Does tired of London mean tired of life?
October 16, 2018 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I came to London ten years ago and it’s time to move on but I'm scared. Did you leave a big city that you once loved? How did it work out?

I'm a 43 year who feels like she's reached the end of the line in London. I live in a tiny flat with my husband in an area I adore but we both crave more space, and a chance to put down some roots by buying a home of our own. However, despite strong savings and good jobs the house market here is beyond us, so we need to relocate. We’d both like more access to nature and I’d like to be nearer my parents as they age so it makes sense for us to leave London altogether, to move to somewhere a bit more like the places we each came from (smaller, slightly bohemian towns in more rural settings). We're applying for jobs and things are starting to happen.

Whilst it feels like the right decision for so many reasons I’m increasingly anxious about the change and am looking for personal accounts of life-after-the-big-city that will help me frame this move in a way that doesn’t feel like failure.

For context: When I came to London I had big ideas about what I wanted to achieve. I did do a lot of what I set out to, I built a great-on-paper career in a respected field that I care about, and I learned a lot about myself along the way. But I didn’t ‘make it’ in the sense that I’d hoped for, in the way I’ve seen many others achieve along the way. I’m not known in my fields of expertise, my creative ideas did not make the big splash I’d intended, and, being very introverted, I shied away from the intense networking and scene-making that results in recognition amongst a peer group. I didn’t take advantage of connections made and feel like I squandered many opportunities by being too timid to grab them as they hopped by. I did however come to know the city intimately and were it not for the housing issue I'd likely want to stay because I still feel part of something here. I am increasingly irritated by the drive and relentless search for novelty, and I know that the odds are stacked in favour of those wielding youth, money or influence but I can’t deny that it still energises me in many ways and I worry that if I’m not part of this amazing, crazy machine I’ll just lose any spark altogether and just fade into...what exactly?

On the other hand I was raised in the country and I am excited by the potential to carve out more of the domestic and community life I desperately miss from that time. Having more space and less pressure - and an actual home of my own! - may prompt me to do something with my ideas rather than having them quashed in the the noise and clamour of a place that cares little for interiority.

My husband is sympathetic but he has fewer qualms about heading out. He's never been a fan of the city and though he has a good job he only came here to be with me. He’s also much more gregarious and less concerned about finding meaning in his paid work so moving in general is less of an issue for him. He just wants a home we can afford in a place that doesn’t exhaust him daily.

TLDR: So did you move from the city to the country (as opposed to the suburbs!) - was it what you hoped? Any tips for someone about to make that change? Any notes of caution or surprise? Thank you!
posted by socksister to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I did this. I moved to Seattle from Massachusetts a week after my graduation. Fuck winter! Fuck my crappy family! I spent my twenties in Seattle going to grad school, getting job experience, meeting people, deciding what I liked and did not like about different friend-groups. And ultimately I was raised in the country and wanted to be in a place that was more human scale, not constantly under construction, not always voting on new sports stadiums (RIP Paul Allen but that was actually the last straw for me). At some point someone spoke to me and was like "You hate things that are just part of being in a city. Maybe the problem is you?" and it was sort of rude but I realized they were also right.

When an opportunity opened to move to a rural location (and I was no longer mad at my family and I decided I could deal with snow better than the neverending grey) back in New England, I jumped on it. I moved to a town of 150 people, by myself, and tried things out. It wasn't quite right for me, it was a little too small, but I moved a few more times and for the last ten years (all of my 40s) I have lived in a town that is about the size of the one I grew up in. I have an elected position (justice of the peace) and am on a number of committees. I spend more time with my family--though both my parents died in the past decade, I was glad to be closer to them--and the community, and the weather, feels right to me.

The pace is slower, a lot slower and it's weird to say but the people are too. Like if someone comes to fix your sink it's a social normal that you'll just hang out and chat with them about this or that, that's part of the transaction. it took me a while to feel comfortable with that, to not always feel that I had to be "maximizing my output" or whatever it was. And Seattle is still there, and I like visiting big cities, but I no longer feel that I have to live in one. I think being back to nature more is good for the soul, or it's been good for mine.

But yeah I do think a little that FOMO pushed me to do some things in Seattle that I might not have done if I had stayed in a small town. but I feel like my energy level helps keep other people in this town looking for quirky interesting things to do and it's really mostly worked out. I feel like any "fading" I may have done is more about just getting older, more content and less wondering "What am I all about anyhow?"

London will always be there if you decide it's not the thing, but I bet you'll like the move.
posted by jessamyn at 9:03 AM on October 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I’ve lived in a few metropolises, not among the top 10 biggest in the USA, but the next tier, around a million people.

I recently moved to a small city (not a suburb), surrounded by fields of corn and soy, and I love it. I’m thrilled that I can walk to a handful of nice markets and restaurants, but also afford to buy a nice single family home with a spare rom for guests and space for a garden. I’m thrilled that traffic and noise and pollution and dirty gritty realities of larger city life are mostly a non-issue for me now. I love having nice natural areas nearby.

I think you’ll be fine, especially since your husband will seemingly be a lot happier, and that will probably be nice for you too.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:16 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

London is really bad for this. It has such a strong gravitational pull that when you’re inside it, it feels impossible to imagine existing outside it. But millions of people do, very happily! I left it in my late 20s to go and live in a tiny (2,500 people) island community 8,000 miles away, and a few years later moved to live back in the UK in a smaller city and they are both way better than living in London, in terms of standard of living, community, social life (because people aren’t so far spread), and just about every other way I can think of.

As for feeling you’ve failed/given up - welcome to being human. Life is what happens while you were making other plans. Living in London is like taking a drug that magnifies that fear, but once you step outside it you’ll marvel at the lunacy you once bought into, and how long you wasted thinking shiny cool things were more important than being able to afford a home and drop in on friends and family. I think more likely to be a problem than missing London is kicking yourself for not doing it earlier.

I mean, YMMV but you asked for experiences, and I think this is true of pretty much everyone I’ve ever known who’s left London.
posted by penguin pie at 9:41 AM on October 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I moved from a small city that I love to a suburb where I have woods and a view. I miss the city, but I love where I am now. Think of it as moving towards something, not as leaving.
posted by theora55 at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

We moved from a big city to a rural exurb (near family) for similar reasons and have not enjoyed it. The pace of life is too slow for us; the food is not as good; we don't fit in with our neighbors; and it turns out we're not house-owning rural people. It all made sense on paper, especially financially, and in our heads, but our hearts were not in the move. We don't regret the move completely, because we've learned this about ourselves, but we're now trying to get back to the city and missing it quite desperately. I also felt a great deal of anxiety before the move, and now I know why that was. As my husband puts it, we've learned that places are not fungible . . .
posted by luckdragon at 10:14 AM on October 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

We moved from London to Cork while I can speak only for myself, I have absolutely no regrets and am in fact very, very glad we made that move.

I did however come to know the city intimately and were it not for the housing issue I'd likely want to stay because I still feel part of something here.

Well, you know you have the ability to feel part of something, so that bodes well. I too have that ability and feel embedded in my adopted city.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:16 AM on October 16, 2018

With jessamyn's help, my wife (turtlegirl) and I moved from Washington, DC to rural Vermont in 2005, and we are so glad we did. I was ready to crack after decades of cities (Washington, DC, and Los Angeles), and when my father passed in 2004 I realised I didn't have any real reasons to stay in a city I grew to hate more each day. It was difficult, and I miss some friends, and I miss the people and foods of other cultures, but my mental health improved greatly. Now 13 years on, I am happy. And I do visit cities and enjoy their museums, cultures, and foods, but then I go home to my beautiful, peaceful farm.

I do have friends who left their advertising jobs in London in 2016 and moved to rural north Devon. They are much happier and less stressed as well.

Good luck!
posted by terrapin at 10:47 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cities are amazing! So much is happening, so many things there are fascinating and old and new and mutable! But there's not enough room, and there are a lot of compromises you must make if you stay there.

I grew up in a good-sized metropolitan area, and attended college (uni) in Boston. I lived there a couple of years until I was married, and we moved out to the suburbs. We looked for a house for four years until we shrugged, and headed 30 miles south to a small town in the small state of Rhode Island. I kept working in Boston another year, with a two-hour commute each way, and my wife kept her job in the Boston suburbs. The commuting sucked. I finally found a job in the "second tier" city of Providence, which is only a short drive from home. My wife stopped working eventually, and we've been raising kids in that small suburban town ever since.

We asked ourselves, what do we want most? The answer was: space and quiet to raise a family. Since that was our very top priority, we listened to ourselves.

Do we miss museums and historic sites and mass transit? YES! But we can visit those things, and we've learned enough about our area to appreciate what it does have: fresh air, apple orchards, a community farm where we help grow & harvest dozens of tons of fresh food a year for the food bank, and nice people.

Our kids are teen-agers now, and a couple of them say how much they like visiting cities. THE CYCLE BEGINS AGAIN!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:50 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did this, though not by choice. Prior to 2003 I had always lived in cities (the smallest was Sheffield, population 500,000), or, in one case, one of the farther New York City suburbs (still close enough to get to NYC any weekend or evening). Then in 2003 I moved to a town of 15,000. It wasn't as bad as it could have been — the town had a University, its own multiplex, a river and a Great Lakes waterfront, and more parkland and decent restaurants than one would have expected — but I missed big city life. I had the opportunity to move to Baltimore in 2013 and I'm really glad I did. But if you were raised in the country, and your hubby is not a city-life fan, you probably already know what you're signing up for.

I will also say that a house of your own is worth quite a bit. I had a house of my own in all of these places, but if the country had offered me one while the city hadn't, I would probably feel differently about it.
posted by ubiquity at 12:11 PM on October 16, 2018

So my city wasn't as big as yours, but I moved from Brighton to a village outside Luxembourg in December and am loving it. I had this realisation earlier in the summer that hey, I used to think of myself as a city girl and I could toooootally imagine moving into the middle of nowhere now with just woods around me. All the things I thought I'd miss about Brighton - the density, the shops, the people... I only miss them in a vague, abstract way. OTOH, I have forest with deer literally behind my house (250 steps from my front door). It is so gorgeous, it makes me feel so calm and happy! And guess what I don't have? Annoying people, masses of tourists, noisy neighbours, awful public transport...

I have no regrets. (oh, and I'm 41)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:32 PM on October 16, 2018

socksister: I'm a 43 year who feels like she's reached the end of the line in London. I live in a tiny flat with my husband in an area I adore but we both crave more space, and a chance to put down some roots by buying a home of our own. However, despite strong savings and good jobs the house market here is beyond us, so we need to relocate. We’d both like more access to nature and I’d like to be nearer my parents as they age so it makes sense for us to leave London altogether, to move to somewhere a bit more like the places we each came from (smaller, slightly bohemian towns in more rural settings). We're applying for jobs and things are starting to happen.

Like others here, that story could be me and my wife, except with Coastal California as our London. We love it, but the housing prices in places we want to live are ridiculous, so we left. We moved to another state in a very different climate, but we have a lot of space, and we love it all! Well, most of it -- but more than enough to round up and say "all" :)

theora55: Think of it as moving towards something, not as leaving.

Exactly my thoughts! For us, moving was an adventure. Neither of us had lived here (New Mexico) before, but we wanted to try it out. Heading towards six years later, the most we're doing is looking around where else in the vicinity we'd like to live, but realizing that our location is good for our jobs.

There's still a ton for us to explore in our area, which is a lot of fun to look forward to all that.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I lived in NYC for almost ten years and now live outside of Denver near the mountains. I can relate to what you are saying: at the time leaving the city felt like I was giving up, or failing - even though I chose to do it and planned it pretty well, all things considered. But now I don't miss the expense, stress, crowds, noise, etc. My mental health has improved since I left NYC. Even when I was doing well there I always felt low key anxious and irritable; I don't feel that way living outside of a large city. Having easy access to nature & being somewhere quiet and less crowded is good for me.

"Having more space and less pressure - and an actual home of my own! - may prompt me to do something with my ideas rather than having them quashed in the the noise and clamour of a place that cares little for interiority."
I think you will find this is true. Good luck!
posted by zdravo at 1:14 PM on October 16, 2018

Most of my friends of your age or thereabouts who put in their London decades have either moved to more human-sized cities -- especially Cardiff and Edinburgh, but also Sheffield, Glasgow, Exeter, Canterbury, etc. -- or adjusted their careers to live in the outer suburbs, maintaining their networks but moving towards consulting and mentorship roles. Those human-sized cities tend to have more coherent existing networks around particular fields, where you can show up and make a difference without thinking "oh god it's in Clapham" or only find out about it a month after the fact. The ones in arts/creative fields have found it especially liberating because they're less beholden to the often superficial London trend of the week.

Big cities like London are endothermic and have always been so: they're fuelled by the people who move there, and those people eventually get burned out.
posted by holgate at 1:20 PM on October 16, 2018

Hey! My very funny friend Erin Clune, who used to live in New York City and now lives in Wisconsin where she grew up, just published a book about exactly this.
posted by escabeche at 1:24 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just moved from Toronto (13 years) to the suburbs of Toronto, and then to a small village on the coast of British Columbia. The suburbs? Fucking loathed them, fled in four months. The small village? Love it.

Having also left New York once in my life, it's true that there are some cities that you get attached to in a Borglike symbiosis. You feel like you're part of a huge organism, and it's comforting. As long as you're inside that organism imagining leaving, departure can only feel desolate. You need to actually leave to get an accurate sense of what leaving is like.
posted by Beardman at 1:43 PM on October 16, 2018

I don't have any perspective on the move from city to smaller places, but I wanted to say with regard to moving anywhere in your 40s, I can't really dismiss your concern about moving away from something you feel you are a part of. It's pretty hard, no matter the size of where you move, to have that I-fit-into-this feeling when you're past the age where there's lots set up for meeting your crowd. (I spent ten years in NYC and feared not being a part of the things I was a part of when we moved ((not to the country but)) to Oakland and the fear was well-founded. I'm fairly social but five years later I still don't have that feeling much.)
posted by Smearcase at 1:44 PM on October 16, 2018

I'm so glad to see this question because I'm having very much the same thought process around a similar move, although not from London. Even the answers that have come through already have given me good food for thought.

I can share that my framework for thinking about it has been shifting from "I would be leaving this amazing place" to "I would be leaving a place that, in theory, has many amazing things to do, but they are all so expensive, so far away, or both, that I don't do them."

My friends who don't live here rhapsodize about how I must go to so many arts events at the big, famous venues in my city, or about how I must love eating at all the fancy restaurants. And I hate explaining to them that no, I don't do that because event tickets are crazy expensive, restaurants are snooty and booked up, and no matter where you go it takes an hour to get there and costs $20+ to park.

Some time recently I crossed the tipping point, and now I feel like I'm paying all the "dues" for living in a big city (crowds, expensive housing, traffic, expensive/difficult parking) but not getting anything for my money because everything is such a hassle that I don't do it. If I'm going to come home from work, go for a run, play with my dogs, clean house, read a book and go to sleep, I could be doing that somewhere *reasonable* that doesn't make me feel like I'm being beat with a stick just to get through the day.

Anyway, I guess my answer is a suggestion to think about London not as what it is in the abstract, but as what it truly is to you on a real, live day-to-day basis. And good luck!!
posted by mccxxiii at 2:01 PM on October 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've done this twice. Once from NYC to a college town, and earlier this year, from Philadelphia to a small city/large town. My experiences have been pretty different the two times. I spent 5 years in New York and loathed the city and the aggressive harsh personality I adopted while I was there, so I was really ready to go. I miss exactly nothing about New York City. My attitude toward Philadelphia was a lot more like what your attitude toward London seems to be -- glad to be in a vibrant space, feeling a part of a community larger than myself, tons of activities and an active Meetup scene so although I lived alone, I rarely felt lonely; but also aware that I was getting priced out of the market to stay and really not wanting to just move to the 'burbs.

The biggest adjustment in both moves was the lack of public transit and bike infrastructure. Outside of large metropolitan areas (at least in the US, I don't know about the UK) you have to drive everywhere. If there are two adults, you likely need two cars unless you are both working at the same place. Also, things close really early. My brother recently drove down to visit, and was getting in at 8pm on a Sunday; I was only able to find three restaurants open that late for dinner. I was vaguely aware of that, but the reality of it is still a bit of a mindshift.

The hardest thing for introverted me, in these smaller towns, has been trying to find a community outside work -- I lucked out with Collegetown because there were a bunch of other people in my cohort in the same situation of not knowing anyone else. I'm still adjusting to this latest move, but it gets harder in your 30s and beyond, as most people in this age range are parenting young children which makes spontaneous board game nights or craft beer festivals way less do-able. The place where I currently live seems to be a lot more politically and socially insular (longtime locals vs recent transplants), which I'm not digging.

Sorry if this sounds negative. There are lots of pros to living in a smaller town! But there are some big logistical differences to consider.
posted by basalganglia at 2:54 PM on October 16, 2018

I lived in London for more than a decade spread over two distinct periods and left last year. I now live in a very tiny and very isolated island in the middle of the sea. Think of an island in the middle of a moat which is the ocean. No coffee shops, no restaurants, no entertainment unless you make it yourself. But here I have time to do all the things I want to do and not be exhausted at the end of the working day. I still think London's great and I'd be happy to go back but I love it here. I love all the outdoorsy activities, the animals and plants, making my own food and doing everything from scratch. And it's beautiful and full of tiny joys throughout the day that weren't accessible in London. As a caveat, this is a very small community so everything you say and do quickly becomes common knowledge. You need to find a way of navigating this as well as relationships, which go back aeons and can be complex.

But my advice to you is to prioritise doing the things that make you happy rather than the things that help you accomplish goals that you "ought" to reach, if that makes sense. This is what I decided to do and I'm grateful every day.
posted by mkdirusername at 3:54 PM on October 16, 2018

Another way to think about it: you're not exiled from London. If there's a concert or exhibition or gathering that interests you, you can go, take in your old haunts, catch up with people...
posted by holgate at 4:01 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Creatively, it is usually much easier to work in a smaller, cheaper, more laid back area. I think you will find your people in the smaller communities maybe even more than you did in London.
posted by fshgrl at 10:43 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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