I’m sick of paying heaps to live in a shoebox and I’m thinking about leaving the city for somewhere cheaper. I want to have a garden and a dog and see the ocean. No one thinks this is a good idea. My friends call it my “pandemic panic”. Co-workers point out I might end up stuck with a never-ending commute, if we ever get called back to the office. Mum says I’ll never meet a man if I move to a small town.
I don’t quite want to admit it to my friends, but the truth is I don’t really miss all the stuff they like anyway. I like restaurants and cafes, but I don’t think I need them. I never went to concerts before. Everyone says I’ll be isolated, but I’m isolated now anyway. Do they have a point? Or should I follow my heart and get out?
Eleanor says: I don’t think you’re alone in developing city fatigue over the last 18 months. Life in a big city is most fun when you’re very young or very rich, and most of us are neither. So most of us accept little indignities in exchange for living in global capitals: live with other people even though you’d rather not. Seal your ears with earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones so don’t hear the birds but at least you don’t hear the traffic either. Make peace with how much of your geography is corporations shouting from billboards and passing cars, and how little of your geography is greenery.
In normal times the trade is a fair one: we get world-class conviviality and culture in exchange for handing over these small pieces of wellbeing. It’s easy to miss that we’re making any kind of trade at all. But when the pandemic took culture and conviviality away from us, it made us realise quite how much we’d been paying to have them in the first place.
We were left holding the earplugs in the noisy apartments with the people we barely knew, and wondering why we thought this was a good idea. And now, even though we’re returning to culture and conviviality, it’s not crazy for you to wonder whether you want to keep making the trade. Some people don’t.
I know it doesn’t feel good to be one of those people – especially when you live surrounded by city people. It’s like being the only sober person as the party rolls around to 2am: no one will exchange a glance with you confirming that this isn’t that fun.
But you don’t have to live the life that other people expect you to. The fact that something is a priority to everyone else doesn’t tell you that they’re right. It certainly doesn’t tell you that they’re right about you. You’ve been very clear here about what you want: a dog, a garden, the ocean. Nobody could tell you that these are bad things to want.
In the choice between ways of living, you’re the best authority about which parts of your wellbeing feel most important. You might be the only authority. You’d never expect your family or friends to move somewhere green and peaceful because you thought that was the best way to live. So why would they – or you – expect you’d stay in the city because they think that’s the best way to live? You should listen to yourself when you say what you want.
You might hate it, who knows. You can always move back. That’s the beautiful thing about making choices – you can undo them. A choice about where to live or what to spend – even if you get it wrong – won’t make you half as unhappy as making no choices at all; valuing what other people tell you to value; living where they tell you it’s good to live. You get one life. Don’t let other people live it for you.