What are some signs that a city isn't right for you?
October 6, 2017 7:21 PM   Subscribe

What would you say are some clear signs that a particular city isn't a good fit for you, especially after living there for a while and giving different things a try?

I moved to a large but not global-level American city two years ago for a new job (think Minneapolis over Los Angeles). I moved here by myself and during a major transitional period of my life. I would say that I spent the entire first year getting my ducks in a row but am now completely acclimated to living here. I have a good quality of life on paper, but I can't help but shake the feeling that this city might not be right for me. I'm fortunate enough to make a lot of money for someone my age (mid 20s) especially relative to the cost of living in the area, have a very easy commute, live in a safe area, and am close to nightlife. Despite this, I find myself a bit frustrated with the area socially and culturally.

I have friends here and it wasn't hard to meet people by joining activities, but find people here more complacent and apathetic than what I'm used to. I also feel like people here aren't politically aware or interested in talking about current events at all, even with the current political administration - it seems like as long as nothing hurts them personally they couldn't care less. Conversations revolve entirely around dating stories and sports. Along with this, I find this city a bit more "traditional" than what I'm used to when it comes to gender roles. I'm a lesbian and find that this affects me in a few ways: I'm used to female friendships revolving around more than just talking about guys and having reasonably ambitious female friends. Many of the girls I know here seem interested in working as little as possible until they find a man to take care of them and seem very interested in the idea of having a man as a provider. I haven't met that many other women who also have intense professional jobs or view themselves as potential "breadwinners" in any way. Funnily enough, this also carries over into my dating pool a bit. Most of the LGBT women here don't have good jobs and up to this point I've only dated other transplants. I know that dating for love is important, but the gap is apparent especially when there are many men in the city with jobs like mine but way fewer women.

Ultimately I know that I'd move away from here in the long term if I had a "reason" (e.g. graduate school, new job, moving for a spouse's job), but I'm starting to question if I even need a reason beyond it not being the best fit. I'm afraid to jump the gun and move prematurely considering I don't hate it here. However, I still find myself thinking way more thoughts along the lines of "I'm saving so much time/money by living here over city X" and "once I'm less busy with work I need to meet more people/find more LGBT people" rather than "I love it here." Something just doesn't feel like a match and I want to make sure I'm covering my bases by meeting enough people socially and giving things a try rather than immediately assuming it's the city itself. What would you say are clear signs a city just isn't a good fit for you?
posted by improvingmylife00 to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Move if you want, but it's silly to generalize characteristics across an entire city of people.
posted by so fucking future at 7:23 PM on October 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're super young! You can move, and if you realize that you actually prefer your current city, you can move back. It sounds like you're in a bit of a rut and you aren't super happy, and moving is a fine way to break out of your rut.

I think you should start exploring job options in other cities, while simultaneously looking for opportunities to meet simpatico people in your current city. Have you sought out any political groups? Are there networking groups for women in your industry? But it's ok to move just for an adventure. You don't need an excuse.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:27 PM on October 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

I truly do think finding a city culture that fits you is significantly more difficult if you are not the dominant paradigm. It's not even necessarily a red/blue area issue - I know many queer people who refuse to leave Dallas, for example, because you can have a good, vibrant, and relatively safe life there.

AND, I think in areas where it's maybe not quite so good and vibrant and safe, you find a lot of people sticking to a more generic front for longer before you get access to the real inner selves.

Given the political climate, if you can find a place to go with a safer climate and stronger community, THAT is reason enough.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 PM on October 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I notice that you have spent two years in this city: this is my personal minimum before deciding what a place is really like (because the first year is all 'ooh! New!'). So, if you do decide to move, you can dismiss the 'but maybe I don't know the city well enough yet.'
posted by freethefeet at 8:55 PM on October 6, 2017

To answer the question as posed: not being able to find "my people" despite taking the obvious steps; feeling out of place in most bars/coffeeshops/performance spaces/cultural institutions and not being able to find any that seem to have people like me in mind as a customer; regular frustration with idiosyncratic parts of the infrastructure (e.g. subway closes too early and this constantly grinds my gears); keenly feeling the lack of some physical feature that's not available (trees, thunderstorms, bodies of water, etc.); a general trend that indicates these things are likely to get worse rather than better.

To answer the real question: It doesn't really seem like you have any reason NOT to move besides cost of living, and you're probably not in the only comparable-cost city in the country. Would your job move with you, or could you easily get another job in your field? If so, I agree with ArbitraryAndCapricious: you're young, you have the money to travel to different cities and see if one feels more "right," so why not start researching your next move? Yeah, maybe you'd be giving up too quickly on a city you could learn to love or at least feel okay about, but is that necessarily better than finding a new city you love right away? This is basically the same advice I'd give you if you were dating a woman you felt lukewarm about but who would be inconvenient to break up with.
posted by fuzzy night at 9:05 PM on October 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Perhaps it's different in the US but I would wager that many people simply can't afford to live in a locale that truly suits them and this is what stops them from living in their ideal place. Other things that hold ppl back like family ties or relationships don't exist here either so...you're over-thinking it? If you can afford to live somewhere more 'you' and there are no real practical barriers, do it!

Personally I think I can tell if a place suits me within about 10 minutes. Whether I have the option of living in that place is a whole different kettle of fish.
posted by jojobobo at 9:32 PM on October 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like DC okay when I first moved there. I found some people and a groove (or rut, depending on one's point of view), and I was there for nine years, which was about six years longer than I should've stayed.

Then I fell in love with someone who lived in San Francisco, and moved here. It will be 17 years in January. For the first five or 10 years, I said "I can't believe I live here!" a dozen times a day. I still say it, though maybe only eight or 10 times a day. There are a couple things I still miss about DC (free museums, thunderstorms), but not enough to ever want to live there again. I'm home.

Find somewhere you love that is home. If you have the resources to move and explore, do it.
posted by rtha at 9:37 PM on October 6, 2017 [18 favorites]

Having lived in actual Minneapolis, which I know you only used as an example, and a few other cities smaller and larger, one thing I might ask is whether you feel you've sufficiently explored the different neighborhoods and surrounding communities of the area you're already in since, in the case of moderately large cities, different neighborhoods can provide vastly different experiences of day to day life. There are, for instance, only a few neighborhoods I would be comfortable living in were I to move back to Minnesota, a couple in Minneapolis and perhaps one or two in Saint Paul, otherwise I'd definitely feel out of place there.

When I did move, it was on a whim since I always wondered what living in the upper northwest was like, so I set off without a clear destination in mind other than thinking I'd try Oregon or Washington. On my way though I stopped in Missoula and knew, literally within minutes, that I'd love living there so I stayed and did indeed love it, even though I eventually had to move again for financial reasons.

The short version of that is I think fit is important and can be quickly noticeable. Environment, the general dynamic or "feel" and flow of life in the city, the amenities it offer and how they are fit into the locale, and what shops and communal aspects of the city suggest about the interests of those who live there are all things that would lend weight to my decision on whether it was the right place for me or not.

As someone now older and without many options for moving again I'd also echo those who say checking out different areas while you're still young is the best way to go since making friends and finding a place in a community is so much easier when your peers also still haven't settled down and things like jobs and social activities are more available to you. The older you get the more your options often dwindle as commitments grow and possibilities shrink.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:54 PM on October 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, and one other thing, if you do want to move, one thing I'd suggest is to look closely at how you do interact with your current surroundings and think about what it is that you like and don't like or would want added to that mix. I was okay moving to a smaller town when I realized that I didn't really care about many of the added amenities a bigger city offered and spent the majority of my time within a mile or two radius of where I lived.

Some people want lots of different night life options or require things only a large population can support, but if those aren't things you actually use then it can sometimes be better to focus more on what you actually do than options never chosen. The same holds true in reverse of course, if you love art galleries and going to see lots of performing arts then you'll want to investigate the areas you might move to for those things which most smaller cities won't have in abundance and bigger ones vary in.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:10 PM on October 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you're basically just discovering why queer people tend to move to the coasts. As, I will say, am I, after coming from the Cleveland area to Omaha and realizing that while part of my problem with Cleveland had to do with the sorry state of the local economy--a lot of it is just how wearing it is to exist in a place that isn't particularly friendly to you, and especially with 2017 being the sort of year it's been, how that means that all the people like me here seem to be one of apathetic, enraged, or exhausted. All of which are legit reactions, but I'm bouncing between those feelings a lot myself, and so... yeah. I get where you're at, and I think that in the long run, if you meet someone special who has a lot of local connections then that really might be reason enough to stay, but if dating isn't working out for you? Start figuring out now where the next port of call is.

I could probably settle here and not be completely miserable, and I'm aware of that, but the best of my friends here is not intending to stay herself, so I've started making a list. The nice thing about this situation is that it's not urgent to get away Right Now; you can take some time about it. I don't, I'll say, think that it's necessary to adore everything about where you live or only live with like-minded people, but I think if the good was enough to outweigh the meh, you'd feel comfortable with this place by now in a way you clearly aren't.
posted by Sequence at 11:08 PM on October 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of the questions to ask yourself about This Particular City is "how many discrete core social networks does it (and should it) support that I could conceivably engage with?" The ideal is "more than one" because if there's none, you're sort of fucked, and if there's one dominant one but it's not really aligned your way, you're also sort of fucked.

There are cities that are small enough that you have to create the network if you want it to exist; there are cities that are large enough that the network exists but is defined by its creator(s) and thus may not be what you're after; there are cities where there are two or three visible parallel networks where you get to make a choice; there are bigger cities where there are many networks and probably ones that you won't discover and will regret not discovering long after the fact.

At your level of city, there's probably still time for you to work out whether there's a scene you haven't quite stumbled upon, or whether the scene you want is something you need to construct with other transplants and whoever gloms on to it. But if you don't have the time to do that, it's okay, it's not an obligation. In practical terms, it may be worth spending a little time investigating whether there's a kind of stealthy impolite LGBT scene that doesn't get much coverage even in the alt-weekly and if not (or it it exists and is a bad fit) then you can move on.
posted by holgate at 11:59 PM on October 6, 2017

I think you really only need one reason - it doesn't feel like home.

I lived in Denver for ten years. Not once did it ever feel like home. And I had wonderful friends and I volunteered in the community and I explored the city and the Rockies and tried so so hard. I became familiar with it. But I was rarely excited about Denver. I wasn't proud to say I lived there. When my planes touched down in Denver, it was never a sense of calm that I was home. I never once had as rtha said, a feeling that I can't believe I live here. I constantly had either a resigned feeling, and in the last year I was there - a restlessness. I knew, in my heart and my gut and my head, that I didn't belong there.

So I left. I moved to New York City. And it feels like home. It felt like home the first hour I was here for my interview, once I started to consider it as not just a place to visit. Within a few months, native New Yorkers thought I had been here for years, because of how settled I felt. I constantly feel like I belong and that I'm so lucky and I dread the day that I might move away. I know I'll cry buckets and be depressed, so maybe I won't ever. I walk around the city and silently tell it that it's mine, and I'm basically in love with it. I don't ever feel out of place, as a minority woman. And dating - Denver was difficult. Lots of men, but most of them are sort of variations on a theme. Here? So many options, and their outlooks on life align so much better with mine.

This got a lot longer than I had expected. I'm from the Bay Area and would write the same gushing text about San Francisco.

Life's too short. If, financially, it won't kill you - go find your home. Go find a place that you love and cherish and are proud of. That restless feeling I had in Denver is gone, as is the apathy. I can't tell you how much it changed my entire outlook on life once I moved to a city that was right for me.
posted by umwhat at 1:00 AM on October 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

For me it's like falling in love. I just know that I belong in a specific place (that isn't here, so I'm trying to move). If you had the same feelings towards a romantic partner as you do towards your city, wouldn't you leave? Your "partner" is boring and doesn't like the same things you do. You've thought about breaking up. You don't want to get married. As other people have said, you're still young. There are other fish in the sea. Maybe it's time to DTMFA.
posted by AFABulous at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

For me, finding community is the most important. We live in the actual Minneapolis and we are surrounded by like minded LGBTQIA+ folks who we love. We have friends who share the hobbies we like. We have people who fight beside us in our passions. As gusottertrout says, that might be harder if one lived in some of the other neighborhoods around, but I know many people who have moved across town to be closer to their people.
posted by advicepig at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2017

I'd recommend you don't overthink it. Like others upthread, I've found I know within days whether I have a long happy future somewhere, or not. I've lived in many different places, and often heard the platitude "you'll be the same person no matter where you go, so one place is as good as another," and I've found it to be profoundly untrue. Places have cultures and personalities and they really are different. I've been much happier in some than in others. If you're free to move around, you don't need a reason or a sign other than "I feel I might be happier elsewhere." You probably would.
posted by Miko at 5:33 AM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's really easy. You can figure it out in just one question: If you move somewhere else, how often would you like to go back to visit your current city?

So, for example, I used to live in St. Louis. That was seven years ago, and I haven't once really felt a strong desire to go back. There are some restaurants I would like to go back to again, and I do miss Forest Park, but not enough to make a trip. I'll eventually go back at some point, because I'd like my wife and daughter to see one of the places that shaped who I am, but it's not a priority.

On the other hand, I just moved away from Columbus, Ohio a couple of months ago, and I've thought about going back literally every day since then. One of the biggest obstacles to going back is that there's so much I'd like to go back for that it would be impractical to do all the things I'd want to do in the timespan of a short visit.

The deeper reasons, as with so many other emotional things in life, has to do with people. I never made any friends in St. Louis, and to the extent that I did make the acquaintance of some people, they were almost all graduate students who have since moved away from St. Louis. If I ever do go back, there's literally only one person I know in the entire city, and my relationship to him (ex-girlfriend's former work-study supervisor) is pretty tenuous. On the other hand, I know pretty much everyone in Columbus. Even if they're not close friends (and a lot of the close friends I had there were also graduate students who have since moved away), they're familiar faces: people like the waiters at my favorite restaurant, or the checkout people at my grocery store, or the neighbors who sit on lawn chairs in the driveway and wave at people who walk by. I don't really know them, but I saw them enough that, if I went back, I'd still like to just say hi and know they're still around.

In general, I've found that the latter kinds of relationships are what make people feel happy and comfortable. You will only ever have a few truly close friends, no matter where you are, and while it's great to have friends who are close enough to be in your wedding party, that's not enough to make a place feel like home. You need a breadth as well as a depth. This is why the town you grew up in still feels familiar even after all your high school classmates have gone away to college.

You don't even have to necessarily live in a city to have these kinds of random relationships. I've never lived in Buffalo, but I go there pretty often (my wife grew up there), and when I do, there's a list of people I don't even know but want to see (e.g. the Elmwood and Allen bubble guy, the priest at my mother-in-law's church, etc.).

So think about that. I'm not sure there's a magic number, but compare the number of people you'd miss in your current city to other cities you've lived in (where you grew up, where you went to college, etc.).

A shorthand way to do this is to take a vacation. Spend a couple of days somewhere else, and as you're traveling back, think about what you want to do to get back into life in your current city. Are you looking forward to getting back, or would you rather stay away for longer?
posted by kevinbelt at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

There's some research on the types of informal relationships kevinbelt mentions: see loose and dense social networks or strong and weak ties. Like a lot of people, I'm happiest in areas more characterized by loose networks and weak ties. It makes sense; they're much easier to break into socially and tend to be dynamic.
posted by Miko at 1:38 PM on October 8, 2017

Do you ever find yourself defending your city to others? If not, move.

I strongly disliked DC when I first moved here, but kept finding things to defend about it, and have gradually realized that the things I felt compelled to defend are more important than all the things I disliked.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:52 PM on October 8, 2017

To answer the question as asked, What would you say are clear signs a city just isn't a good fit for you?
  1. My line of work is unavailable or paid poorly or precarious.
  2. No "scene" for people who do my hobby, which has a strong meat-space component.
  3. Majority culture is different enough that raising children would be an exercise in deprogramming, or even just unsafe.
  4. Poor dating prospects.
  5. Far from my parents, whom I will need to take care of in a few decades.
  6. Frequent or severe natural disasters, persecution, political unrest, crime, etc.
Sounds like my (2) and (4) apply to your situation. Maybe my (3) as well. I don't know if you intend to have children, but it will be really difficult to keep them from internalizing the gender role expectations you describe.

If you are already okay with the prospect of moving for work, why not start looking for a job elsewhere?
posted by d. z. wang at 6:00 PM on October 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

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