Help me not hate Durham!
April 9, 2017 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Long story short, my SO has chosen Duke for his 1.5 year graduate program. Great, except for that I visited Durham and hated it. Help? Longer explanation inside.

He thought he'd be attending grad school in a major metropolis [City A] until visiting Duke and loving it. I grew up in a different metropolis before moving to a series of tiny rural towns and small cities, where I've lived for the past five years. I felt like this was my chance to finally be "cool" again, go out late with my friends, go to gallery openings, and so much more. I was super excited to finally move back to a place with a real metro system, things open late, people of color, etc. I'm a little crushed but trying to put my game face on for the SO. (We are exploring LDR or remote work options as well.)

Things I Disliked:
-Nothing to do. I visited the Duke Gardens twice in three days and found myself sitting in my car a lot looking for something to do.
-Super suburban and not walkable. I was very excited to live in a mixed-use zone again, where I could walk to a coffee shop or place to eat. I hated the "nicer zones surrounded and divided with freeways and chain stores/car washes/strip malls" feel. I feel like it's a place to settle down rather than be young.
-Boring downtown. We went out for dinner and there was no one on the street walking around. It felt dead. I went back the next day and it was the same, except with added construction sounds.
-Expensive to travel internationally--prices $5-600 more than in City A.
-Equally far from the mountains or the beach.
-Not as good career options(?)--I currently work as a designer at a higher ed institute but wanted to break into industry at a startup or more exciting company.
-No friends there or within 3hrs

About Me:
-Early 20s F, politically liberal, graphic designer
-Like travel, hiking, photography, craft beer & wine, ethnic food, weird stuff (think Atlas Obscura)

I visited the Duke Gardens, the Zen Succulent, and the Mothership already.

Y'all, I am so upset about this upcoming move. Please share why you love living in the Triangle, gems of restaurants/stores/etc, or any advice about moving somewhere you dislike. Thank you!
posted by bonifate to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
-- Downtown, while gentrified, is kind of dull. Ninth Street is the "college town" part, and is walkable from some neighborhoods around the East Campus.

-- Places to visit in town: Motorco, downtown Farmer's Market (weekends), Main St. between Buchanan and Duke St. in the evening (basically the college hangout strip), and Nasher Museum (Duke West Campus), Carolina Theatre (downtown arthouse). DPAC gets "Big name" acts, but hey tend to be aimed at middle-aged folks.

-- For political stuff, try the Durham People's Alliance at

-- Places nearby to visit -- Carrboro is just past Chapel Hill, (the cities have grown together) and has several of the things you are asking about, but from Durham it's a 15-20 minute drive down 15-501 followed by a drive through Chapel Hill. The Triangle has sprawl, but the three cities do have many more amenities. they're just...scattered.
posted by kewb at 1:58 PM on April 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, Cary, while it is basically a yuppified suburb, has an Indian district with some great restaurants, including South Indian food at Udupi Cafe (most Indian food in the US is North Indian).

Other restaurants to try: Chubby Taco on 9th street and Nanataco at the University St/15-501 Business Juncture; OnlyBurger at American Tobacco Campus or off 15-501 (the 15-501 locations has more specials and a wider menu), Vin Rouge on 9th street (French-style steakhouse), Monuts Donuts (get there super-early on the weekend), Another Broken Egg Cafe (by the Medical Center).

In Chapel Hill,. try A Southern Season for a gourmet grocery store/coffee shop.
posted by kewb at 2:03 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Monuts which kept my satellite office fed and happy throughout GOTV in 2016 and the whole brewery scene in the Triangle is pretty great. I'm especially fond of Full Steam and Ponysaurus but there are lots of good ones to try if you're into beer.
posted by fancypants at 2:11 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just to say, going to Duke doesn't require one to live in Durham. One can attend Duke and yet live in Carrboro, or even in the then-wildlands of northern Chatham County. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

gems of restaurants

ALL THE BARBECUE. Bullock's was always overrated imho but the best fuckin' barbecue on this earth exists within about a 90-minute circle around Durham.

-Super suburban and not walkable

So live in the Ninth Street area, or in Chapel Hill or Carrboro walking distance to Franklin/Main Street. Lots of stuff you can walk to.

Do you mean that you're annoyed that there will exist things you can't reasonably walk to or take transit to? Yeah, that's a thing.

-Boring downtown.

So don't go there, except maybe for the odd Bulls game. Live in the Ninth Street area and walk to stuff around there. Drive to Franklin Street or Carrboro and walk around there.

-Equally far from the mountains or the beach.

Yeah? I mean, it sort of blows that you're not in the mountains. But get up in the morning and eat lunch on the beach or in the mountains. This is not a big problem. Smaller luxury mountain-ettes like the Uwharries, Hanging Rock, or Pilot Mountain/Mt. Pilot* are substantially closer, too, if you've just got the upsy-downsy-hiking bug.

*I can never remember which is the real one and which is the Andy Griffith one
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2017 [11 favorites]

If your SO's program is a year and a half long and they don't intend to stay in that city, I think it'd be silly to leave gainful employment where you are at.
And a move has costs associated with it - moving your physical belongings, potentially getting a new driver's license, finding new doctors and hair people. That's a lot to go through for 18 months of residence.

Moreover, your SO will likely be quite busy in their graduate program. And your SO can probably save money by living with a roommate.
posted by k8t at 2:48 PM on April 9, 2017 [36 favorites]

So, I hear you. I lived part year in NC for most of law school and it was miserable and I hated it. I had great friends there and good company and I hated it. I could list all the reasons why but it's irrelevant and not really the point. But I hear you--NC is not my place and it never let me forget it.

My advice for living somewhere you hate (which I've done more than once) is just remember that it's temporary. You're still you; the things you love are still in the world; there are still places you want to be and you can go back to them. Be comfortable living temporary--you don't have to try to embrace the place you are, you don't have to like it. But you can try all of it without having to commit to any of it and you don't have to invest in liking them, as long as you invest in being pleasant and finding people pleasant. You can try things and places, still not like them, and be comfortable knowing you get to move on. The trick is to not dwell on the inadequacies because that both makes you miserable and is off-putting to the people around you. So you still can't [get the thing remotely comparable to what you'd get somewhere you feel more at home], shrug, consider it a quirk of North Carolina and move on to trying something else in the place where you are.

When I was a law clerk, I lived alone in a town that had one bar I absolutely loved--it was in a vintage hotel with vintage furnishings. It served martinis (gin only), Manhattans and scotch in a glass. The other law clerks hated it; so we always ended up some strip mall joint with chicken wing happy hour and flavored vodka concoctions--not my sort of place at all. But it's where we always ended up because the one clerk--a local--loved it and no-one else liked the other place at all. So the first couple of times I went, I was miserable but it was my own fault. Sure I did not like it; I was never going to like it; and I was never going to feel at home there, but I did not need to be miserable. I asked One Clerk, as sincerely as I could (which was hard) what he liked about it and listened as openly as I could (which was also hard) and was not at all convinced. But being and feeling hostile was not going to help and was not going to shorten the amount of time this place was my local tavern. So i just tried really hard to think of myself as passing through and might as well make it as pleasant as I could. Which worked for me.

So that's my advice for living somewhere you hate. Don't try to love it; just be okay with it not being your kind of place because it's only temporary. Of course, this won't work if there's any chance it won't be temporary. Thus I also recommend doing what you can to ensure that it's not waiting to spring a long term commitment on you.

I recommend that you be firm in the expectation that you will leave and consider what you will and will not give up in that regard. Talk very very seriously with your partner about what it means if 1.5 years of school turns into he loves it and never wants to leave even though you've never warmed to it. Life is too short to live somewhere you hate, if it's within reason to leave.
posted by crush at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

Did he just unilaterally decide that the two are you are moving there? Or is it still up for discussion? If the latter, make it clear to him that you don't want to move there.

If the former, I suggest you move to city A on your own, and tell him to meet you there when he is done.
posted by overhauser at 3:11 PM on April 9, 2017 [12 favorites]

I lived in Durham for 7 years while in grad school at Duke, and I was never ever bored. Move to Old West Durham so you can walk to 9th St and hang out at the dozen bars and restaurants along there, many of whom have music on the weekends. Go to the Regulator to hear great author readings. Head downtown on the free Bull City Connector to the many bars/brewpubs/concert venues, mostly along the west and north sides. Go to shows at the DPAC. Go to Bulls Games and events at American Tobacco. Go to the Nasher and the Museum of Life and Science. Go to concerts/lectures at Duke and at NCCU. Hop the Robertson Scholars bus to Chapel Hill for more music, food, culture and then Carrboro with more, too. Join the Moral Monday movement and march on Raleigh every week. Also in Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, NC Museum of Art, Botanical Garden, Marbles, NC State, Peace, Shaw, Meredith.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:17 PM on April 9, 2017 [14 favorites]

"I was super excited to finally move back to a place with a real metro system, things open late, people of color, etc."

Durham is full of African-American history and culture, and has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the US. Duke is pretty white, but Durham for sure isn't. South Durham is very suburban, yes; and Duke is full of suburban kids, yes (people called it "The University of New York/New Jersey in North Carolina."). But Durham-Durham is fun, gritty, vibrant, interesting, diverse, nutty, has absolutely insane local politics -- I saw a shoe thrown -- and was ceaselessly interesting. You don't HAVE to go to the Dukie places. You can get out in the city, away from the University, and do fascinating things and meet fascinating people.

Also everything hydropsyche said. Also I thought the Raleigh/Durham live music scene was really good when I lived there (although my taste is more jazz/blues).

"I currently work as a designer at a higher ed institute but wanted to break into industry at a startup or more exciting company."

Tons of stuff in RTP, and a fair amount of start-uppy activity in Duke-related developments near campus (driven by profs and students).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:28 PM on April 9, 2017 [13 favorites]

I suggest you move to city A on your own, and tell him to meet you there when he is done.

Agree with this. Being the trailing partner, especially in a place far from your own family/friends and hobbies of interest, is not fun.
posted by basalganglia at 3:44 PM on April 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Another option is to use your time in a city you're not excited about to work work work work. Take on freelance work, put together a really great website, read widely on your interests, take on intensive hobby work, learn new skills, improve your portfolio. Make it like a grad school program for yourself.
posted by vunder at 3:54 PM on April 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Early 20s? Like 22 or 23? Nthing move to City A (hopefully he'll find a summer internship there) and make long-distance work. If y'all are truly a really good fit, you'll find your way to each other afterward.
posted by amaire at 3:56 PM on April 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is utterly generic, but remember that most of us live in regions, not cities.

Draw a circle on the map equal in time to the average commute in your favorite metropolis. Look within that circle for a) places that change seasonally, like parks, trails, farmers markets, or b) things you know nothing about, like local historical sites, regionally unique foods, etc. Also consider subbing in participation in some local group, volunteer thing, and so on. Time flies when you're busy connecting with other people.
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:10 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

White people are a minority in Durham (42.45%, cite).

Walkability and public transit suck, this is true. A dead-ish downtown is a function of walkability, and to a great extent the current state of downtown is hurting, not helping walkability. Walkability outside of downtown is worse. But welcome to the American South, where everything sprawls, and not having a car makes you a second-class citizen.

On the other hand, downtown and areas outside it are nicely bikeable, the cycling season is 10 months long (12 months if you're sufficiently heat-tolerant in July and August), and there are active cycling groups of various interest (competitive, touring, commuting, mountain, etc.).

Being equally far from the mountains can be a demerit or... it can be an advantage. It's nice to be a morning's drive from either, rather than having to make a full weekend's commitment to see one or the other.

The tech startup scene here is living and growing, and a significant chunk of downtown has been carved out and dedicated to incubators and tech offices. It's impossible to traverse Durham without passing by businesses aggressively hiring.

The food scene here is also lively and progressive, it hasn't been taken over by corporatization the way many cities' restaurant scenes have. Even the big shopping mall south of town has been enlightened enough to invite a couple independent food truck operators to set up in their food court. Neither Durham nor the greater Triangle area represent well for Asian cuisines (although there are exceptions like Yamazushi for Japanese fine dining), but other ethnic foods are have breadth and depth here that rival larger cities. Similarly, the craft beer scene here is out of hand; there are many brewpub options within walking distance of each other downtown and many dozens more a short drive away. I can provide food recommendations for your return visit, memail me.

I was the trailing spouse when moving here and also skeptical of the quality of life I was signing up for. Seven-ish years later, we own a house here and we're settled for good.

Finally, Durham is the center of an active Mefi meetup scene. Just sayin'.
posted by ardgedee at 4:11 PM on April 9, 2017 [11 favorites]

Durham is great! What are you comparing it to in your mind?

Go to Moogfest next month.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:12 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, it sure sounds like you've made up your mind about hating Durham, so I'd go with the LDR thing. A year and a half isn't that long to be away from your partner, but it's a long time to aggressively hate life.

That said, here are some things my family and I have done since we moved (from Boston) to the Triangle.

- Visted an abandoned waterworks building that had been converted to a temporary art gallery for installation-specific pieces.

- Go almost weekly to a flash mob type chorus, where we learn a couple of songs and sing them. For Christmas, we went caroling to the little restaurants, coffeeshops and brewpubs in the neighborhood.

- Became members of the Contemporary Art Museum, where my daughter had a chance to be a junior docent for an amazing piece of art. That was arranged by her museum-focus magnet middle school in downtown Raleigh.

- Taken long-weekend trips to Washington DC, Asheville, Savannah, and Emerald Isle (where you can take a ferry to a completely unspoiled beach island and hang out for the day).

- Seen dozens of concerts and shows, from national stadium tours to an under-18 punk club where my daughter's rock band had to watch out to make sure they did not stand in the puddles caused by the leaky roof (true commitment to punk aesthetic, amirite?).

- Eaten at dozens and dozens of amazing restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall barbecue shacks to James Beard award winning fine dining.

- Shot the rapids at the US National Whitewater Center.

And that's just off the top of my head. Like ardgedee says, there is a lively MeFite population here. Next time you visit, hit us up for some recommendations and we can pull together a meetup for you.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:11 PM on April 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't want to be a dick about this but you might google the demographics of Durham vs the cities you idealize if you are seriously concerned that there won't be any POC. This is a weird idea people who have never lived in the south have about the south. Basically, if this will allay that particular concern, NYC has a higher percentage of white people than Durham and Durham has about a seven times higher percentage of African Americans than the bay area, to pick two "cool" towns as examples.
posted by Smearcase at 5:36 PM on April 9, 2017 [14 favorites]

If I can be more reassuring vis-a-vis moving to a town you hate, it sounds like you're in for a year and a half there. I've been in the aforementioned bay area which I hate almost comically much for three and a half and it's doable. I spend a lot of time stewing about it but I guess I can write a great mean-spirited novel some day. With an endpoint, it is just super not a big deal. You can try and find the good stuff, write withering emails to your friends living in places with subways about how comparatively inadequate those good things are, and enjoy your relationship knowing you have been a good partner who was up for the not ideal. A year and a half is hard for making friends, but if you have interests with a social component, it's doable. I met a few good friends within two months of living here through stuff like music and knitting. Granted, most of them later moved away because it sucks here, can't win 'em all.
posted by Smearcase at 5:45 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went to college in Texas, then moved to NYC (Manhattan), then San Francisco, and then moved with my SO to a college town of 50,000 people. I was in culture shock for a while, thinking it was so boring. But, ya know what, I eventually found that many people in that town have DEPTH ! They have a depth to their work and their hobbies and their relationships; to their lives. I think the reason is that space is less expensive, and we have two or three extra hours a day due to very small commute times. People write, and play music, and sing, and do woodworking, and make maker stuff, and make beer and wine, and then they get tired of that, they make mead and sake. They compete in biking, and sking, and sailing, and cyclocross; in fiddlin, and quilting. They sell jewelry, pottery, paintings, photographs... They do cool research, host people from around the world, travel to amazing places. People with amazing depth.

May days in the big cities were about shows and musuems, and drinking and talking. My days in the small towns are about doing.
posted by cyclicker at 5:53 PM on April 9, 2017 [13 favorites]

So if you like food and craft beer, Durham (and the Triangle in general) is Holy Grail territory. Check out Fullsteam, Bull City Burger & Brewery, Sam's Quik Shop (in Durham), Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough (about a 20 minute drive), Haw River Farmhouse Ales and the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, for starters. Raleigh has Big Boss, Crank Arm, Trophy (with excellent pizza), and I don't even know where to start with food in Raleigh, there is so much amazingness. Ethnic food? Heck yeah; the Triangle has large immigrant populations, especially South Asian, East Asian, and South/Central American.

Yeah, it's a car city. I wish that were different. It is a thing I don't love about the Triangle. It makes it much less discoverable, which I think is what you experienced. It's harder to just wander around and run across things.

But if you are willing to discover things online, and drive for a bit, there is literally SO MUCH to do. Pick up a copy of the Independent (free indie newspaper) and check out listings of art, music, lectures, indie theater, films. Follow the breweries on Twitter; Fullsteam has movie nights, Sunday yoga, Sunday night singalongs, Wednesday run club, etc.

It might take a little while for you to find your go-to places in Durham, but with your interests, I can promise you that you will find places you love.
posted by snowmentality at 5:54 PM on April 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

"although there are exceptions like Yamazushi for Japanese fine dining"

Went on my third date with my husband to Yamazushi (and many more thereafter), A+++ would eat again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:55 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd say google up some of the attention Durham has gotten in the past few years from culture magazines. Here's one from G&G, with a link at the bottom to some foodie places to try while you're here. Here's my first hit when I searched Durham and the NYT.

One of the good things about a small city is that it's surrounded by woods, and there's a lot of hiking in those woods. There are trails in Duke Forest, there are trails all over Chapel Hill, and there's a lot of stuff up by the Eno River in north Durham.

I think downtown Durham can be dead on weeknights, but when I've driven through on weekend nights it's always very, very busy.

I don't know, though. For 1.5 years, I'd say give it a try, because that's a long time to maintain a long distance relationship. Rent a place, give it a shot, and know that you can leave at the end of it if you need to. The thing is, really, that life is kind of surprising and you really don't know how you're going to feel about the place, and it'll probably have more to do with how you're doing in your own personal life than basically anything else.

Good luck, whatever you end up doing! I love Durham, but it's not a big city. However, the idea that you'd need to go to a bigger city to see more PoC means that you... possibly were at the wrong places in Durham. Like, only at Duke or only on Ninth Street (was that the "downtown"? Because, no. Ninth Street is great, but that's not Durham these days, that's... Ninth Street).
posted by hought20 at 6:56 PM on April 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

don't let your impressions of charlottesville spoil durham for you.

i lived in the chapel hill/durham area for ten years before moving to a college town 'near' charlottesville five years ago. durham and chapel hill/carrboro actually have stuff going on and you've got greensboro and raleigh a short trip away. i got so spoiled living in chapel hill that durham and raleigh started to seem far away even though it was a 20-30 minute drive to either downtown.

now in central virginia i find myself driving an hour each way several times a month to do something and once or twice a season end up driving 2-3 hours to get to dc or richmond. hell, i still go back to the triangle several times a year for stuff because it's only four hours away and i still have friends there.
posted by noloveforned at 8:47 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

While I get why people want to defend Durham, it's the context of the decision that concerns me. If you didn't get a say in the matter, then that's a bad sign-- what happens on the next move?
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:21 PM on April 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you, everyone, for all of the great responses! There appears to be a lot of Durham I missed :) Some clarifications:

-This is definitely not a unilateral decision on his part. We discussed all of the schools he was applying to, and honestly, I just assumed that a) I'd like Durham based on what I'd heard about it and b) that we'd end up in City A. Duke was the clear winner school-wise, or we'd be heading to City A. He knows my concerns and is committed to doing whatever it takes to make this a smooth transition. Other than this, we're on the same page for places we'd like to live.

-I wouldn't move until I find a new job. I'd likely be looking for a new job around this time even if he wasn't leaving.

-I definitely realize that the south--and Durham--is all not white. I'm basing this concern more on what I've experienced in my current city, where events in my extended social circle, my coworkers, and the major university are all predominantly white. To be more specific, I was looking forward to having a larger Asian-American population nearby.
posted by bonifate at 10:56 PM on April 9, 2017

I can't say much to defend Durham, but I can say this: if you're going to decide to go with your SO, listen to everyone telling you to remember it's only temporary. A year and a half will fly by before you know it.

Source: I'm currently in a city I don't love with plans to leave it within a certain amount of time. I've been here a little over a year and a half, and I have a hard time believing that much time has already passed. And while I have found things to really like about this city (honestly, you probably will about Durham, too), I've also found it a near-daily comfort to remember that I'm not stuck here. That reminder helps when, say, I look around a restaurant and realize there's not a non-white face in sight, or when I'm faced with having to cross a jungle of multi-lane highways on foot or bike, or when my favorite band doesn't include this city on their tour.

LDRs can also work, too!
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:07 PM on April 9, 2017

After reading your follow-up, I'm not sure if moving to Durham is the right choice for you, and I am saying this as a current Durham resident who loves the Triangle area. I am Korean, and have lived in areas of the U.S. with large populations of East Asians, and Durham and the Triangle area in general are lacking in the kinds of amenities one comes to expect in such areas. It's a little bit better now that an H-Mart has opened in Cary, but it's nothing like, say, Northern Virginia. For example, the quality of Asian restaurants is not that great, and actually seems to have worsened during the time I've lived in the area, which is especially sad-making having just returned from two weeks in Seoul. If you come to Durham with the expectations you had for City A, you will be terribly unhappy. On the other hand, if you arrive with an open mind and sense of discovery, it could be a pleasant surprise.

Personally, I would advise against moving with your SO for an 18 month graduate program - graduate school will consume his life, he won't have time to do things with you and if you're already hating Durham then it's just not going to be a good time for anybody. And then you guys might have to move again elsewhere after he graduates. If he were moving for a Ph.D. program lasting 5+ years I might advise differently. But given the short length of the expected stay in Durham, it might be a better idea for you to move to City A, which you had been looking forward to anyway, with the expectation that he joins you there later or you guys end up in some third city.
posted by research monkey at 2:35 AM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you are at all artsy-craftsy, living near the Scrap Exchange and their forming reuse arts district might be a draw.
posted by booksherpa at 12:14 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I go to RTP for work all the time. I spend my free time in Raleigh, which is quite a cool place. For the things I like to do there, just google "vegan+Raleigh," "queer+Raleigh," and "cocktail+Raleigh." The search results include all my highlights (but special shout out to Ruby Deluxe).

Mostly I'm responding to your "how do you deal with living somewhere you don't want to be" question, as someone who's lived in places I did not like for very long stretches. And I'm responding with: it's only 1.5 years? You'll be fine. You'll probably find things you enjoy during those 18 months, and you'll leave with an at least slightly modified opinion of the place.

Example: I hate hate hated Los Angeles from about age 18 on. All it took was one teenage visit to know, nope, this is not my kind of place. And then, about a decade later, my husband and I had to move... to Los Angeles... for ten years. It sucked, and I could not wait to leave it, but we found our comfort neighborhood and met some great people and now, four years after finally getting to move away (hooray!) I still consider it one of the best restaurant cities in the world. We actually go and visit. And, even better, we were able to make it our in 6 years instead of 10.

The ultimate brightside of living somewhere you can't wait to leave: the next place you live is going to feel fantastic. Consider it character-building.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2017

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