This post. Oh, this post. How long I have waited to write it. And now the time is here, and I’ve been struggling with how best to explain where we’ve been, and where we’re headed, without totally overwhelming you. Hmm, let’s see.
The Cliff’s Notes version is that we’re moving back to San Francisco at the end of this month! This is a very exciting, long awaited development. We move out of our place on the 27th, and fly back to the Bay Area on the 28th. We’ve already signed a lease on an apartment there, hired movers, and are working on getting our New York apartment rented right now. We’ll move into our new apartment sometime during the first week of April. The move is compelled primarily by the fact that we have been incredibly unhappy in New York, and we are very ready to go home.
The long version is a little more complicated. It’s emotionally and logistically complex, and definitely one of those experiences that’s rife with lots of invaluable life lessons. Yes, it’ll be that kind of post…I leave the Cliff’s Notes version for you above as your easy out. ;)
There is a moment when both New Yorkers and New York visitors alike, upon finding out that you have moved here somewhat recently, will smile and say to you knowingly, “So, are you loving it?” The expected answer is yes. Always yes.
There was no moment in the nearly two years I have lived here where I could provide those inquirers with the enthusiastic, positive reply they were expecting. The truth is, I never fell in love with New York the way other people do, or at least, talk about doing. It became pretty apparent to me that the love affair would probably never happen — maybe as soon as a couple months after moving here. But here I will defend myself and say that I feel like I gave it as much of a go as I could. I spent hours upon hours in the city jewel that is Central Park; I explored neighborhoods all over the city; got involved with various hobbies that would keep me busy and would introduce me to new people; and built a network of friends who I could spend time with and provide a great sense of community. All of it was good and reasonably fun, but it just never gelled for me. I could never see myself living here long term, for a lot of different reasons, and the anxiety that created felt confining and frustrating. Here I was, 30 years old and with a crystal clear picture of how I wanted my life to look. The reality had the Kelvin filter on it.
Another funny thing about New York: I sometimes get nervous about bashing it. Maybe because there is this weird culture here, where if you don’t enjoy this city, you’re weak, or not ambitious enough, or provincial, or you just “don’t get it.” I hate this part about New York culture. Living here, I would often feel like I was the crazy one, not seeing what everyone else was seeing. This dynamic was also odd because, when pushed, I have found that 99% of people I know who live here will admit that they don’t have plans to stay here long term either. It is an exhausting place, and the quality of life is poor. I grew up in Austin, and have spent years living in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. City life and all its inconveniences are not a novel thing to me. But New York is on a whole different level. I just don’t have the patience for the particular quality/way of life here. Some people don’t mind it, or they even love it, but for me, it didn’t feel like living. It felt suffocating and annoying.
So I’ll end my mini-rant against New York there, lest it spiral out of control, and discuss more about what the journey has been like behind the scenes — because as rough of a time as we’ve had in New York, there were other factors that have contributed to us wanting to move back west.
We arrived in May of 2013. If you’ve been reading the blog since then, you may remember the whole apartment lease debacle. Suffices to say, our transition into life here could not have been anymore chaotic and jarring. But when it was all said and done, we were happy to finally move into our current apartment, settle in, and see how things would go.
A year goes by. I’m still unsure about living here, Joe is still unsure about living here, and there have been extraordinary disappointments and frustrations with his job, which is why we moved out east in the first place. We discussed our options: find a job in (and move to) Connecticut? Look for a job back in San Francisco? Try and stick it out in New York for a bit more and see how it goes? Work in New York, but live in the suburbs? We didn’t really know, and we would vacillate back and forth on what the right decision was for our family, even daily. THAT was exhausting too. It is safe to say we drove ourselves crazy wondering about what we should do.
Things were rough last summer, when we weren’t sure the path Joe’s work would take and where we might end up. He worried; I worried. Into the autumn we went, and it felt like we were just waiting, always waiting, for something to happen. And then something did. Lucy’s paralysis.
I can easily pinpoint that night as the night I was done with New York. We walked home from the animal hospital close to midnight, it was cold, and the streets were deserted. I was walking with my arms crossed, and sobbing uncontrollably — to the few passersby we saw, it probably looked like Joe and I were breaking up. I remember I kept insisting to him over and over, through sobbing hiccups, “If she dies, we can’t leave her here. We have to take her ashes back home to SF.” This whole event with her just triggered something within me. The thought of leaving her here or letting her die here completely tore me up. Suddenly, in crisis, it was clear: both of us absolutely didn’t want to stay in New York anymore.
We started to talk seriously about leaving the city and paying for a move back to SF on our own. Thanksgiving turned to Christmas, which turned to the New Year. I felt like I was losing myself. I would look at old photos from back in San Francisco, and almost didn’t recognize, the happy, smiling person, or the life we led. I had become miserable here, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Here’s where my thoughts would circle back to our first year in New York — I felt like I had done the work, all the things one is supposed to do to integrate, and it still hadn’t come together. I beat myself up about feeling the way I did. Was I being negative? Should I just try to be more positive? Did I do enough? Did I give life here a chance? What was wrong? Let’s pause here to add that the second ridiculously cold winter did not make matters any more cheery. I know, this whole paragraph is probably bumming you out. It bums me out too.
Fast forward a little bit — to just a couple weeks ago, in fact. On the last Monday in February, as a family, we decided to pull the plug and initiate a move back to San Francisco on our own. What’s funny is that everything about our move back west has gone so seamlessly, especially when compared to our move out east. It has felt like nothing in our lives has gone right here, so not to sound all new age-y, but I have often wondered aloud to Joe if our energy and New York energy just doesn’t jive, like some weird karmic signal that it’s not meant to be. Conversely, we decide kind of spur of the moment to move back to SF, this one place where historically life always seemed to make sense, and all the pieces just fall back into place with a snap of the fingers. Funny how that works.
So that’s a small snippet of what’s been going on for us over the last year and some change.
Here’s something crazy: I am glad we moved to New York and had this experience. In fact, I’d do it all again, if it meant I’d come out the other side carrying the same life lessons. They’re that important to me. Here are four big ones:
In the late winter of 2014, I realized something pretty big: I had not been honest with myself about how much I did not want to leave San Francisco. Hindsight is always 20/20, and when I look back, I guess I wasn’t willing to entertain those thoughts at the time. The fear and uneasiness I had about uprooting our lives seemed natural, like a normal emotion to have when one is moving 3000 miles away. But I made the (huge) mistake of not expressing that uneasiness to my husband, because in my head, that didn’t feel supportive. Joe has been supportive of me chasing after my career goals and dreams, even when they made him nervous and he didn’t really understand them; it felt like it was my turn to support something he had always wanted to do, which was live and work on the east coast.
But one of the biggest lessons I have learned through our time here is that support doesn’t always mean automatically saying yes. Realizing this was a huge lightbulb moment for me. By not sharing with my husband how I was really feeling, he didn’t have the information he needed to also make a decision based on what his priorities were. Maybe we still would’ve come to New York. Maybe we wouldn’t have. But the point is, I think we both would have felt better with saying our piece and knowing where we each stood going into such a big change. I thought I was protecting him from something by not expressing my doubts, but I wasn’t. Too often, I think we convince ourselves that support means saying yes to things, even when they don’t feel good or we don’t want to, because we fear someone’s disappointment in us. In truth, there are plenty of other ways to show support, and also take care of yourself, too. And further, shying away from disappointing someone usually means we take on that burden ourselves, pushing down our own feelings and needs, which only leads to bad things down the road. This is something I continue to think about and explore.
Vulnerability is key.
Similarly, making myself vulnerable has been one of the hard earned skills I’ve developed from living in New York. Luckily, it’s also the kind of thing where the more you do it, the easier it becomes. For me, vulnerability has meant asking for help when it’s needed, expressing my needs and true emotions to friends, and putting myself out there in situations — social or otherwise — that might make me uncomfortable, in the name of giving my all to the experience. Being vulnerable in these ways also allowed me to see ways I wasn’t vulnerable before moving here; the result is that I look at my west coast friendships differently, and appreciate things about them I didn’t before I left. I think becoming more vulnerable has made me increasingly grateful for the strongest relationships in my life, and that I return to SF able to be an even better friend. All I can really say here is that putting yourself out there in ways that feel scary will always reap the biggest rewards.
Sometimes, you’re just unhappy.
This lesson is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, outside of what has been going on in New York, and have been wanting to write a post about anyway. We live in this culture that’s always encouraging people to be really positive and happy. And that’s a good thing — up to a point. But I think all the inspirational Pinterest quotes — even ones I’ve shared — about your happiness being 100% tied to your own mindset are kind of naive. Sometimes, you’re just unhappy. I think it’s foolish to try to convince yourself otherwise and always go around chastising yourself if you’re in a rut. There’s nothing wrong with you! It’s okay to feel emotions other than happy ones! Shit happens in life, you know? The key thing I have learned is that even when I was worried, or anxious, or just plain bumming, if I could at least hold on to hope for the future, that was all that mattered, and that’s what kept me going. I didn’t need to delude myself into thinking that I could change my perception of New York — I knew how I felt and why it wasn’t a fit for me.
So yeah, I’m here to take a stance against the idea that if you’re not happy, YOU’RE the problem. Sure, sometimes maybe that’s true. But in reality, I think life is a whole hell of a lot more complicated than that. I truly believe that recognizing your unhappiness or dissatisfaction with something is the first key to changing the situation, whatever the outcomes are. Pretending you’re not feeling the way you feel for the sake of putting on a happy face is not a solution. All of this leads to my last big lesson:
“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”
Remember this Sex and the City quote? It’s incredibly true. The minute Joe and I put the wheels in motion to move back, everything about life felt completely right and natural, like I was no longer trying to force in some piece that didn’t fit. It is on the opposite end of the spectrum of how I felt about moving to New York. Which just goes to show: you should always, always listen to your intuition. But in order to do that, you have to spend time getting to know yourself. Knowing yourself is the greatest gift — and one of the hardest journeys — you can have in life. I feel very fortunate to have walked down much of that path while living here, and doubly grateful that these days, I know myself myself well enough to stop apologizing for what works for me. It’s one of the most freeing feelings.
So, yes, that’s where we are for now! Or at least, those are the major bullet points, with some extra life perspective thrown in. We’re doing this thing, we’re stoked, Lucy is confused as to what all the excitement has been about. I have to confide in you that I’m also excited to sort of start our newlywed time over. Pretty soon after our wedding, we were thrust into this whole cross country move thing and everything that happened thereafter, so both of us are feeling so eager and relieved to hopefully find a bit of peace for the second half of this year, so that we can settle in to our marriage more, minus so much continued life stress.
I’m sure I’ll be updating you guys as we decorate our new place and get back to some of our favorite SF things (like spending time outdoors and up in wine country), but for now, it feels very good to share a bit about what has been happening. Back to
regularly sporadically scheduled programming later this week; in the meantime, if you made it this far, thanks for reading and following along on the adventure. Onward and upward, always.