Leaving Paradise against my will.
January 3, 2023 1:09 AM   Subscribe

It's become clear that I can no longer sustain my life in the place I love the most. How have you made peace with the decision to leave somewhere you thought you'd never leave ... particularly when you have nowhere else that's calling you?

(Note: Rather than toss around the particulars of my situation, I'd like to approach this philosophically. Assume I've exhausted the options and am left to consider this as the final outcome.)
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I find peace and happiness in the people and things I enjoy, regardless of location. Talking with a friend over coffee, hiking or walking in a park, reading good books, etc.: these things can happen for people everywhere. I say that having moved several times away from places/homes that were great, which I left for perfectly cromulent reasons and knew at the time I would truly miss.

I also remind myself that nothing is as sweet as a good thing in the rear-view mirror. With time, I've realized that "paradise" tends to be a combination of time, place, and state of mind (sometimes also life stage). In rare instances "paradise" can be sustained in the long term, but that's not the norm. Cities become unaffordable, communities fracture or age out, climate change renders "good" seasons "bad," wars come and go, markets/economies/industries collapse, etc.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:13 AM on January 3 [10 favorites]

I’ll be in this situation in a few years. I recently moved back to somewhere that i love, but i can’t afford to live here in the long term.

My plan is for a whole new phase of life, based somewhere much quieter & more rural that i haven’t lived in before (although I’ve visited many times). It’s part of a plan for eventually retiring, so for me it coincides anyway with a life transition. It will be a big & probably irreversible step, and i don’t want to rush. So, I’m planning to enjoy the next three or five or ten years of this current phase, while it lasts - while also planning for & then consciously embarking on the next phase.

Everything changes, and everything ends eventually.
posted by Puppy McSock at 4:42 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

If you want to approach this philosophically then you know already that “paradise” - just like “home” - is not a place but a concept that you can and must create and carry with you, wherever you go. If a specific place is so incongruous with this philosophical approach to paradise that you can’t stay there then you know what you need to do: leave.

See what I did there? :)
posted by desert exile at 5:23 AM on January 3

We moved around quite a bit when I was growing up (my father was employed by the state government and career advancement meant taking jobs all over the state). Moving was hard, but once we’d resettled wherever and gotten acclimated and connected, eventually I’d step outside of myself for a moment and marvel at how fortunate I was (yet again!) to have ended up friends with the coolest and most interesting people around, and in a place as intriguing and comfortable and full of stories as this.

Eventually I decided that nobody is that fortunate, so something else must be happening. I don’t know. Maybe we build our identities from the material around us and with that, and with the stuff we’ve already gathered, we shape our recognition of where we are and find that this place and the people in it suit us just fine.
posted by notyou at 5:55 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]

I have dealt with this in the past by learning a lot more about the alternative locations I could live. Figuring out what locals do, attractions nearby, groups to join, local celebrations, etc. allows me to picture myself in a new place and get excited about it. It also allows me to rule out places when I learn more about them and they don’t have what I need to thrive.
posted by donut_princess at 6:11 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]

When I was in a similar situation, we made sure the place we relocated to had a MUCH lower cost of living so that our quality of life in the new, less-desireable, place was markedly better. The ol' Big Fish, Small Pond effect.
posted by hwyengr at 6:44 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

When I left an area I had been at for over 25 years, it was unexpectedly wrenching and difficult. I got seriously depressed and thought my new life and circumstances were a major blunder. Now, 17 years later, I can see why moving was the right thing to do and I find a lot to appreciate about my current home.
In retrospect, moving is a lot like uprooting a plant. Your roots are buried in a lot of rhythms, people, favorite spots, the local ecology and economy. Uprooting and moving is upsetting on a lot of levels. If I had to do it again, I'd be a lot more conscious of the impact a big change like this has on my well-being and begin preparing the ground, so to speak, in advance on a lot of levels for the changes involved.
While we pulled it off, it wasn't easy, pretty, or fun. It really sucked at the time. I spent years wishing I was back 'home' when that place had really disappeared for me when we moved.
With what I know now, I'd make sure my mindset was really focused on the positive aspects of the outcome, with a lot of work preparing myself for the impact of a major stressor beforehand.
posted by diode at 7:08 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]

Building on diode's analogy actually ties in to what I was going to suggest, so I'll build on that:

If you do have to uproot a plant and re-plant it somewhere else, the best way to make sure it will succeed in its new home is to recreate the conditions that it needed most from its old spot. The light in the new spot should be about the same, the soil condition should be the same, the moisture level should be the same, etc. You can't re-plant a cactus in a wetland, for instance, and expect it to do well. However - you can get away with having a cactus in a swampy area if you try to re-create what the cactus needs (maybe get a pot that's filled with the kind of sandy soil cacti prefer, replant it in that, and the cactus just lives in a pot so it doesn't get drowned by the wetland soil).

My point being: there are things about the place you're leaving that made it suited to you. Maybe brainstorming about a way to recreate that in your new home (for instance, if you know you're going to miss the pies at the bakery up the street, see if they have a cookbook you can buy and then you can make one of their pies whenever you need to; things like that). Some of these will not be as easily or directly achievable (say you really like having composting as part of the sanitation department collection, and your new home doesn't offer that), but digging a tiny bit deeper could suggest an alternative (you realize what you liked about the compost programs was that it all went to the community gardens, so maybe if there's a greenhouse or a botanic garden in your new community, see if they take compost donations). Or you can go more for the spirit of the thing (there's no greenhouses or botanic gardens, but you realize you just liked not being wasteful about food, so you decide to try to cut back on food waste in the first place).

This works best if you can get specific about "what did I like about the place I'm leaving", which I realize could be depressing as hell to contemplate; but being able to pinpoint that is the best way to help brainstorm "okay, how can I recreate how that thing makes me feel".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

Philosophically, if I can't afford to live my life somewhere, it's not 'paradise' at all, even if it's nice. It's a horrible trap.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:37 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]

I came here to say what The_Vegetables just said - I lived in a high cost of living place (NYC) in my 20s, and then left to go to grad school, with the plan of returning ASAP. Sometimes I still question that decision, but now rents being what they are in NYC, it's hard to imagine returning - frankly, I feel lucky I got to enjoy living there when I did (the aughts) - in the TV show How To with John Wilson, he has a line that, I'm heavily paraphrasing here, part of the heartbreak of living in NYC is watching places you love get destroyed. Mars Bar isn't there any more. Every time I visit the city, more landmarks have been converted into a CVS, and very few of my NYC friends are still there - those that are either got lucky finding a high-earning job or they have family connections that provide perks like a rent controlled apartment their grandmother owns, for example. Back in my NYC days, I lived in a beautiful old brownstone for $500 , with many friends nearby, and that was a sort of paradise. But if I moved back, that wouldn't be possible - the rent would be at least double if not triple, and most of the friends are elsewhere.

Are there any landscapes you've yet to experience that you're curious about? Or regions of whatever country you're in you'd like to explore? Or alternatively, are there any cities nearby your current location that might be more sustainable (but still an easy visit)?
posted by coffeecat at 7:54 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

What helped me is remembering that there are a lot of beautiful places and communities all around the world, and leaving one just meant I was opening up to finding more of them.
posted by ananci at 8:26 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

Ok here is a depressing and very cutting poem I read recently - The City. To restate the thesis prosaically, wherever you go, there you are.

But I think it is also positive: You won't find another country, another shore. Paradise will always pursue you... Now that you have cultivated your wonderful life here, in this small corner, it will grow everywhere in the world.
posted by muddgirl at 9:29 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]

part of the heartbreak of living in NYC is watching places you love get destroyed.

D.C. is like this, too, after 47 years.
posted by jgirl at 9:39 AM on January 3

I lived in Kyoto for a couple of years. I was teaching English, which is a fairly dead-end job, so I knew I'd be leaving eventually but I also knew I'd never live anywhere as nice again. I made the most of my time there and saw and did a lot, but by all means not everything I wanted to, but my real consolation was that I knew I'd be returning to the area semi-regularly to visit friends and family so it wasn't as if I was saying goodbye to the city forever. When I lived there I had to budget things because an English teacher's salary doesn't really go that far but now when I go back I just make a list of things I want to do and do them because I can afford to splurge because it'll be a couple of years before I go back again. Move somewhere new, live better, and then come back to visit paradise.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:30 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

One thing you can do is figure out what the essence of the place you are leaving is. For example if you are leaving a small university town, the things that made it paradise might be the many deciduous trees and the many opportunities for intellectual stimulation. You may not be able to live in that location anymore, but making sure you seek out time among trees and opportunities where you can get lots of new intellectual stimulation will make you feel at home in your new location.

Some of the things you love about a place are things like the quality of light. You can see that out in the new place. Others may not be recapturable, because they are something that has disappeared into a past we are not getting back, like having free range children and a low crime rate. Even you stayed in the erstwhile paradise it will no longer be paradise in that respect. It's very worth giving some thought as to if what you are missing is actually the place or the time. If what you loved about Paradise was the sense of opportunity and that has gone along with your adolescence, your hubris and your health, the mourning and desire to return more properly belongs to the past you lost rather than the place.

It often happens that someone who has enjoyed the neighbourhood they lived in, and was able to create a feeling of home and of belonging is someone who is good at that, and they will take it with them. If you got fond of the daily stroll down to the corner with the dog, there is a good chance that you can learn to love the same stroll to a different corner, because you are the kind of person who enjoys standing in the snow listening to the birds chirp at twilight. If you were good at finding opportunities for enrichment in a small community you will still be good at that.

It's often better not to try to recreate the exact same kind of social circle you used to have. For example if you had a wonderful D & D group in Paradise, you may be able to find a new D & D group in the new location and yet find it sadly unfulfilling - and this is sometimes because your interests have changed and if you were still playing with the old D & D group you'd be bored and fretful because you've burnt out on D & D - you might be much happier if you found an online gaming group and channeled your need for a social group structured around rules and play into developing a love of the gaming experience with graphics to support the immersion. Don't try to follow exactly the same hobbies. If you had stayed in Paradise your hobbies would have changed anyway.

Expect change and look for ways that the new possibilities could be better and build on what you previously enjoyed. For example if you loved hitting the treadmill at the gym and there is no gym near you in your new location, you may end up have to run outside. This will seem a poor second best what with rain and traffic and having to wear the right clothes for outdoors, but also means you will be seeing the seasons change and can take up additional interests to make the run fulfilling - you might start to find the views interesting and start snapping a daily picture from your run, or you might get to enjoy seeing the same dogs barking joyously from their yards as you run past them.

If part of what you are leaving is a community - for example your old D & D group, it is worth checking if you can be happy with a hybrid model of new friends to game with, and keeping up connections with the old gang. If you think you might want to do this, start the groundwork before you leave. See if chatting about things other than D & D is possible and if the local friends who can't come with you could be turned into long distance friends. This may mean having the focus of the friendship change from gaming to hearing about your friends' kids and talking about your shared logistical challenges around dealing with dependents, or perhaps you might enjoy sharing fantasy artwork with each other on line.

You can sometimes stay immersed in the culture enough that you don't miss it - for example if you grew up in Surrey, you can keep reading the BBC after you leave, and keep watch the same shows on Britbox and make a point of following up on the kind of things that now require a bit more digging. It's pretty easy to still follow things like a music scene even if you are abroad. You can't see the bands in person, but you can still put their latest release on your play list.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:48 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

1. You make your own fun, in general.

2. You may be missing the familiarity of the place more than the place.

3. If the movie really sucks, you can probably save up to move to the old place again (if it is safe).

4. You may be surprised how many people want to spend more time with you in an attractive state or city.

I moved from a warmer place to a much colder one and am more active and accomplished a lot of career goals that would have been harder at "home".

I was also surprised how much I got to hang with visiting friends and family 1on1 b/c they want to visit this much cooler place.
posted by Freecola at 2:01 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I haven't made peace with it. I think about where I used to live every single day of my life. I'm in therapy partially because of my inability to get over it. But I have a life to live, and the thing I tell myself is that at least I got the time I did in my Paradise. There are some people who never have the experience of falling in love with a place like I did, let alone living there nearly two decades. Wishing I could stay longer does not change the gratitude I feel for the time I was able to stay there.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:03 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

It feels great to be able to make your nut without sweating too much and have money for savings, travel, charity, gifts, etc.

A lot of very pleasant and/or interesting people avoid high-cost-of-living places like the plague. You'll have a chance to have them in your life.
posted by MattD at 2:35 PM on January 3

Gentle note that the OP has not expressly stated that the reason they are leaving is a financial one; the reason is not germane to the question, they've said.

Opening yourself to creating new habits in the new place may also be something to look into. Like, maybe there's a hobby or a sport you've always wanted to try, but just didn't happen to do it or whatever reason yet. Maybe try going out of your way to do it when you get to the new place - so that new hobby is associated with the new place only, and so now you have established a positive thing about the new place, and set up one thing for you to point to that you didn't have in the old place ("yeah, it was nice there, but I never did geocaching there - and that's AWESOME, and I love it and yay for my new place!").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:46 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

part of the heartbreak of living in NYC is watching places you love get destroyed.

D.C. is like this, too, after 47 years.

Tons of places are like that in the US. The vast majority I would say. Have you lived in a place in the US that hasn't changed? It's pretty depressing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:14 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

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