence and go back home. You'll stay in touch because you want to. I'm in closer touch with my friends in distant states than I am with my friend just six hours away, merely because he is not a texter. If I were made unhappy by it, I would call. You'll call. Everything will be fine.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

You'll be fine. The only difference is the flight to get home will be longer.

I moved from Louisiana to Washington state. I miss them a lot. And sometimes I get homesick and cry. But I also know that I would be miserable in Louisiana. I hated living there. I know when those feelings happen that it just means it's time for a trip home or for someone to come visit me.

Right now I have an ongoing group text that consists of me, my mom, and my aunt. My sister and niece facetime me all the time. My dad texts me constantly with random boring things I don't even want to hear about. Sometimes because of my parents picking up my niece at school, they will tell me about her adventures in kindergarten before my sister (her mom!!) even finds out. This annoys my sister. I find it hilarious that I can know what she's doing and I'm 2,000 miles away before my sister does.

My boyfriend - he is quite different. He talks to his parents maybe once a month and that's it. And he hasn't spoken to his sister in the 4 years since we moved. I find this very bizarre. It just depends on how much contact you need/want with your family to still feel connected. I require a lot of contact. He doesn't.
posted by ilovewinter at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Virginia, and most of my family lives there now. When I was 19, I was going to college in DC (a short trip to my parents' home) and my parents sold the house and moved to Wyoming. It was a little hard, but they made sure that I could visit whenever I needed/wanted, even when the tickets were hideously expensive around the holidays. Even though it usually took 12 hours door-to-door to see them, it was totally worth it. We talked on the phone and played some phone games together when we were apart. I never felt like geographical distance affected our relationship/closeness.

Now, they're back in Virginia and I'm in Massachusetts. I miss being able to hop in the car on a Friday afternoon with my dog and a backpack and go visit for the weekend... but we make a point to plan frequent visits, and to talk often via text/email/phone. Again, I don't feel like being far away has made us any less close.

This sort of thing will be different for every family. But for us, we're closer when we're all living the life we want. A few years ago that meant that my parents had a crazy mid-life adventure in Wyoming; right now it means I'm living in New England for the first time ever. We'd rather be far away and happy than close together but regretting missed opportunities.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:31 AM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Electronic methods as described above.

With that said, you *sound* like someone who'd rather be closer than further away from family. Oregon might sound *adventurous*, but the reality is that wherever you live, the average individual goes to work/school, does grocery shopping, watches TV at night and gets the laundry done on the weekends. Not the same as a vacation. If the notion of being far away doesn't sit right, don't do it.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:37 AM on March 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

When we moved 827 miles way for my wife's grad school, we talked to her family much more than we did when we lived [literally] two houses down the street prior to the move. We saw them in person about as much, too!

You imply that this isn't a permanent move, and you know this deep down, which is one reason you are okay with the move.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:56 AM on March 15, 2017

I moved away from family, lived several places all around the country as an academic/student/researcher/traveler. It was great.

I did end up being farther away than I wanted to be for my parents' last few years, and that sucked.

If you're telling yourself, "I can always move back" -- that's true to a point, but that move may likely come with sacrifices, potentially large.

I live now in a state far from my inlaws and siblings. I don't like that, and I don't really care for the state., either. That's what academics sort of sign up for: the plus side is you get to travel the country (or world!) seeing different things, meeting different people, etc etc. The downside is you often don't get your choice of locations - you take the jobs or you don't, but you can't really say "I want X academic job in Y city".

Unless everything aligns just right, myself or my spouse (or both!) would have to give up our jobs ( perhaps entire fields, careers) to move back.

I don't know what's right for you. If I had to do it again, I'm not sure what I'd do. I don't exactly regret my choices, but I wish I'd thought more about the down sides. I sort of told myself "I can always move back!" -- not really understanding that a) you don't know how long anyone has here on Earth, and b) academics have to be lucky or world-famous or make lots of sacrifices to get their first choices in long-term locations. It sounds like your wife may be doing something in the medical field, which is not the same as academia, so it's not entirely clear how much of this applies to you/her, though I do know lots of doctors and nurses end up picking a job, not a location.

Good luck!
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:19 AM on March 15, 2017

I don't think that you will find it much different being in Oregon from Pittsburgh as far as relationship with your family. Set up a regular time to communicate, do video chats together. The visits can be less frequent but longer and more meaningful, for special occasions, and make sure that you're doing your share of traveling to see them as well. Send things to the niece through the mail. She'll love it! Maintaining relationships is always work but it's worth it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:25 AM on March 15, 2017

Thanks so much for the advice so far, everyone - I can't tell you how comforting it is to hear other people say that it is possible to have adventures and still be close to your family from that far away. I've never been much for Facetime-style apps (well, actually I have an Android phone and the rest of the family has iPhones so ACTUAL Facetime isn't in the cards), but I've just downloaded Skype to see if that helps make me feel a little closer. I definitely need to get better about mailing things to my niece, too - I'm a terrible mailer, but I realize that's under my control to fix.

FWIW, while I'm going into grad school, I'm not planning on a life of academia (tried that once, didn't find it a great fit) - I'm studying to be a speech-language pathologist, which theoretically is a pretty portable profession as far as I've been told. My wife is doing data analysis work ... my hope is that we'll both retain career mobility, though I do realize that isn't always easy.

Either way, thank you all SO MUCH for your input, and I'd certainly welcome more - I have a number of schools I have to choose from and I still don't know how we're going to finally pick one (I want to go to ALL THE SCHOOLS), but again, Oregon really is a big draw for my wife and me both and you guys are making it feel so much more doable.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:31 AM on March 15, 2017

When I graduated, my first job was in Japan and I was away from the US for two years. And believe it or not, I communicated with my family MORE when I was that far away than I did when I was close. I think the distance made it more important for all of us to make the effort. My parents learned how to use messaging programs, and I called home regularly. We all knew more about what was going on in each other's lives than we would have if I'd been closer. And now that I'm back in the US we're still very close.

And my college roommate, well she and her husband moved to the other side of the country. (To Eugene, believe it or not!) And the husband's parents have since moved out there too and now live just down the street. You never know how things are going to turn out!

If it helps with worries, start setting aside an 'emergency plane ticket fund' so that you know you can always get back home if you need to if something happens.
posted by Caravantea at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2017

It'll be all right! Data point: I'm from the Chicago suburbs, and my family is scattered around the Midwest. I moved to Eugene 6-7 years ago for grad school, and I'm still here. I actually left grad school / academia in part because I wanted to stay in the Willamette valley, and that was incredibly unlikely to happen if I braved the tenure-track job market. I get back home about twice a year (would be more but I also don't want to give up vacationing/traveling elsewhere), and various family members visit once or twice a year. My family likes my non-Midwest address since it's more fun/different to visit.

I'm actually in touch with family more now than when I was going to college in Iowa. I shoot for weekly phone/Skype with my parents and bi-weekly with my siblings and grandparents. There's a fair amount of intermittent messaging, especially now that we all have smartphones and my mom's become a big user of Facebook Messenger. I also really appreciate the weekly letters my grandpa writes.

Eugene's pretty great: tons of good beer, reasonable commutes, easy access to the outdoors (the Cascades! the Pacific Ocean! a tubeable river that runs right through town! waterfalls and more waterfalls!), Democratic control of all three branches of state government, vote by mail, no sales tax, and mild (albeit rainy) winters. I'm a fan.
posted by bassooner at 3:14 PM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was in your boat when I went to grad school as well -- I always knew I did not want to permanently live in the (tiny, rural) area I grew up in, but at the same time part of me really envies my high school friends who live on the same street they grew up on and can visit lots of extended family at the drop of a hat. Some random thoughts that maybe will be helpful:

1. Think about how schedules will work with time zones for getting in touch. If you know your parents go to bed around 9pm, you can't call anytime after 6pm, which can be a pain if you're used to doing evening phone calls. I really like calling my mom during my commute time, either morning or evening, and this works well for both of our time zones. Appreciate some of the awesome things about living on Pacific Time (SPORTS NO LONGER END AFTER MIDNIGHT!)
2. Our family also does the big group chat thing someone mentioned above, and I love it for "passively" being able to stay in touch. You can text random stuff like silly faces or "Ugh, waiting in line, I hate Starbucks!" that you might not post to social media for the world to see, and it does not need to be as meaningful as a letter. Very low cost, and can fill in some of that random interaction that for me makes me feel close to people.
3. Go into it knowing it will be a lot of time and $$ on airplanes, and just be okay with it/make your peace with it. Yes, I hate this part. I hate that every single holiday season is the pain in the butt of flying to not one but two different cities (mine and my husband's hometowns), and that a substantial portion of our vacation time and budget goes to seeing family, and that's what we're going to do for the foreseeable future. BUT, I try to remind myself that this is the tradeoff for having a job I absolutely love and living in a city I absolutely love, and I would not be able to have either of those things living near my parents.
4. Build support networks in your new city and create roots, even if you might not be there forever. The book This is Where You Belong was very helpful to me in thinking through practical steps to actually make this happen.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:18 PM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I regret moving far away from family. I grew up in Kansas but married an Oregonian. When we had our first kid, 16 years ago, she convinced me to move to Oregon near her family.

Now that she has filed for divorce, I am stuck here. We have kids and I couldn't bear to live far from *them* so I will be here, 2,000 miles from "home" for the next 10 years at least.

I really, really wish I had never moved here.
posted by tacodave at 4:35 PM on March 15, 2017

I ended up in Eugene myself-came for college 25+ years ago and accidentally stayed. Family was very far away then, but have mostly eventually ended up around here as well. Love it now and can't imagine living anywhere else.
posted by purenitrous at 6:52 PM on March 15, 2017

I moved from New York to the Bay Area 3.5 years ago. Almost all my people are three times zones away (and a long plane ride...I don't fly so I haven't seen some friends in years, but that's not your issue so you can add a grain of salt here.) I don't regret moving here because it was for a good reason, but it's been very hard. The time zone thing makes a pretty big difference. Facebook and stuff has made it so I still keep up with everyone but if you don't see people, you're really not in their lives--in an important way. I don't have any advice but my input is: yes, the feeling of separation you think will be an issue will be an issue. The good news is school is involved and you have an in for making friends that doesn't otherwise exist in adult life, and that will ease the ache. The best news will be if you like the place. That goes a long way to making things fine, too. (I note, not having had either of those two factors.) Loneliness is the big problem with being far from your crowd. If you can turn that way down, I think you'll be good.
posted by Smearcase at 10:23 PM on March 15, 2017

You used the term "clinical fellowship year," so I'm assuming that you'll be studying speech-language pathology in OR. If I am correct, then congratulations on getting into grad school! I, too, moved across the country for SLP grad school this year and have not regretted it one bit. I'm getting the education I hoped to receive while in an awesome location. :) In terms of building a network where you go to school... if I were to move back, I don't know that people in my home state would know or care about the rigor and reputation of my program (as they do in this area); however, I think that the opportunities that I have had here will speak for themselves wherever I go next.

I miss my family at times, but I take comfort in knowing that this place, or any place, isn't forever — unless I want it to be. I say, go for it. The adventure is worth it.
posted by metacognition at 10:26 PM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

My family lives in Florida. I initially moved away to New York for college, then after 18 years, moved to San Francisco and now, I gave up my SF life and I'm traveling in Pacific Mexico for the time being. Being in the same timezone and having a 3 hour flight to Miami was great. I spoke to my mom a lot, and flew down there regularly. When my grandmother was terminally ill, I was able to book out twice monthly flights to Miami for less than $200 and only missed two days of work each month.

When I moved to SF, it was really challenging to schedule phone calls, especially when working a 9-5 job. By the time I got home and decompressed, it was 7 and if I made dinner, I'd think about calling around 9pm, too late to call home. I ended up calling home mostly on weekends.

Flying home meant that the bulk of my vacation time was used to visit family, as taking a Friday off for a quick jaunt to Florida wasn't as practical as it was from NYC.

I too hate Florida and I'm never moving there. I left for NY at 21 and am now 44. I have found it difficult to have spent half of my life away from my family. It's the small things that I find heartbreaking at times, like just being able to do nice things like make them dinner, or hang out. Other times, it's the tasks I think about like when my mom is ill and I'm not there to pick up food at the market, or take my stepfather to the doctor. I'm also an only child so those things weigh heavily on my heart at times.

I've talked about this with my family and they all are emphatic that I'm to lead my own life. My stepfather has subtly mentioned how profoundly my mother misses having me around, but she'll never bring that up to me.

My father's parents were immigrants to this country. My mother is an immigrant, leaving her parents and siblings behind. They've felt that divide over and over, and as a child, I'd see it weigh on my mother or my grandparents when a family member from abroad would telephone about a death.

It's bittersweet. There are no right answers. There is always something we gain and lose when we make life choices such as this.
posted by vivzan at 10:52 AM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am a fellow Floridian who long ago decided I couldn't live there. I am very close to my parents, who are still there, and elderly. I have lived all over the US and abroad. I get over the "guilt" of leaving them on their own by seeing it as my mission to let them live vicariously through my experience. Turn your stint in Oregon into a kind of travelogue. Let them explore the world through you. Share with them all the interesting things you get to see and do in your new surroundings. I share photos and accounts of things I am experiencing--even mundane things like the way the frangipani flowers smell on my way home, or the funny sounds a bird makes. I send occasional post cards and just try to keep the fact that I am somewhere else *interesting*. They love hearing about the different things I am able to see and do by being in another part of the world, and honestly, we talk frequently enough on Skype that it is not really different from when I lived closer. Think of it as a feature, and not a bug, and they will too.
posted by amusebuche at 1:21 AM on March 17, 2017

Man ... I really can't express how powerful it is to me to hear from so many other people who have experienced similar situations - it's hard for me sometimes not to feel like I'm crazy for moving so far away from people I love deeply and have amazing relationships with, especially when so many people unfortunately have to move because they need to get away from people who have treated them terribly. I am truly sorry for those of you who have moved and regret it, and I think it's important to take that possibility into account as well ... but it's so encouraging to hear from so many folks who have figured out how to make it work. Vivzan, like you say, it is bittersweet and there is no perfect answer - I wish I could just drag my family around with me wherever I went. Since I can't, though, it's really helpful to me to hear that I can continue to have a close relationship with them even as I continue to move farther afield.

Thank you, everyone who has taken the time to answer this question. I think in my heart I really do want to give Oregon a try despite the distance, and it really helps to know that I'm not a terrible person for feeling this way. No decision has been made for certain yet, but I really appreciate the nput ... maybe we'll end up in Eugene, after al!
posted by DingoMutt at 12:39 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

How do I feel okay about being so far away from them?

There is a cost to every decision. Plenty of people live a couple of time zones away from their parents/families and those choices are never easy. We spend too much deliberating. Either way, you will be fine, you will cope, you will find resilience when you need to. I am not a big fan of regretting past decisions, so I never quite feel a decision was entierly "wrong". There have been times when things havent worked out (general decisions, not the move away from family) but I can look back and see what piece of information/ parameter was missing then that I have now. As for living away from family, I've always had a strong sense for taking the step, doing what I know I must (coz if I dont then I WILL regret something) and I go with my intuition. If you overthink, you lose that gut feeling in the confusion. This is assuming all is well, and all members are healthy. If that is not the case, something else will be more important than my work or desires (plus I have indulged enough in the latter that I am okay with refraining from those for a while). Hope this makes sense. Note that I am single and have no kids.

Have you done this happily (or have you regretted doing this), and are there tips/experiences you could share?

Dont let distance keep you from nourishing your relationships. Take every single opportunity to go home when you can for however long you can. It is very tempting to say, 'gee, I really wanted to go home this long weekend but I've got to work on this project and get back to the boss and blah blah.' sure you need to balance things some times but just remember that some people in your life are just not replaceable and you've got only so many hours with them.
If I had kids, visiting would be a greater priority for me, time and cost permitting.
Secondly, enjoy where you when you are- you can only pick one path and there is a cost to every decision.

All the best!
posted by xm at 1:50 AM on March 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had to make a similar decision about a year ago: I had to decide whether to take a fellowship 200 miles from family vs 2000 miles from family. I ended up picking the one closer to home, in part because of the same concerns you express. What helped me was to make a table with pros and cons for each location. Then I threw away the table, wrote both programs on a piece of paper, and folded them up, and drew one at random. My gut reaction to seeing the name of the place was very instructive.

Also, if you are looking for a Facetime equivalent that plays nicely with both iPhone and Android, consider Google Hangouts, which does chat and video. It's natively built into most (all?) Android phones and there is an app for iPhone as well as a web interface. I used it to stay connected with my family (mix of Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone) while on a 7 week international business trip, and preferred it over Skype.
posted by basalganglia at 7:59 AM on March 19, 2017

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