Wherever you go, there you are... but better?
November 14, 2020 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever made a big move rooted in general life dissatisfaction/ennui/adventure seeking? How'd it go?

I have actually moved around a lot-- in my early 20s, I worked a series of seasonal and temp gigs. I've bounced around through small midwestern towns, Chicago, North Carolina, Idaho, and a few places internationally. I liked it! But I also wanted a place where I could really put down roots. So for almost a decade, I've been living in a small city in New England.

In many ways, emotional and practical, I love this city. It's artsy, progressive, and walkable. All my friends are here and my professional network is here. It's reasonably affordable; I could buy a house today if I wanted to. Wildfires aren't a thing, and in general the climate change outlook is not too bad. I'm close to bigger cities if I want to spend the day there, and I never feel isolated like I did growing up in a rural area. I also have all the typical stuff tying me here-- a kind of complicated long term relationship and a job I just started.

And yet... over the past decade I've kept having the impulse to pick up and move somewhere far away on the west coast or the mountain west (or even internationally). Really the only specific thing I'm looking for is easier access to outdoor areas-- which I think I would really like. But I think this urge to move is coming more from a general sense of looking for adventure and something new.

I'm trying to learn to listen to my gut more in general, but I feel like this might be a classic case of "grass is greener" thinking that stems from general dissatisfaction in life. I'm sure that this would be one way of shaking myself out of it for a while, and I'm reasonably sure it would work out in the end. But I'm not sure it's the only way or the best way. Anyone been through this? How'd it work out for you?

I think the other tough thing is that I really value the idea of putting down roots in a place. It takes me longer than most to create a social circle, and I value my long-term relationships. But I also love the adventure of new places! Has anyone managed to balance those two? I already travel a lot.
posted by ambulanceambiance to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
"Nothing is permanent."

I moved from the east coast to California more or less on a romantic whim some 15 years ago—I let a man who lived out here and followed him. It was certainly an adventure, taking us through three cities in the state, from apartments to home ownership, a dog, and raising three awesome (step) kids who are now all over 18. I've been in the current place for about 8 years and had the same feeling about it that you mention—this is where we intended to put down roots, and where I really did put them down, me tally and emotionally, for the first time since I started moving around after leaving my tiny, rural southern town when I was 18.

But life has a way of emphasizing impermanence. My divorce was finalized a few months ago, and the events leading up to it, coupled with the impacts of the pandemic and lockdown, have led me to the surprising place of being tired of here. I love my house, my yard, my neighborhood, and (yes, of course!) the access to the outdoors. And yet, it is so expensive to live here, and the lack of rain and seasons has grown boring, and the last four years of summer wildfire/smoke insanity has become impossible to ignore, and the 6 year extreme drought that ended a few years ago is never far from my mind as it threatens to return, and on and on and on.

So... I'm selling my house and moving out of the country. In part because my oldest son is there and I want to get a little more time with him before he's a full grown dude. In part because my employer allows it now because of working from home accommodations. In part because there's a lovely gentleman there who I met on a work trip before the pandemic and I'd like to get to know him better.

It's been a long time since I've felt this panicked mix of anxiety and opportunity and, yes, adventure. So, how to evaluate balance between stability and movement? I think it's to recognize that you can oscillate between your commitment to one state or the other. Try them both on, see what fits in the moment. If you make a decision that you regret, back it up and undo it. You can sit still for a decade and cultivate friendships and relationships that you keep alive even if you pull up your anchor and move... as long as you're willing to work for it, keeping up those phone calls and emails and video chats and in-person visits as often as you can (because, I think, if you move it's more on your shoulders than the shoulders of the people you move away from to do the heavy lifting of keeping in contact).

So much of this comes down to self assessment. Are you someone who values turning over new stones, or cultivating a well-temded garden? Do you feel regret over opportunities not taken, or having walked out of a room too soon to see what develops? I expect many of us are both ends of that spectrum, at least sometimes, so we have to make that assessment of balance all the time. And if there's a time that you determine you feel imbalanced enough to want to change your situation, you can do something to see if it scratches that itch.

I feel like I've been rambling here, but if nothing else I hope this gives you a sense that you're not the only one who wonders about this and finds it difficult to answer. But you don't need an answer to make a change or to stay put.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:42 AM on November 14 [17 favorites]

I've made many big life changes – often on whims or quick decisiveness, whatever you want to call it. Most of this has involved moving (including internationally). Or spontaneous travel. It's always worked out one way or another. It just doesn't always work out in the way you expect. Usually it's been better but you can't know that in advance because you can't anticipate what you don't know exists. You'll see when you get there.

I really think the key is mindset. If you let it, the unexpected ways things work out will become opportunities more than obstacles. The tricks I'm constantly learning: lean into the good stuff, stop trying to resist uncomfortableness, and the only way to deal with the bad stuff is through.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:00 AM on November 14 [3 favorites]

I've lived in the West, the Southwest, and now I'm in New England and I can say for one thing that your access to outdoor spaces *mostly* depends on your willingness to go find them. It's something I very much value but if I'm not actively making time and space to find spots (with parking/access/dogs permitted or whatever my criteria are) it's so much easier to just... not.

I am in no position to talk you into or out of moving, but I can say that making new friends as an adult is really fucking hard and I miss my people even more this year than in previous years. I have friends here and I have lots (and lots) of long-distance friendships but I really do miss the full social circle that I'd built up over a decade+ in Austin that gave me a whole bunch of different kinds of socializing with a range of people, and it'll be a long time before I can establish that again.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:02 AM on November 14 [6 favorites]

Has anyone managed to balance those two?

One option is to make changes in a geographically small area - moving to a nearby town, or different neighborhood, or switching between city/suburb/rural periphery. Or taking a job that brings you into contact with an unfamiliar aspect of the place.

Another is to take breaks. You keep your city as a sort of home base and go off for a year or two to some other location. If you like it there, you stay; if you don't, you go back home for a while, strengthen old ties, see how it feels, repeat if you like. Nothing has to be a permanent decision, though that's obviously dependent on things like partnership, parenthood, jobs, and home ownership.
posted by trig at 7:16 AM on November 14 [4 favorites]

It was a whim, for sure. And a search for adventure.

A native of Long Island suburbs, my only move was to a college town out of state. Remaining there after school was the path of least resistance, and for years any yen for adventure was satisfied by wilderness search and rescue and then working as a med-evac paramedic.

But somewhere along the line I grew unsettled and left for Alaska in a quest for something new and interesting. It was whim, a wild idea with little good reason I could ever have articulated. Just tired of where I was and wanting adventure before it was too late.

I really figured I'd stay for a year or so - just long enough to see all the seasons there. My only concession to good sense: lining up a job before I went. Still, it was the first big relocation I'd ever done: someplace totally new.

That was in 1991. I soon became totally addicted. Yes, it's the most right-wing place I've ever lived, and it's expensive to boot. Family ties are maintained only with expensive travel. And each year of shoveling snow and splitting wood has me saying, "I'm too old for this stuff," more and more often. But I really can't imagine living anywhere else. I love it.
posted by wjm at 7:20 AM on November 14 [4 favorites]

Are you able to work remotely now, so that you could put things in storage and then try something else out temporarily? Take a sabbatical from your current location? That might give you more clarity about whether you really want to move.

I've made several large moves, though never for the reason you mention. I do really like to travel in non-COVID times, and because I work remotely, I find housesitting gigs in other cities/countries so the expenses are pretty minimal. I live in California now, which is a wonderful place to spend time outdoors...except when there are major fires, as is becoming the norm here, and it's not safe to breathe outside. No place is perfect, obviously. It sounds like there's a lot to like about your current city, and this is a terrible time to move, so maybe you could spend some time trying out outdoor activities you haven't in the past (cross-country skiing, hiking in cold weather, whatever).
posted by pinochiette at 8:15 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]

As a long-time backpacker, I learned that I resented things I brought but didn't use more than things I forgot to pack in the rucksack. I realize that Zen-like epiphanies don't always translate into real-time.

Anyhow, now that I'm well into geezerhood, I wish I'd had time to follow my notion to buy a sailboat and cruise the Pacific. Life is just too short to do everything, but that doesn't keep you from noticing the nooks and crannies where possibilities meet dreams. Sure, it's natural to want roots. Stability is comfort. Plant a tree, but do you want to stick around to watch it grow? I have reached the place in my life where lurking infirmities make travel more difficult than its rewards. So my hobbies are writing, guitar, and making a rock garden. You get the idea.

I can't see a way to look into your dreams. Make a timeline, number it from one to one-hundred. Put an X on the number that represents your present age. Put another X on, say, 95 (That's where it all ends).

In my timeline, the rocking chair phase of my life is nearly upon me. That's where I sit on my porch and daydream of old dogs and good horses. I am grateful to have things to remember.
posted by mule98J at 8:27 AM on November 14 [8 favorites]

There's actually a way you can test this.

You say you want "more easy access to the outdoors". Is this because you are actively trying to go on lots of hikes but are just getting sick of driving a half hour or whatever to get to where you want to go? Or is it because you are assuming that "if i lived closer to the outdoors I would be more motivated to go hiking"?

If you think it's more the latter, maybe try to push yourself to go get to the outdoors, whereever it is. There's lots of natural wild areas in New England - in Western Massachusetts and CT you have the Berkshires, in the coasts you have the beaches and salt marshes, there are forests throughout, and there are the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. If you haven't been availing yourself of what's nearby, maybe try to push yourself to go check it out a little. And see if once you've got the momentum going, see whether that satisfies the "closer to the outdoors" urge.

I'm hoping to God this doesn't sound like a lecture; it's not meant as such, it is sincerely what I have done myself when I'm facing similar "i wish it were easier to get into the outdoors" dreaming of my own. Sometimes i find myself thinking I should move to a neighborhood where I could more easily afford a house with a back yard, so I could go outside and just chill out more, or I wish I lived up in the Hudson Valley so I could go hiking myself more often. Usually one or two excursions to a park or a hiking trip does the trick, to sort of prove to myself that "see, you can still get that with your current situation". It also shows me what it would be like to actually live in those neighborhoods, and reminds me that "oh, yeah, I wouldn't just be living near the hiking trails, I'd also be living near strip malls and stuff, ugh".

On the other hand, if you go off on that hike and you discover a little town that makes you think "wait a minute, HERE," then...you've also learned something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 AM on November 14 [3 favorites]

temporary adventures are worth having, as are long term roots.

If you're unencumbered enough, you can have both. I don't regret the time I moved abroad, although it was lonely, and there were times I was very unhappy. I had the experience, it was extraordinary, and it's part of me now although I've gone back to live closer to my original network. It also reminds me that I made a deliberate choice to be where I wound up rather than defaulting into it.

Also wrt outdoors: I live in a place with easy wilderness access and weather that makes it easy to get outside year-round (wildfires being a new, major and significant exception.) It IS a huge advantage for someone whose mental and physical health is helped by being outside a lot, and it's one of the big reasons that people pay the crippling cost of living expenses in my area.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:13 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]

Where is your long term relationship in this? I’m wondering if you are bored with that as well as your current location.
posted by rhonzo at 10:46 AM on November 14

I was and am a white collar professional in New York City. About 7 years ago, I felt burnt out at work and also wondered whether my profession/settled lifestyle was right for me. For years, I had told myself that I would quit someday and travel the world again. Finally, I did - I took a leave of absence and traveled the world for a year. It had a lot of ups and some downs, but in retrospect its greatest value was it convinced me I wanted to put down roots and that bouncing around from place to place meeting new people all the time did not make me happier.

I think the uncertainty as to whether a settled lifestyle or an itinerate lifestyle had held me back from really committing to a number of things in life - from buying a house, to forming a long term relationship, to investing in my community. Once I took the trip, it became clear that while I loved travel, I loved being part of a community more. And so I moved back to New York City, and within a year and a half I was married, bought a house a year later, had two kids soon thereafter. And now I never find myself thinking in the back of my mind that I'd be better off if I could just pick up and travel the world (well, not as often :)).
posted by slide at 11:47 AM on November 14 [4 favorites]

I am very not you (I dislike travel, for instance) but I have done some version of this. I left the town I went to college in a few years later to try my hand at NYC, and then did another few moves over the next 15 years for various reasons including "let's try something new."

I can't say I'd recommend it, personally. I was mere moments ago in another window typing about how what I really miss is deep roots that my less paripatetic friend have, and the older you are, the harder those are to establish. I mean you could always try it and move back if it doesn't work out, but the thing is it also takes a few years (maybe five? obviously different for different people) to know if it is working, because in most instances the first couple of years somewhere are lonely and boring.

So it depends really on whether you feel like dedicating a few years to something that might suck, and how much it will bother you if you don't try. I don't entirely regret my various moves but if I were doing it over again I would put a LOT of thought into whether to do almost any of them.
posted by less of course at 4:21 PM on November 14 [1 favorite]

Everyone is different. I seem to have a nomadic bent and crave new places and experiences.

I grew up in one place and then moved four times in ten years. I then settled in DC for about 5 years before convincing my wife that what we really needed was a life of continuous (but very slow) travel. We wandered a couple of years, came back to DC for another 5 years, and then hit the road again indefinitely. We both freelance.

That said, we have a few very, very good friends in DC, including a family that we live with for a few months a year (or, in the event of this year's plague, much longer).

We are so very happy with our choices, but a mobile life definitely involves tradeoffs. We both sometimes feel rootless and wish for a permanent home filled with things we love (and cats). We have wonderful global acquaintances, but not many close friends.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:40 PM on November 14

I’m a grass is greener type of person who also moved more than most growing up. I’m constantly thinking “oh wouldn’t it be nice to live in (insert cool place here)?”. At the same time, I’m aware that moving does have real opportunity costs including the change in social support structures, the time spent getting your life packed in boxes, and the real risk of still feeling ambivalent about a new location after a few months.

In your case, I would look into other small New England cities before committing to a large move. You’d keep the social support you’ve been working so hard to build, and you could situate yourself closer to nature. Maine particularly has a ton of outdoorsy locations and a big hiking and climbing scene. The Appalachian trail cuts right through New England all the way up into Maine, Acadia is beautiful, and there’s also Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park (just to name a few). If by random chance you already live in a small city in Cumberland county, it might be worth looking inland.
posted by donut_princess at 4:13 AM on November 15

I live in Maine, and get impulses to leave, for various reasons. I have assuaged those impulses with big Road Trips. I got a minivan, loaded my camping gear, went across the country, visited National Parks and stopped in small towns. Recommend.
posted by theora55 at 8:26 AM on November 15

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