I'm taking a small-town job - is it a terrible idea to live in the city?
July 18, 2019 7:54 PM   Subscribe

I've been offered a job. I'm going to take it. It fits in well with my career goals, the money is good, I like the people there. (I'm also currently unemployed!) But it's an hour from the nearest medium-sized city. I am heavily considering moving to the suburbs of the nearest medium-sized city and just dealing with a 45-ish-minute commute. It's not the longest commute I've ever had, or the worst, but I'm feeling quite anxious that it's a terrible decision.

I'm not thrilled with the idea of living in the small town of my potential employment - I want bookstores and theater and Thai food, but I'd be chill with just going into the city every two weeks or so. The real dealbreaker is that living in the small town seems likely to be bad for my dating prospects (um, particularly dating women!) after my love life has already been on hold for way too long. But... is that actually a good enough reason to spend SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS A WEEK on the highway?

A few additional clarifying details!
1) Financially, there's not a huge advantage to living in either the small town or the medium city - rents are similar. The biggest financial obstacle would probably be the wear and tear on my car, which already has close to 150,000 miles on it.

2) There aren't really any towns or suburbs located conveniently in the middle between the two locations - if I go to the very edge of the medium-sized city I could get my commute down to about 45 minutes (vs. an hour or more if I were closer to downtown), but that's as good as I can do for a compromise.

3) I'm not going to be able to do 4 10-hour days or telecommuting - I'll need to be in my place of work, five days a week.
posted by Jeanne to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
45 minutes is close to the US average commute, so that's one data point indicating it should be doable. However, some research indicates that people equate 20 minutes of extra commute as being equivalent (in job satisfaction) to a 19% pay cut. Not overall happiness, but job satisfaction.

...have you considered using dating apps/websites to check, in advance, how the dating pool is in the smaller community?
posted by aramaic at 8:10 PM on July 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Couple of questions for you to consider. What's winter like where you're going? How are you planning on meeting potential dates? If online, then you can go to mid-sized town to meet up a couple of times a week, unless you'd hate always being the one driving in. What direction would you be heading? For three years I commuted east in the morning and west going home, and spring and fall were rough.Last thing to consider: you'd probably be commuting against the main flow of traffic, so there probably shouldn't be much congestion.
posted by kate4914 at 8:12 PM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had a similar commute for two years (lived in a walkable outer ring of City X, job was in rural town Y about 30 miles away). I enjoy driving when there is no traffic and I caught up on a lot of podcasts, audiobooks, etc. It was a nice time to decompress at the end of the workday.

However I am a homebody without much of a social life - with an hour and a half of commuting per day there's really not much time for physical fitness or hanging out during the week. And the last thing I wanted to do on the weekends was drive - my suburb had good public transportation + uber so that wasn't an issue for me.

Gas and insurance will also be higher, the more miles you drive per year.
posted by muddgirl at 8:12 PM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I did a 45-minute commute for about 13 years. A few notes:

What is the route like? Is it a straight shot on a freeway or are you going to be dodging oncoming traffic on a two-lane road? Twisty route in the hills? Many stoplights or 4-way stop intersections? Weather issues?

Wear and tear, plus gas, insurance and maint. Is your car a hybrid, or otherwise good on mileage? Tires? Do you feel safe in your car?

Can you entertain yourself for the commute time without being totally distracted or ruminating about what you could be doing if you didn't have this long drive?

Do some test runs during your potential drive times if at all possible. If everything checks out, you could try it and move later if it's not for you.
posted by sageleaf at 8:23 PM on July 18, 2019 [11 favorites]

My friend's smart life advice is live where you socialize, because it's very easy to motivate yourself to travel to your job, and it's very hard to motivate yourself to travel for hangouts and culture, but hangouts and culture make life much better.

I don't like commuting, but in your shoes I would definitely prefer living in a city to living in a small town (and I'd pick the city over the suburb, too). And especially if you're dating, and double if you're queer or racialized or a member of another minority group, life among a larger population is generally going to be better.

I would just try to make the commute as pleasant as possible (consume good media, have long chats on the phone, etc).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:36 PM on July 18, 2019 [27 favorites]

My implied concern is that this plan has you living at the edge of a suburb, and I question if that's actually better than just living in small town, or living in city with a longer commute.
posted by muddgirl at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2019 [34 favorites]

I did a 45 minute commute from city to small town for eight years and found it OK. Use the commute to decompress from work: listen, study, or just relax (assuming a smooth drive that's not stop-and-go which is way too stressful to do for years). My partner is from a big city and she wasn't working so it made her life much better. For me the only real downside was being disconnected from work social events, and that suited me anyway.
posted by anadem at 8:47 PM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Why not see if you can find a 6 month lease either in small town or in busy town. Try it for 6 months or less and see what it is like then look for something more permanent in one or the other. I personally like a drive commute, I stopped taking the train and subway into lower Manhattan from Westchester to drive to downtown and was much happier so I would not mind that. Also, I have lived in a small town. There are definitely limits to a social life, to things to do on the weekends, etc, but there are some good things too. I think the advice to live where you socialize should be considered strongly. It makes sense.
posted by AugustWest at 8:55 PM on July 18, 2019 [13 favorites]

Another consideration... Will you feel safe iving in small town?

I say this because I got placed in a small town for my most recent internship for my graduate program. Small town and its surrounding small towns is rife with the full fledged Southern racists. I am not white and have received many a more menacing, "You're not from these parts" looks from people emblazoning themselves with the Confederate flag. This has happened in very public spaces too.

As a result, all I do when I'm out on site is work, work out, eat, putter around at my lodgings, and sleep.

1000000000000000000000% would not recommend small town life if this will be the case for you. In the past 9 weeks, I haven't gotten a single night of uninterrupted sleep when I'm out here because I feel the need to be hypervigilant. I can't imagine how much of a mental and physical toll it would have if I had to move out to small town full time.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:31 PM on July 18, 2019 [16 favorites]

I think it depends on where you’ll be regionally, and specifically. In my small town the queer dating scene is surprisingly robust and people are used to driving for things so dating someone in the big city/living in the small town is often done. This may be less of an option for you if you work in a academia and are worried about your students infiltrating your dating pool/social scene. YMMV!

I’d echo the comment above though, that if you decide on the city and you’re going to opt for the 45 minute commute then you might as well make it an hour and live in the city center or other cool neighborhood, where you can walk/bike/socialize. Living in the suburbs seems like the worst of both options to me.
posted by stellaluna at 10:27 PM on July 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

One more comment; with 150K miles on your car and your current employment status you might consider living in small town for a year to save up money and prolong your car’s life, then move to the city and commute. That commute is going to rack up miles fast and any big repairs or new car payments will be a lot easier with a cushion.
posted by stellaluna at 10:30 PM on July 18, 2019 [11 favorites]

If you can handle potentially going out to head in to work and your car totally breaking down without it throwing your life into a tailspin, I’d say go for the city. But the car situation is dodgy and would be a source of worry if it ever didn’t start, I wouldn’t want to be so far away from work.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:58 PM on July 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Live in small town, party in medium city, find love of your life, settle down?
posted by vrakatar at 12:11 AM on July 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

1) If it meant you would actually live IN the city and not on the edge of a suburb, adding an extra 15 minutes to your commute would be worth it.

2) Can you use transport other than your car? Eg train or bus? When I had a one-hour commute and took transit (bus), I had two hours a day for reading, listening to audiobooks, knitting, or napping. When there was a transit strike and I had to switch to driving for an hour, I hated it because the driving was stressful and I couldn’t use the time to relax.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:53 AM on July 19, 2019

Nthing the 'live where you socialize' part. We've tried living in suburbs some distance from where everything was happening and it just didn't work (too much of a city guy, I guess).

Plenty of stuff to do with that time: Podcasts? Audiobooks? Brainstorming time?

Check the dating scene / pool before deciding, though.
posted by chrisinseoul at 3:02 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I moved from a large college town to a rural college town eight years ago and had the same thought initially.

we tried living about 45 minutes away in a larger city (about halfway to the 'cool' city) for the first year. we were spending $300 in gas a month, losing roughly two hours of our day and we didn't get to the cool city as much as we wanted because we were tired of driving.

after a year we bought a house that was a five minute walk to work. it's much easier to do stuff now because we're not tired and the extra 20-30 minutes in the car doesn't matter when you're only going a few times a month.
posted by noloveforned at 4:24 AM on July 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

In my opinion you need to sort out your car situation. Are you planning on getting a new car once you start? I would not want to trust a car with 150k miles on it for a longer commute.

For the last 2 years I had a 45 minute straight shot down the highway commute and it was fine (when there was no construction). I enjoyed the drive and time to wake up in the morning, but coming home was a drag because I just wanted to be home.

The commute has put a lot of wear and tear on my car (which was brand new when I started). I’ve had to replace the tire because of a nail in it, my windshield has a crack in it from a rock that was kicked up while driving on the highway (yay construction!), I have to get oil changes and rotate the tires more often than I would like, and the cost of gas is ridiculous. And that’s with a brand new Camry.

If I were in your shoes, I would rent in small town near to my job until I could afford to buy a new car and have a little emergency fund set up for maintenance issues. Bonus there is while you’re getting settled into your job, you’ll be close by. And maybe there is stuff to do/people to date there. If you spend 3 months there and hate your life, well, then now you have a little savings and maybe can justify a car payment and you can move to the city.

Good luck and congratulations!
posted by katypickle at 4:57 AM on July 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

Weather is a big factor - if we're talking upstate NY, and the prices are comparable, for now I would just move to the small town and start looking for a job in the city. In CA or Texas I'd do the commute.

Sock away the money you'll save on gas/maintenance for socializing.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:58 AM on July 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

The real dealbreaker is that living in the small town seems likely to be bad for my dating prospects (um, particularly dating women!) after my love life has already been on hold for way too long.

Okay, so the commute sounds terrible, but this in particular? I'd much sooner drive a little further for dating--either finding a spot in the suburbs to meet up or driving yourself into the city a time or two a week at max to see someone once you're settling in--and then move into the city IF you meet someone who you're seeing regularly who is there who would rather not relocate the other direction. I totally dated people in Cleveland while I was living an hour from Cleveland. You don't necessarily have to put an accurate location down in your profile if you think people would be concerned about the drive and you're willing to do the majority of the driving yourself. I would way sooner live near work and drive for social stuff until such time as you find yourself doing it 5+ times a week.
posted by Sequence at 5:00 AM on July 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Live in the small town, at least to start. That's a lot of time/money in your car, especially on any night/morning when you're *not* doing city things. If it's awful, and you never make it to the city, move. But I'd buck the advice - *live where you work*; time is your most valuable resource and you won't be getting any more of it.
posted by annabear at 5:10 AM on July 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

We had to make this choice when Herr Duck and I got married. His job was in Town A, our social lives were in City B, with 75 miles of nothing between them (okay, suburbs and exurbs). We thought we'd split the difference and live in a niceish suburb halfway. Then we realized that we'd be living in a third place (Suburb C) and that would just create even more places to be torn between. We'd have to drive to get anywhere, and we'd be living in a place we didn't have any actual interest in living in. It made no sense! We wound up buying in City A and he had a monster commute for a few years (he did work from home 1-2 days a week). He listened to a lot of audio books and I took on 90% of housework and cooking in exchange for his lots of driving. Live where your social life is. I have been a single person in a small town. It can be discouraging.
posted by Gray Duck at 5:18 AM on July 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Before making your decision, have you, in fact, confirmed that the small town lacks bookstores, theatre, and Thai food? There's a stereotype of small towns that they're all the same, and that each one only has one restaurant in town and it's an old-school diner that fries everything, and all the people are straight and white, and so on, but that misses a lot of reality. The small town my mother-in-law lives in (14,000 people) has several Thai restaurants and the best bookstore I've ever been to. The small town I grew up in (60,000 people) has a vibrant, award-winning theatre scene that's produced an EGOT and at least one other Broadway actress, plus a screenwriter working in Hollywood. It's not impossible to find that in small towns; the problem is that each small town is different.

"My implied concern is that this plan has you living at the edge of a suburb, and I question if that's actually better than just living in small town, or living in city with a longer commute."

I share this concern. The most miserable times in my life have been when I was living in soulless exurbs. This is usually the worst of both worlds, as you're too far from the city to actually do anything there on weeknights. You probably won't go into the city itself any more living in a suburb than if you lived in the small town. But in the suburb, you still have the onerous commute, whereas in the small town, you might be able to walk to work. Not to do the same sort of stereotyping that I just warned against above, but the suburbs aren't exactly known for their theatre scenes, either, and the bookstores are usually Barnes and Nobles in the strip malls.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:29 AM on July 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

Keep in mind that a longer commute is (a) more expensive, due to wear & tear on your car and extra fuel costs, and (b) worse for the environment (more CO2 emissions.) In terms of saving money and saving the planet, there's no contest.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:07 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Commuting from the small town to the big city once or twice a week for dates seems a lot better than commuting from the city to the town twice a day every day.
posted by windykites at 6:23 AM on July 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

I commute from city to small town 45 minutes everyday for work. I thought about moving to small town, but my partner and I live together and I knew for my own mental health that commuting to small town would be better. Phew I was right! Small town is much more conservative than I thought and being a minority living there would be stressful. I also moved for the job and it turns out it’s a toxic workplace with a lot more turnover than was talked about in the interview. If I had moved to small town and then found out I’d be job hunting again, I’d be bummed. At least living in the city has given me more things to do and connections to make, with a stronger cultural scene. The caveat is that we purposefully chose to live in a fun neighborhood where we could walk to shops and the arts, and my commute is non stop highway. But in my mid-20s, as a queer woman of color, I would be in a very low place living in the small town where I work.
posted by buttonedup at 6:35 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don’t do it: it’s bad for your health, your wallet, your psyche, our infrastructure, and the planet.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:41 AM on July 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

From my personal experience -- I lived in a big city and had an absolutely awful commute of 75-90 minutes each way by public transit out to the exurbs -- I agree strongly with the people who say to live where your social life is.

It sounds reasonable to say it's better to make the trip to a big city for socializing or dates just a couple of times a week instead of making the trip to work every day. But the problem is that you have to make the trip to work, whereas the socialization trips are optional. The practical results ends up being that it doesn't seem worth it to make the trip back and forth for a low-stakes hangout (or it's not possible to make the trip on short notice for impromptu plans), but these kinds of low-stakes hangouts are how friendships and potential relationships get made.

Plus, and I don't know how else to say this but to be blunt, if you are hoping to take advantage of nightlife, possible romantic sleepovers, or late nights out in the big city, I think it's a drag to have to think about getting home when the options are not ideal.

I also agree that you should either live in a neighborhood in the big city that you want to live in, or the small town. I had a friend who "split the difference" with a roommate once and it was truly the worst of all possible worlds. As soon as their lease was up, my friend moved into the city and his roommate moved into the exurbs 10 minutes away from work.
posted by andrewesque at 6:57 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are actual studies (a bunch of them) on how long commutes reduce health and happiness. Here is the first roundup I found, but if you google around, you might find better ones. Center yourself in the place you want to be, but do know that a long commute sucks energy out of evenings and weekends, to the point that you might find yourself looking for a local job or a home there.
posted by slidell at 7:19 AM on July 19, 2019

I just want to echo kevinbelt's comment that small town cultural opportunities can often > suburban/exurban cultural opportunities. That isn't universally the case, but it's true often enough. One common exception is if the suburb in question was a small town before being engulfed by big-city sprawl.

Also echoing comments on the weather. I'd be wary of a long driving commute in the Northeast or Midwest, but in California, say, it shouldn't be so bad.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:01 AM on July 19, 2019

So this is what I would look at -

What’s cost of living like in the small town versus the city? Because if it’s a lot less, this is an easy answer - live where it’s cheap.

How much do you like driving and spending time in your car and spending money on gas? What’s the weather like, and how will that take a toll on your car? Unless you love driving, a long commute like this is hell and just gets more stressful as time passes. If you were living in the small town, would you even have to drive? Like, could it become a bike or walking commute?

What’s the lesbian scene like in the small town? Are there bars? Events? Sports teams? Or is it a thing where there’s one bar down an alley and you have to know the password, and everyone is in the closet? I’d check dating apps but also meetup for queer events, and also keep in mind that there are a lot of LGBT folks who live in small towns and rural areas, just doing their own things. I’d also check into some of the details about the scene - like if the scene is mostly a group of Log Cabin Republicans or parenting groups it may not be helpful to you.

All other things being equal, I’d look at living in the smaller town and making regular trips to the city. This will let you have access to city amenities without having to make that drive every day just to get home, you’ll save a ton of money, time, wear and tear on your car, and cause less damage to the environment. You’ll probably be able to get a cheaper apartment than you can in the city, and quite possibly one that’s bigger and nicer, depending on how different the price point is.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:10 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Small towns have lesbians too. Maybe ones who are less prone to being distracted by a large dating pool. I’d at least try living in the small town.
posted by w0mbat at 8:19 AM on July 19, 2019

I can't believe no one's said it, but the new librarian in a small town is going to be a community pillar. If you are into dating anyone, you are going to be a hot commodity. You might find yourself surprised at how many prospects you will have.
posted by juniperesque at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

How is the rent difference between small town and big city? If town is a lot cheaper, would it be plausible for you to stay 1-2 weekends a month or something in a hotel in the city and get your city fix?

But agreed, this is different than if you want a robust social life in the city.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:01 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a college librarian and I work in a rural/suburban area and live in a nearby city. My commute is 27 miles each way. I start work at 7:30 and my morning commute takes 35 minutes, mostly on rural 4 lane roads. Going home takes a bit longer. I've done this now for 10+ years, no possibility of public transportation. The things that have bothered me the most are the times when my car broke down (it had 225k miles on it when someone ran a red light and killed it last year) and I had to beg, borrow, rent cars or call in sick, and the other drivers. I'm in the southern US (no snow, no ice, no hills) and I gotta tell you these people down here never took driver's ed and they tailgate very aggressively. The commute takes a lot out of me, but I'm getting old so that might be a factor. I have coworkers who are younger who do about the same commute and it doesn't seem to bother them as much. I do love living in a real city neighborhood that's multi-racial, multi-cultural, LGBTQ-friendly.

Just looked at your profile, if you're staying in the northeast then you shouldn't do it because of the weather. Living in suburbia might also be worse than living in a small town. Maybe if you tell us where this job is someone will know more about the area.

Try the small town for a year. Learn how to cook your own Thai food. Save money for a lower-mileage car. Visit the city every couple of weeks.
posted by mareli at 10:49 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much to everyone who has answered - you've really covered every angle, including a lot that I hadn't considered previously! I don't want to be too specific about location, but I promise I'm not just going off stereotypes about small towns - I live in a midwestern small town NOW (about 40 minutes from my new place of work) and I can hardly get a decent vegetarian meal. My queer women friends in the area report that dating prospects are pretty grim in the whole region but much more so once you get out of the decent-sized cities.

I made the drive today to look at an apartment and it's a very flat, straight, easy commute, and my heart just said I can't do it. I thought it couldn't possibly be worse than a Brooklyn bus commute, but a Brooklyn bus commute at least has Twitter and people-watching, and not just miles and miles of monoculture cropfields.

In a year I could have a house downpayment (which actually would give me a lot more flexibility with where to live - there just aren't many rentals available outside the larger cities), I could have a down payment on a Prius (although really I'd like to get another three or four years out of my current car - it runs unbelievably well for a car with 150k on it). I'll have more flexibility. And in the meantime I'll just have to work hard at not letting myself get socially isolated.

(Have updated my profile location in case anyone wants to give me more specific advice!)
posted by Jeanne at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

What kind of socializing do you like to do? I am a person who organizes social time around events - hobby group weekly gatherings, a concert, a dance class, etc. Under those circumstances I'd definitely live in the small town, quick hop to work and home, and drive for my events. If I were the type of person for whom social time was hanging out at my (coffee/dive) bar of choice, or hours at the gym, or hanging out with other dog owners at the dog park - that less structured activity is something you'd want to live closer to, to preserve the feeling of shared space. For specifically what you mention, i.e. dating, I think small town life and dating people in the city would be fine, you'll just have to feel your way around whether it's better to obfuscate your location or not.

Also I did something similar, drove a reverse-commute to a dull tiny suburb, and it wasn't ideal. In part because I chose my city neighborhood based on proximity not atmosphere, and it wasn't the city life that I was hoping for. In part because once I'd driven 1.5hr per day I didn't feel like going out.
posted by aimedwander at 2:12 PM on July 19, 2019

I like your plan to do small town while you figure things out. I was thinking after I looked at the map that maybe you'd prefer the university town over the more populous city, or maybe not - that would be something you'd learn in your first year renting in smalltown.
posted by aimedwander at 2:15 PM on July 19, 2019

Congratulations on getting the job!

Yeah, I think if you had a 45-minute commute from a neighborhood you'd love, it would be one thing. But you're looking at the worst of both worlds because you won't really want to build your life near work or home, but in the city, a third place.

I'd say to give the small town three months at least, but maybe six months. Maybe you could start out by renting an AirBnb and storing your stuff? Or maybe that's too complicated. But it could be that living close to work in a small town gives you the energy to pursue dating and city visits with more energy than you've had. Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 2:34 PM on July 19, 2019

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