Over the last few years I’ve moved from New York to Richmond, then on to London and who knows where I’ll end up from there. Traveling is great. I love being in a profession (academia) that allows me to move around and go from place to place, but the perks of movement come at a huge cost. By the time you get settled in one place your contract is up and it’s time to move someplace else. How can you make and keep friends and relationships intact if you’re constantly on the go?
This is true for lots of people who have precarious jobs, but it’s especially real if you’re in the world of academia. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones to snag a long term tenure-track job then your life is basically running from one temporary appointment, however prestigious, to the next. A life of the mind is great but it can also be so exhausting mentally because it takes forever to build up a network of friends, to get used to a new place. How can you start dating someone if you know you have to move at the end of the year? At a certain point you sort of just want to know what your life is going to be and stick to it.
Moving around constantly is exhausting because the life you’ve built over one year, two years, four years, has a time limit. It always takes a while to develop a flow but by the time you do it’s time to pack up. That is, of course, if you actually like where you are. Some people may be thirsty to escape as quickly as possible, and I guess it’s nice to know that if you hate where you currently are it’s not permanent. But if you like your life the end date of your contract floats over your head like a cloud and you know you may have to kiss it all goodbye.
I thought about all this the other day when I realized I’m not sure if my emotions are strong enough to handle another big move. Moving to London was a big move and I went through a lot to get here, including the biggest break-up of my life. I’m not sure I want to go through this kind of experience again. Maybe I’m just getting older and feel more like “settling” than I ever have—not settling “down” necessarily, just being in a place where I know my life will look a certain way. Growing up I bounced around a lot, moving between my Mom and my grandmother, back and forth, back and forth, then to college. My whole life has been about being itinerant. Bouncing around as much as I do is more a luxury than a liability and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, I guess with my old age, I’m starting to find comfort in stability. I wouldn’t want to be so boring as to have a mechanical, routinized lifestyle but I do like the idea of having a home base, something solid to come back to.
I’ve been living in London for more than 18 months now. And I still feel like I have very few people I’d actually call friends. It’s not that Londoners are terrible, unfriendly people but more that making friends when you’re an adult isn’t as straightforward as it is when you’re in college. It just takes time. But by the time you get close and really feel connected you’ve got to pack up shop.
Everything great has a side effect.