Homesick: Pandemic Edition
June 26, 2020 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Two years ago, I moved to a new city for a great job. Job is still great (better than I expected, actually), but I'm very lonely and homesick outside of work. How do you learn to make a home when all the usual options are on lockdown?

When I was deciding on my first post-training "real job," I felt a tension between choosing a familiar environment with terrible leadership, vs taking a chance on new environment with opportunity to do something really niche and unique. I went with niche-and-unique, and it's turned out better than I expected, professionally. I just got promoted. I genuinely like my job and colleagues. Most critically, leadership's covid response has been admirable -- very transparent, no furloughs (C-suite taking substantial paycuts in order to keep everyone on payroll), and I have never felt unsafe. I have heard enough horror stories over the last few months to know that I have a good thing here and I do not want to leave.

However, in the ~18 months I was living here pre-covid, I was making a solid effort to make friends and develop a local community, which is always a bit challenging as an adult. Meetups, writers' groups, book clubs, food truck rodeos. I was doing 1-2 events per week, trying to find my tribe. Nothing was clicking, and I still haven't made any friends outside of work. I also used to travel at least once a month (work or vacation), so it felt like there was always something new to explore.

Then covid hit and everything I enjoyed doing (in a group or solo) shut down. Cases continue to rise alarmingly in this area, so nothing will be opening up soon (and even when it does, I don't know that I'll feel safe going anywhere anyhow). I've continued doing some stuff (book club, monthly movie night) over Zoom/Netflix Party, but I have so many remote work meetings that I have serious screen fatigue at this point.

I wound up going to my parents for Memorial Day Weekend (5 hr drive), mainly for my own mental health; before that, I hadn't spoken to another person face-to-face in 10 weeks. I'm really glad I did. But it stirred up a lot of homesickness and nostalgia, in a way I didn't really think was possible in your mid-30s. I've read through a lot of "homesickness" listicles and previous AskMe questions, and all the usual solutions ("be a tourist in your town!") are not really possible right now, and perhaps not for the next several months.

The last time I felt like this about a place, I was in professional school, realized that I hated the city but that transferring to another program in a different place would be extremely unlikely, so stuck it out through the program and was miserable the whole time (once to the point of considering suicide). I left the day after graduation and have not been back ever since. My feelings about Current City are not that severe, and I don't want to ever get to that point again.

I'm looking for suggestions to help build a local community OR suggestions to help me not care anymore (e.g. save aggressively -> retire early -> live where you want). I do have my ear to the ground for potential job openings elsewhere, but between hiring freezes and the several really positive factors of my current job, I think that's unlikely to happen for the foreseeable future.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think we are all facing these issues together. As a transplant, it sure feels like all those ways to meet people are a lot more distant than they were a few months ago, and it was hard back then!

Bumble BFF to find friends to play disc golf with.

LFG to find someone to play games with.

D&D over zoom.

Invite family to stay with you.

Try to get to know your neighbors. Can you imagine if you spent half the time you spend online introducing yourself to your neighbors?
posted by bbqturtle at 8:43 AM on June 26

This will depend on what your neighborhood is like, but one of the things that’s been keeping me from feeling lonely during this experience is seeing neighbors whom I recognize. These aren’t people I know well at all—I don’t even know most of their names—but I keep an eye out on walks for the same faces, and just being able to wave to someone across the street and say “nice day” or whatever can feel like a big boost. Having a dog to walk helps a lot with this, if that’s something you’ve been considering. But I also see some neighbors out early in the morning running or working out in our local park, sitting outside on their stoop or porch, things like that. And there are a lot of new puppies in the neighborhood, so keeping an eye on other people’s dogs growing up has been fun. I haven’t been gathering with my group of friends, or gathering with my family, or going to my favorite local shops, but this way I do still feel like part of a group (my neighborhood).
posted by sallybrown at 8:47 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]

Make detailed plans for moving back to the city you like. You may or may not go through with them, but making them may give you some respite. (I do this. It sometimes makes me feel better. Anyway, I feel your pain.)
posted by less of course at 8:59 AM on June 26

I'm with sallybrown - I have become a MANIACAL waver at everyone in my neighbourhood, and I'm constantly yelling at people "hi! nice day! hope you're doing well!"

It's very weird but it makes me feel connected to humans! We have lived in this house 3 years and only knew one neighbour's names before lockdown, and now we know practically everyone on the street in passing! We're not friends or anything, but I can be like "there's so and so, with her 3 legged dog, Levi!" HI GUYS!

I know this sounds like a crazy recommendation in the future where we live, but call people on the phone to talk. Not video chat, it's not the same. A good phone call with a family member or friend can be very cathartic, and I find video calls stressful and weird. I have set up times with friends where we will both go for walks, in cities that are 5 hours apart driving, or in the same city, and we just walk around our neighbourhoods, chatting together on the phone. It's very nice. I usually pick up garbage while I walk, but that's not everyone's cup of tea.

When I feel lonely I sometimes like distraction tactics, too. I have taken some solace in a certain type of podcast: the kind where you feel like you might be hanging out, listening to some funny friends talk, not the kind where they're informing you about issues. My main recommendation for this type would be "my brother my brother and me" because when I lived alone it very much felt like those McElroy brothers were around to hang if I was hit by a spike of lonely. Also I'm a big fan of picking up a new hobby when you're lonely, even better if you can learn it by watching many videos by the same creator so you feel a bit of connection, plus the satisfaction of learning and creating something. Crocheting is quite easy, but takes concentration, and is cheap to start!
posted by euphoria066 at 9:06 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]

I live in New York (not city), in a rural area, and work once a week in Brooklyn. I had to move 40 minutes north in the middle of the pandemic in order to keep my job—and not be a huge vector between a major hot spot and my tiny former town. So I understand where you’re coming from — I know like one person up here, other than coworkers. It sucks.

When my region hit Phase 3, I got a cooler, and filled it with cans of beer and lemonade. I also grabbed a few lawn chairs and socially distanced them in my yard. I put out a sign that reads, “HELLO NEW NEIGHBORS, COME GRAB A BEV,” and sat around waving at folks. Plenty stopped, some stayed in their cars, some sat on the other side of the yard and chatted. But I met folks! I at least know who my neighbors even are!
posted by functionequalsform at 9:28 AM on June 26 [16 favorites]

I don't really have a good network of people in my location for various reasons. I was intending to work on that this year, but it's not really possible right now. Instead, what I'm focusing on is connecting with the people I actually want to connect with (even though they're not local) on video calls or social media or whatever, and making my home feel like a nice place to nest in and WFH in for the rest of 2020. Beyond that, I am basically writing off this year and limiting my hopes for real enjoyment to getting to travel to see my siblings or parents in a few months.

Loneliness is a big problem. Do you have anyone that you could invite to stay for the weekend? Maybe not right now if that doesn't feel safe, but later in the year. It would be something to look forward to at least.

Other than that, 2021 will not be 2020. Hopefully it will be better. Longer term, I think you should be able to turn your current great job into a new great job in a better location for you. 2-3 years experience post-training usually gives you many more opportunities. While you probably can bloom where you're planted, I'm not sure that it's worth the effort. I would start exploring whether there are other cities that would work better for you, either your hometown, or nearby or whatever else might resonate with you.
posted by plonkee at 9:40 AM on June 26

I don't have much to offer, because I'm in a similar situation to you. But I will say that one thing I've found helpful is walking. Part of developing an attachment to a place is just repeated exposure, and so if the only two things you've been repeatedly exposed to in your new city are your garage and your front door, there's no opportunity to develop nostalgia. I still don't *like* my new city, even after three years, but there are parts of it I know I'll feel nostalgic for if (when?!) I move away. Little things, like a neighbor's well-maintained flower beds or a unique paint color or a pleasant-seeming porch. These are my little milestones, and if I go a few days without seeing them, I feel like I'm missing something. I don't know. It works for me.

If you do feel comfortable going out (wearing a mask and all that, of course), prioritize going to local shops. There's a corner grocery store in my neighborhood that I try to visit at least once a week. I trust their safety precautions (they yell at anyone who comes in without a mask and force them to leave), and it's never super busy anyway, so I feel safe there, and that's a little place that's unique to this neighborhood and this town. It grounds me a bit, reminds me that, even though I don't really like this place, it still is a place. I'm not just in a pod like the Matrix. (Or maybe I am, but whatever...)

One thing I can tell you that has definitively not helped is looking at pictures of the city I'd rather be living on Street View. I do this more or less constantly (I even took a break from writing this comment to do so!), and it just makes me sadder. But I do it a lot.

Like you, I really like my job here, and that's a huge factor in keeping me here instead of moving where I want to live. I'm crossing my fingers that the WFH experience during lockdown will allow more people to see that physical location doesn't matter, thereby allowing me to keep my job while moving elsewhere. I've known people who have done this (generally relocating as a result of their partners' jobs or grad school), and it seems like a perfect scenario. It's too early to bring it up yet, but it's an idea to keep in mind. "As you know, I moved here from _____, and recently I've had some things pulling me back there. I really love my job here, though. Since we did so well working from home during the lockdown, I wanted to run the idea by you to see if that would be possible." You have to be prepared for them to answer no, but the idea of having that conversation, at least, keeps me going on tough days.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:42 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]

Oooooh, one other thing. Even if you're not ready to go *in* places yet, can you still go *to* places? For example, our church has a grassy hill that my daughter loves to run down. We still take her to run down the hill, because there's not a whole lot of other people at a Catholic church at 6pm on a Tuesday even when things are fully open. There's plenty of room so that we can safely distance, but being near the building makes me feel like a member of the parish in a way that watching Facebook Live just doesn't (not that FB Live isn't interesting; our priest is a natural entertainer). If you've got a favorite place that you haven't been able to go to since lockdown started, even driving by or sitting in your car in the parking lot can be helpful.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:54 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]

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