Stay or leave? A tale of two cities
February 15, 2021 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Six months ago, I moved from Old City, where I lived for twelve years, to New City, where I have never lived before. I'm feeling a lot of sadness and perhaps even regret about the move and I'm still extremely homesick. How do I decide whether to stay here or go back? Snowflakes inside.

I suppose I should start by saying that I *love* Old City. I love the climate, the size of the city, the things that make the city special; I love the food scene, the cultural activities, and its proximity to other cities. Since I lived in Old City for so long, I knew Old City very well and participated in a number of community activities that I enjoyed (e.g., season tickets to the symphony, a membership at the art museum, etc.). I loved my library, and my bookstore, and my favorite places to sit outside and read. Old City is still growing and there is always something new to do, which I love. I've moved around a fair amount in my lifetime and Old City is my favorite place I've ever lived.

So that begs the question - why did I leave Old City? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, Old City is pretty much on the other side of the country from my family. I haven't lived close to my family pretty much since I graduated from high school. Seeing them from Old City means either taking a multi-day road trip or a 3.5-hour flight. New City is much, much closer - all of my family members are within a 3-hour drive, and most are only 1 hour away.

Second, I don't really have any close friends in Old City anymore. My close friends from graduate school all moved away, and attempts I made to reconnect with some of the folks I still know from grad school still living in Old City weren't very successful. Right now I'd say I have three good friends, and all three of them live in New City.

As an aside: overall, as I've moved into my thirties, I've been struggling in the friends department. My best friend from graduate school and I unfortunately drifted apart, and sadly, I lost my oldest friend to addiction years ago. I've got some friends in Old City, but all of them are work friends. Some of my friends from college still live there, but I've grown apart from most of them.

Anyway, for a few years before I made this move, I wondered from time to time what it might be like to give New City a try. Last June I ended a long term relationship, came to stay in New City for a month, and decided - well, there's no time like the present. So I did the move.

Six months later, I'm terribly homesick. I think about Old City all the time and have to distract myself from doing so lest I spiral down into a sadness hole. The climate in New City is very different from Old City, and I find myself hating this winter. And of course, the pandemic is still slogging along (the ultra-contagious variant was just discovered in my county) and I'm at the bottom of the vaccine queue, which means it's not only been impossible to experience most of what New City has to offer, but also has been impossible to spend much time with my family or friends. I feel foolish for not having anticipated this, but at the time I was staying in New City before I moved, restrictions had mostly been lifted, and I had hope that an end was in sight.

I daydream a lot about going back to Old City, to the point where I have to stop myself from scrolling house/apartment listings on Zillow and Trulia for my own mental health. A lot of the time I think "well, I tried New City and I didn't like it. That's okay, and I should go back to Old City as soon as my lease is up." On the other hand, I know that I really haven't been able to give New City a fair shake, particularly because of the pandemic. I spent thousands of dollars moving here, and it feels kind of like a waste to turn right back around.

I guess my questions are: what would you do under these circumstances? How do I decide whether to stay here or go back? How should I factor in the pandemic and not being able to experience the city yet or really see my family and friends? I'd hate to sell New City short, but I'd also hate to lose years away from Old City.

And bonus - how do I avoid feeling so consumed by missing Old City? I'm at the point where an automated message from my Old City dentist reminding me to make an appointment made me start crying.

Any advice is very appreciated. Please be kind. Like so many of us, I've been through a lot this year.
posted by sevensnowflakes to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My first reaction is that your feelings of homesickness are probably accentuated by pandemic fatigue. Lately I often find myself feeling homesick for the city I currently live in, because I can't do any of my usual activities and experience the things I love about this place. Since you've already spent the money and effort to move, maybe it makes sense to stick it out at least through the summer -- the pandemic won't bee over but the situation will likely be better than it is now (this is assuming you're in the Northern hemisphere).

Making these kinds of decisions during a pandemic is so tough! I feel for you.
posted by mekily at 4:35 PM on February 15, 2021 [36 favorites]

I can’t totally answer this question for you, because I have the same question and I can’t even answer it for myself, even with therapy. (Yeah, I’ve got it bad.) But what I’m realizing is that my connection with my Old City isn’t just about friends who still live there or restaurants I used to eat at. I’ve come to believe that certain people just have a connection to a certain place that can’t really be explained. One of my things is to keep a tab of Google Street View of my neighborhood in Old City open, but having been doing that for a couple of years, I’ve realized that I don’t view sentimental places, just kind of everyday scenes. Right now I’ve got a random sidewalk around the corner from an old apartment. It’s not any particular thing about Old City I miss, just the experience of being in Old City. Sorry if this isn’t helpful, but maybe it’ll help you think about things.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:49 PM on February 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

For me it usually takes a year or more in a new place before I start feeling it, and that's in normal times.

I don't think this time really counts as time you're missing out on what's in Old City, since even there you wouldn't be able to participate in most things (and maybe in New City you have less temptation to do covidly-unwise things?) It does also seem possible that you're channeling general (probably pandemic-inspired) dissatisfaction into homesickness, treating having left Old City as a kind of scapegoat for everything else.

Can you make yourself a book or something of places to go and things to do in your new city once the pandemic is over? Even if you end up leaving, you might as well experience the place to the fullest before you go. And in the meantime, maybe you can look into weather-related activities to see if you can find something to enjoy about winter in the new city.
posted by trig at 4:49 PM on February 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

Assuming you're following the standard recommended social distancing practices, none of the time you spend in New City during the pandemic should count toward time you're expected to get over Old City.
posted by aniola at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

When we moved to New York more than a decade ago from Chicago, the first year was one of the strangest times... We felt like we were completely unmoored, and almost like we were homeless. It was the first time across many long distance moves that I’ve experienced that feeling. Was it a form of homesickness? I don’t really know. But once that cooled down, the two year plan has continued on for 11 years now (with no signs of stopping).

If we had jumped ship before that feeling had faded, we would have missed out on the crazy superiority of living in a city that feels like it is infinitely flaneurable and within easy reach of many amazing hiking opportunities. While I still love Chicago dearly, the terrible lack of nature is enough to keep us from ever going back.

But that was not obvious the first year or two... Your new city might be holding surprises you aren’t aware of yet.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 5:12 PM on February 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just from a move-cost perspective, I think a person ought to give a new place 18 months (18 NORMAL months, that is!!) before even looking down the road of the process to move back.

And I think if you decide yeah, you have to give this two years minimum before changing anything, that will help draw a line under the fact that you are staying right now.

You know, in the grand scheme of things, "losing" a few years in the city you currently prefer is...a stretch of a justification. It's not a beloved pet that you will outlive, it will continue to be there*, and if it was going to go downhill in the few years you might be away that seems like a reason to not go back. Yes, you could make an argument about forging new friendships, but I actually kind of feel like one's 30s is the hardest for friendships overall anyway. A lot of the available candidates are either getting their kids out of high school or just had babies (and/or in their major career arc), they will be freeing up some in the next few years.

Especially in a garbage year like this one, you have to stick it out a reasonable time. Six months is a blip, you haven't even really gotten to experience the proximity of family yet, which could turn out to be a really powerful reason to stay.

*Or we'll all have much larger problems
posted by Lyn Never at 5:57 PM on February 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

We moved a bunch when I was a kid. And my parents told me countless times "you can never go back." I think what they meant was that once you move back after having been away, don't expect it to be the same as it was. It may still be good, but it may not be the same. You're changing, and your beloved city is, too.
posted by aniola at 6:38 PM on February 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Unfortunately it sounds like the pandemic eliminated all of the reasons that you moved to NewCity, since you literally can't be close to any of the people you moved to be closer to. However, if you were in OldCity, you'd be experiencing the same shittiness of not being able to see anyone anyway. You also can't do ANY of the fun things in OldCity or NewCity.

Technically speaking, it doesn't matter where you live now because it's going to be shitty either way! You can't have the people or the activities you wanted in either place, so it doesn't really matter where you live now. Either way, it's gonna suck because pandemic!

I would say not to move back right now. It's a lot of money to move, you still won't be able to experience old things/new things/old people/new people for at least most of the next year anyway, and it'll pretty much be the same experience if you were here versus there. If this special hell ever ends, the reasons for you moving to NewCity to be closer to people there will hopefully still exist, and then you can actually see if NewCity works for you. Right now you just haven't had a way to tell.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:44 PM on February 15, 2021 [11 favorites]

I also haven't lived near my family since high school and I think I'm about a decade older than you. One pearl of wisdom that was given to me some time ago, and which I've found to be helpful food for thought (which is to say it's always true to some degree but never completely, unambiguously true): you can't go back to what you've left behind. I don't mean that to sound dark, I mean it in the way that we grab our friends by the shoulders. Even if you've only been gone a little while, you've changed and the old place has changed and when you go back you'll notice those changes. That's the thing about nostalgia, it's always on reference to a time and experience that is set in amber. Could you go back and have a great time? Yes, of course, that's possible! But it'll be a new, different place, and a new, different experience. You won't be going back. You'll be starting something new.

This means different things to different people, at different times in our lives. I think it's helpful to ponder, though, because sometimes when we act on homesickness we find that the home we were thinking of was a vaporous collection of circumstances rather than the literal geographical coordinates.

I feel you on this one, so much. This is not easy, and there's no harm in testing the waters of returning. In my book, going back like a prodigal son—after a genuine period of wandering, or longing, or mourning the change, or any number of other experiences—can give your return real meaning. Just because my sense of that period of wandering feels like it almost has to be prolonged doesn't mean that has to be the case for you. After all, I'm still wandering. It's just that the list of places I'm nostalgic about has gotten longer... I've got an Old City 1, an Old City 2, an Old City 3, etc. (and I'm about to move to another New City).

Björk sings something that has stuck with me for a very long time. Sometimes it makes me sad and sometimes it makes me happy. But it's always with me. "If travel is searching and home what's been found, I'm not stopping."
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:02 PM on February 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

Nurturing new friendships in your 30s and even 40s is tough for a lot of people. Mostly because no one has the time or bandwidth anymore, it’s when people are raising families, or building careers, or maybe for some taking care of other family members. Maybe that’s not true everywhere, but it’s a common complaint. Often, relationships fill this void (not that they should, 100%. But because of time constraints they often do). So I think this is likely to be a problem in both cities, more than likely you’ll find yourself wanting to date again for company. Tie on this point, unless there’s something about New vs Old city that makes dating harder (population size, etc).

Career is another reason to choose one city over another. Ties to family is a big one if the relationships are decent. Parents only get older, just saying. Those two factors are important to weigh carefully.

Next, vibe. Cities definitely have personalities. Some you suit, some you don’t. If *after the pandemic* and a good while after that, you find you don’t like New city, is there another new city that’s not that far from family and career that’s a possibility?

Lastly, investment. Good to think about laying down roots for your future, career- and otherwise. Municipal politics and city planning greatly affect the opportunities and aesthetics of a city, I’m sure you’re thinking about that.

Sounds like you made your move at a time when you needed comfort. That isn’t necessary a BAD decision. Agree, you have no way of knowing just yet!

Winter sucks, though. Take vitamins D and K, and invest in the warmest, longest coat, it makes such a difference. (I’d be SO gone to some winterless place if I didn’t have obligations in a four seasons area. Like SO gone.) A pet wouldn’t be bad company/comfort, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:16 AM on February 16, 2021

I've moved a lot as an adult. In normal times, six months is the low point for me -- the novelty of the new city has worn off, but you haven't yet found your tribe. I can't even imagine how challenging that would be in pandemic times! And gray blah winter on top of that? Ugh.

But as an anecdata point, I have been in my current city about 2.5 years (one of which was the dumpster fire that was 2020), and I am only just starting to feel ok with it. I still daydream at times about moving back to the place I moved from (which I haaaated when I first moved there!) or the place I was at before that. Or sometimes to a totally new city! But that's just a grass-is-greener/nostalgic/I-miss-traveling fantasy.

I also believe very strongly that cities have personalities, and just like in dating, there may be a range of personalities you are simpatico with, and a few that are just never going to vibe with you. In contrast to rambling wanderlust, I was deeply miserable in NYC in my five years there, and I spent a lot of time wondering what was wrong with me, because everyone likes NYC, until I realized that was the lifestyle version of gaslighting, it was ok to express my preferences, and I got the hell of dodge. But it took me a lot longer than six months (in normal times) to get to that point.

And lastly, the age thing -- I am also mid-30s, not partnered, and ye gods it's hard to make and keep friends at this age. Everyone is busy, including me; my interests have also changed as I've grown older. Even my oldest/closest friends, we drift together and apart, like those boats at the end of The Great Gatsby, on a sea of text messages. (This metaphor made more sense in my head.) I don't have a great solution for that, only to say that It Is A Thing.
posted by basalganglia at 4:56 AM on February 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "And my parents told me countless times 'you can never go back.' I think what they meant was that once you move back after having been away, don't expect it to be the same as it was..."

This is true, but it's also kind of a straw man. I don't think anyone moves back to an old city expecting it to be exactly as they left it. Everybody knows that one of your favorite restaurants will have closed, or whatever. But cities don't change that much, especially only in a year. It's kind of like a marriage: you don't expect your spouse to be the exact same person they were on your wedding day; you expect to grow and change with them.

For me, I've moved to and from the same city several times. It's the city I went to college in, and after graduation, I moved away to go to law school. Then I dropped out and moved back. It was a much different situation - I was no longer in college, I was working for the first time, I made different friends, etc. But it was still the same city. Later I moved away again when I was 30, and then moved back a year later. Again, things had changed, starting with the very first day back. The restaurant I traditionally got takeout from on my first night in a new apartment had closed, so I had to find a new place to eat.

If anything, I think that moving and then coming back a couple of times has been helpful, because it has helped me redefine my relationship with the city. If I had just stayed there after college, I could have gotten stuck in the same patterns as college, and never grown out of them. Instead, I had the opportunity to rethink what it meant to be a person in their mid-20s in that city, and then again to rethink what it meant to be a thirtysomething there.

The fallacy really becomes apparent when the reason for moving away from somewhere isn't voluntary; i.e., incarceration. If you've been locked up for ten years and you get released, you can absolutely go back to where you lived before. A lot will have changed, but that's not a reason to say "oh, I should just stay here in prison then". People who get out of jail and return to their old neighborhoods still find a lot they recognize.

The "you can't go back" line is just something people who don't want you to go back say to make you not want to go back. It's not something that's based in reality.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:40 AM on February 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm from Seattle and spent about half my life alternately moving away for another adventure and then back again.
I've experienced this exact thing several times and it's tough to adjust to a new place, especially as an adult, but you'll get there with effort.
I will admit that in my case Seattle is home in a bones-deep sort of way - I might not physically be there but it's the place I'll always return to. If Old City is like that for you, you'll know it when the dull ache of homesickness fails to fade but instead hardens into daily "I hate it here"s and general miserableness. Give it a solid chance post-Covid and if your relationship with New City doesn't begin to blossom, pack it in and head home. It's what I'm doing for myself this year.
posted by azuresunday at 4:43 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

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