Will Moving to Los Angeles Change My Life?
The city feels like the home I always wanted—but my dream comes at a cost.
I have a problem with staying put. The longest I’ve ever lived in one house is six years, and the shortest is a few hours. Because of my moving habit, I’ve constantly been reminded by people in my life (and by indie rock bands) that moving won’t solve my problems — that moving to a new apartment or a new city won’t make me happy and that I’m foolish to think otherwise. All of that is true, of course. If you’re fundamentally unhappy with your life, it’ll take more than a new address to fix that.
But I believe that if you’re fundamentally unhappy with the place you live, there is nothing wrong with leaving. If your friend is at a job where they’re miserable, struggling financially, and completely unfulfilled, you don’t tell them to stick it out. You tell them to find a new job. With no kids or mortgages to tie me down, I don’t think finding a new city should be any different.
I’ve lived in the south my entire life. I was born in Florida, spent several years in North Carolina, and now reside in her southern counterpart. The town I live in is… fine. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it, and there’s nothing terribly special about it. The problem is that in the eight years I’ve lived here, it has never, for a single day, felt like home. Jobs and relationships and financial limitations have kept me stuck in this cheap, safe town for longer than I like, and each year I say it’ll be the last.
This time I mean it. I’m not sure where, but I do know when: November. I have no intention of renewing this lease again.
Throughout the years I’ve passed through towns that made me feel instantly comfortable. Asheville is incredible. The Gulf Coast of Florida is beautiful. But this past September I found a place so remarkable I’ve thought of nothing else since.
My fiancé and I visited some friends in Los Angeles and spent a full day traveling up the coast to San Francisco. It was our first trip west of the Mississippi, and as is to be expected, I fell deeply in love. The landscape (sans smog) was beautiful, the food was incredible, and the thrill of being surrounded by old Hollywood meant more than I had anticipated.
The people were also not what I expected. After living a life filled with southern hospitality, it was odd to see how friendly everyone was. Southern parents like to tell their children that the South is the only place that’s kind, and anywhere north or west is bad and dangerous and mean. I found that to be unequivocally false, and instead found Californians to be the warmest, kindest people I’ve ever met. (None of that is to say that I hate the South. I find her to be charming and beautiful, but she comes with a lot of extra baggage that can overshadow that charm more often than not.)
When we got home from this trip, we went into “prepare to move” mode. We started saving every dollar we could spare, and I spent hours researching neighborhoods where I could look for apartments. But after a lifetime in the South, where the cost of living is exceptionally low, rent prices in California are pretty painful. In South Carolina I once had a two-bedroom apartment for $425 a month! In LA, we’ve been lucky to find a 300 sq. ft. studio for less than $1,100.
The outrageous jump in rent prices is making me reconsider the choice and think through this question: Is it better to live and struggle somewhere you love, or live and prosper somewhere you hate? If I stay where I am, I could vacation more often. I could make more frequent trips to California and other places that DO make me happy. But, throughout the year, I’d be stuck in this unattractive, unfriendly place.
I’ve decided to make a deadline for us. Since our lease is up in November, I’m giving us until August 31 to make something happen in LA. I’ll be getting more freelance work, expanding my portfolio, and trying to find that elusive safe-yet-reasonable apartment in LA. If nothing has worked out by August, and there is no indication that we’ll move to California and achieve anything other than homelessness, we’ll start looking elsewhere—whether that means staying in our current location and moving into a different apartment, or finding a less expensive regional city to move to.
More than anything I just want to find somewhere that feels like home — somewhere I can see myself living for the rest of my life and raising kids. Whatever I imagined finding home would feel like, I felt that in California. I just seriously wish I’d found home in a place I could actually afford to live.
Stephanie Ashe is a freelance writer, cat mom, and pop culture devotee. She’s probably talking about a 90’s movie on Twitter right now.