The Odd Truth of Moving to a New City

I was excited to move to Chicago. At my going-away work party, I had plenty of people tell me they were excited for me. With just getting my Master’s, moving back-in with my fiancé after living a year apart, and the potential that a major urban hub such as Chicago could bring, their eyes shined with glimmers of a hopeful future. Many of them were subtly envious that I was at a life stage where moving from Minneapolis to Chicago was possible. With no kids and no house, of course this is something you can do.

It was something I could do. We could live in a tiny apartment in the city because we didn’t have any responsibilities keeping us at home and we could go out every night. We are young, yet-to-be married adults and our leisure time was all ours to explore and travel.

We did move into that small apartment, but yet we stayed at home.

The three months leading up to my move, I was balancing working a full-time job, finishing my Master’s capstone course, and trying to find a new job in a new city (that I didn’t have any experience in). Every waking hour was filled with productivity. It was fueled by my optimism, which was supported by others, that life will be great in Chicago. I won’t have to work so damn hard anymore.

As I write this, I’m still working really damn hard.

The work I was faced with was different. Before, the challenge was trying to fit everything that needed to get done in a finite amount of hours. Work, do research, apply to jobs, and apply to even more jobs. It was task-oriented. I loved it. Whenever I did have time, I spent it with friends doing the Minnesota things I knew I would miss. Now, it’s emotion-oriented. When your hours aren’t filled with production, they’re filled with questions. You can find yourself hanging out in the darkest spaces of your mind.

My unemployment period was short. I managed to find a full-time job with benefits within three weeks. Which, one would think would have made everything easier. It’s falling into place, isn’t it? I was getting paid the highest salary I’ve ever had and it was in the super-convenient Loop-area so I didn’t need to transfer trains or take a bus. I had healthcare again.

But I felt empty. Things slowed way down. The pace at work was slower and my leisure was completely open. I put all blame on my job. I was underutilized because the company was growing and didn’t know how to use me yet. In addition, I felt broken down because I was hired for something I thought was beneath me. The worst of it was I couldn’t for the life of me find anything else.

I was drawn further and further into the dark spaces. It was a terrible feedback loop of crushing self-esteem and negative thoughts. I would get turned down for a job and instantly blame myself. I thought I was being was foolish to think of myself as a writer. Not thinking I could write led me to not writing. Not writing prevented me from building up my portfolio, which I needed to get a writing job. It was always me versus another candidate who was: a. more experience or b. had more experience. But my beautiful mind twisted it from a successful job application and interview (I was the second choice) to I will always be terrible at everything. I felt like the silver medalist of job interviewees.

Why did it get so dark for me so quickly? I felt my job was the only thing that defined me.

I struggled to find interest in making friends. The one thing you’ll notice right away when trying to make new friends in a new city as an adult is that everyone you meet is also a transplant. The best ice breaker you can use is, “So what brought you to [Insert City Name]?” People come to a place like Chicago for work, the urban-life, industry, school or love. All those people left their family and friends behind too and we’re all desperate to build up that same network again. But we have to do it as adults with a long history we don’t feel like divulging. Our friends just knew our shit. We never had to talk about it.

Making small talk took energy that I just didn’t have.

I came across Melody Warnick’s article, “Psychology debunks the idea that we’d be happier if we lived somewhere else,” and was reminded that everyone feels that same optimism about moving to a new city. When my fiancé told me that he was offered a job in Chicago, I was ecstatic. We could go zero-car because of the public transportation system (No snow emergencies and cars to deal with. I’m sure my Northerner friends understand this simple, odd pleasure). We’ll make more money and can enjoy the multitude of restaurants, theaters, and museums that the city is known for. Friends and family will be competing for weekends to come and stay with us since the flight is cheap and there is so much to do. Heck, we’ll be near an international airport hub so flights and travel will be more affordable and accessible.

However, as mentioned in the article, the reality never meets our perceived expectations. Yes, those things are nice. We made more money and could do more, but we couldn’t take off to a new place every weekend like we thought. Eating out all the time would make us fat and sluggish. We had limited vacation time, and slowly discovered that we had limited energy for it. But the point that Melany hit the nail on the head with was we lost all of our social capital. We were alone in this new city. A geographical change will never make up for all the relationships we built and nurtured.

It would be great to wrap this up with a resolution. We made friends! I found a new job! We finally booked that international trip! Well, some things have changed. That trip is set for next March (ORD to AMS) and we’re slowly utilizing Meetup to get out and build up our social capital. The job search is still going and I have a goal to improve my discipline when it comes to writing (write something every day). With the support of my fiancé and close friends just a G-chat session away, I’m been working on staying away from those dark spaces. Whenever I find myself in that negative loop, I challenge myself to think positively about how hard I’m working to change my circumstances.

A good thing about this move is that I learned something about how I associate my identity — that where I can place it isn’t accurate of who I really am. If you got anything from reading this essay, I hope it’s that: to think about how you define yourself and take the time to evaluate its worth, not yours.


Originally published at www.sarahramler.com on November 15, 2016.