Photo by Erol Ahmed

What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Away

Feeling guilty doesn’t necessarily mean you’re messing up.

When you move away, they’ll tell you: “It’ll be hard. You’ll be back. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” Or they’ll say: “You’ll have so much fun. I wish I were as bold as you. You’re going to meet so many new people.”

You’ll make a big deal about seeing everyone “one last time,” even though you’ll be back to visit in like, no time. You’ll give awkward goodbye hugs and have trouble wrapping up awkward goodbye conversations.

You’ll look at your empty room. The moment will feel anticlimactic. You’ll avoid your mom’s gaze until you can’t anymore. The two of you will hug. You’ll both cry. You’ll wish the moment would end immediately and last forever.

You’ll feel alive as you drive away. Every song on the radio will mean something, and you’ll sing each loudly. You will of course roll down your window and let the wind whip your hair around.

Everything will be an adventure.

Pumping gas, letting your dog out of the car to stretch his legs. Spreading out your favorite blanket on a new futon. Figuring out how to turn ten bucks into a week’s worth of groceries. Getting kicked out of an apartment, finding a new one. Quitting a job, finding a new one. Quitting another job, finding a new one. Searching and struggling and really sinking your teeth into the roughness of it all. Learning what pride is about. Acquiring a taste for it.

The good times will be ecstasy. Cashing your first freelance check. Discovering a hidden, winding staircase at a downtown bar and stumbling up it, laughing loudly, with your two funniest friends. Closing your eyes momentarily in the middle of a mosh pit, unable to remember anywhere you’d felt more at peace.

Then there are the “hard” times they told you about. You’ll recognize them right away: the initial waves of loneliness, the vehicle problems, the culture shock. You’ll sink your teeth in more and promise yourself you’ll make it through, if only to prove your sheer bullheadedness.

And finally, there are the bad times. They’re different than the hard times, and they’ll sneak up on you. They’ll show up when things are most peaceful — like on cool autumn evenings or Sunday afternoons in the early spring. These are the times when you call your family to catch up and hear their voices, to gossip and find out about all the great things they’ve been up to.

Suddenly your nephew, who you could have sworn was just turning five, is on his middle school robotics team. And he’s saving up for his first car. Suddenly your big brothers, 10 and 12 when you were born, are pushing 40. Suddenly all of the dogs you grew up running and wrestling with have also gone away, to somewhere much sunnier and grassier. Your own dog is entering old age. He’ll groan in his sleep, right behind you, as you write this.

And the visits? Turns out those are sneaky, too.

You’ll have lunch with your childhood friends. You’ll joke around like you’ve always done. You’ll be surprised to see that their hair is full and beautiful and that they’re dressed professionally, like women who know about things. But then again, so is yours and so do you. One refers in passing to a miscarriage she had a year or so ago. You say that you’re sorry, you didn’t know. She says honestly, with a smile, not to worry because it’s no big deal now.

You’ll have dinners with your family, and they’ll always arrange time to meet with you despite their ceaseless disagreements with one another. Your presence is a novelty, and for this you’re thankful to no end. However, you also long to feel the effortlessness that you once knew, the kind that happens naturally with physical proximity. You deeply resent their disagreements.

Most of all, you long for them to be able to see themselves, and the rare moments you all spend together, through your eyes. It’s a novelty for you, too.

You’ll miss the basketball game where your youngest nephew stole the court and the spotlight. You’ll miss your niece’s cooking phase, her book awards, her karate tournaments. You’ll miss tailgates and lots of holidays. You’ll manage a visit — an entire week — when your dad is diagnosed with cancer. But you’ll have to miss his 60th birthday. And your mom’s 60th birthday, too.

Suddenly your once home is now simply your hometown. And while you’re away, it evolves into a different town altogether — until it’s not only a different town but a different dimension, in which time somehow moves at the speed of both urban development and church traffic.

But you’ll build a life of your own somewhere else, and you’ll do it well. You’ll blossom. You’ll become resilient and capable.

You’ll understand, two or five or 10 years down the road, that who you are is different than who you would have been if you had stayed. This will be your burden.

Once, you’ll call your mom in tears from your parked car in your very own driveway, and you’ll ask her if being gone ever gets easier. As someone with experience, she’ll softly whisper no, that you only get more used to it.

Other people will say things like, “In the end you have to do what’s best for yourself. Do whatever makes you happy. Follow your dreams.”

You’ll agonize over the concept of happiness. You’ll seek counsel from everyone you meet, and at times will become bitter with anger about how little help they provide in defining your happiness for you. At times you’ll become paralyzed at the thought of the future — not because you don’t want to live it, but because you’ve yet to imagine one where being home doesn’t also feel like being away from home. You’ll go to great lengths to choose strength over weakness, only to realize time and again that the two are usually interchangeable, depending on how you phrase things.

You’ll attempt to package your decisions into tidy, attractive bundles — but you won’t succeed.

You’ll learn that life, when lived fully and adventurously, is often just a series of conflicting priorities. The best you can do is come to terms with the fact that feeling guilty doesn’t necessarily mean you’re messing up.

There’s not a tidy conclusion or a single decision that makes everything better. There are only days that lead to more days, choices that lead to new choices. Choose with good intentions, and move on to the next. You’ll be okay.


Ali Datko has written for The Guardian, HuffPost, xoJane, Conscious Magazine, and more. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

For more by Ali Datko: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook