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Living Alone in a New City – 5 Lessons

Photo by Hannes Caspar
If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. ~Tom Stoppard

When I was little I’d lay in bed at night and dream about what it would be like to start over. I would move somewhere and no one would know who I was. I’d be living alone and in peace.

In this fantasy I was always the new girl at school. I was quiet and most people just left me alone. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I wasn’t a complete loner either. To me, this sounded like paradise.

In my late twenties I got to realize my fantasy, moving across the continent alone where I knew no one and could be exactly who I wanted to be, without all the drama that came from years of living in one place.

After more than three years of living out my childhood dream, I’ve come to a few lessons that, although they might seem simple or obvious, are profound and have forever changed me.

1. You Can’t Run Away from Yourself

I’m sure my therapist would have plenty to say about why I had this fantasy as a child, but things are different now that I’m an adult, right?

Not really. Instead of living in a home I didn’t feel safe in, I now carried that home around with me. I lived in a body I didn’t feel safe in. And it didn’t matter how far away I ran, those demons would still be there.

An old friend of mine who spent time in rehab told me how she moved to another state thinking it would solve her alcohol problem. Turns out, this is a common belief, and I think it extends to more than just substance abuse.

In order for my childhood dream to come true, in order for me to be exactly who I wanted to be without drama and expectations of others, I needed to deal with the drama and expectations I carried inside me. Only then can I truly just be me.

2. Friends are More Precious than Gold

When I first landed in California, I didn’t have a job. I spent most days alternating between working out and applying for any job opening I could find.

But there were only so many openings and only so much Pilates I could do. I began to understand what the word lonely really meant.

Luckily I had a friend in Ireland who’d gone through a similar move and was always willing to talk. The time change made it nice because he could chat while my other friends were working. And when he went to bed, another friend from Minneapolis who loved to talk would jump on the phone.

Living in an area where I knew few people made me realize how blessed I was to have the support of my friends, who would stay on the phone for hours making sure I felt loved and cared for on so many levels.

When I moved across the country, I had some money in a savings account. It could buy me groceries and pay the rent, but it couldn’t sing me a silly song on my voicemail or mail me care packages filled with funny trinkets. And that really was what kept me going.

While I still chat regularly with those two, the experience made me work hard to find and cultivate relationships close by. It’s made me more open-minded to different types of activities and people as well. In short, my life has become more full.

3. Allow Things To Be As They Are

In my first few months in my new home, I compared everything to the place I grew up. The produce was fresher. The weather wasn’t as extreme. The people were much more open.

And while for the most part it was pretty benign, comparisons have a ways of eating away at reality. I wasn’t living in the present, and I wasn’t living in the past.

It was this limbo state that kept me from enjoying myself and truly living in the moment I was blessed with. The crazy part? I’m pretty sure I had been doing this my whole life; it was just more noticeable because the change was so big.

Now I make an effort to avoid comparisons of the past and now or this person and that one, and allow everything to be just as it is.

4. Accept Yourself For Who You Are

I dreamed of making myself over into someone who was more stylish and less opinionated; basically, I wanted to fit in.

It’s a common desire for many kids, and I don’t know when we outgrow it. I think I may have been a bit of a late bloomer in that respect, but I don’t think I’m alone.

It wasn’t until I moved somewhere new and had the opportunity to be whoever I wanted that I realized I liked being me. A lot. I’d tried on different hats, but it never felt genuine.

When I decided to just be myself, I finally felt free and honest. There were still plenty of things I wanted to change, but they weren’t things that defined who I was. I was finally setting up boundaries and making a home within myself. Sure there were a few weeds in the garden, but that’s easily fixed.

When we accept ourselves, flaws and all, we’re finally being open to every part of ourselves. We can take the things that don’t serve us and understand that at one point they did play a role that helped us survive and grow. We’ve just outgrown them.

And with that understanding and acceptance of ourselves come compassion, which helped me make it through hard times. It made me a better friend and attracted more compassionate people in return.

5. Accept Others For Who They Are

You know how you hear you can’t love anyone until you love yourself? I think you can broaden that a bit more: You can’t accept anyone until you accept yourself.

It became obvious to me that my own self-loathing came from somewhere. I wasn’t born hating myself. Somewhere along the line I was told (as many of us are) that I wasn’t what I should be. It’s probably why I didn’t feel comfortable being myself.

Although it took a little time, I was able to see how harmful it is to tell others (directly or indirectly) that they should be more like someone else or less like themselves.

For a while, I was annoyed that my boyfriend (now husband) wasn’t as optimistic as me. Then he pointed out that he was positive about big things and why did it matter if he wasn’t as happy-go-lucky as I was?

It didn’t really. I saw that I was trying to change him to be someone else. Why would I spend time with someone if I didn’t like who they were and wanted them to change? Not only is it a tremendous waste of energy, it’s an affront to those you’re trying to manipulate.

And that’s what it was: manipulation. Once I was able to see that and replace it with the compassion I had found in accepting myself, life seemed so much lighter and easier.

~~

Inside everyone is a child, and honoring that part of us is incredibly important. If we can sit down and be still long enough, we can learn many lessons from the lives we’ve lived and from the child within.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. After realizing optimism doesn't jive with journalism, she left newspaper to use her writing to help others. Now she coaches folks using writing as a tool. Balance and mindfulness are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks.

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10 thoughts on Living Alone in a New City – 5 Lessons

  1. Really great points, and something that I’ve been discovering as a running theme in myself- the more I accept myself, the easier it is to accept others for who they are. It really is so important to love yourself first, as cliche as it may sound!

  2. Great article!

    I can relate. I moved to Arizona in 2007 from the Midwest and it took me at least six months before I started to get acclimated with my new surroundings. I was grateful for all of the Meetup groups (too many) because I met a variety of people. However, I allowed some of my family members to berate me for moving. I now know they were jealous because I had the gumption to move, to break away and try something new. Fast forward to now, and I’m living back in my home state. My move didn’t workout the way I thought it would, probably because I forgot that I took myself (my thoughts) with me. ;)

  3. Meg, Yes it can sound cliche, but it’s true isn’t it?

    Amandah, I’m glad you liked the article. Thanks! Don’t be too hard on yourself about a move not working out. Someone once told me, “You’re right where you’re supposed to be.” And I believe it’s true.

  4. Jaribu

    Soul sistah from another mother! Thank you for allowing your lessons to be transparent thereby checking and reaffirming me! Much appreciated!

  5. Thanks for this.

    I’m in the role of one of the friends mentioned – helping out someone else.

    Not only does it help them, but I get something from it too: connectedness, love, mutual support.

    It helps both people involved.

  6. James! You are a blessing to your friends. And thank you for reminding me that being there for someone else also benefits you. Good to remember :)

  7. I’m an army spouse, and I move a lot. You are so right about the value of friends.

    The older I get the harder it is to make friends. I’m at an age where people are deeply involved with their work and their families. They are just so busy with their daily lives that the time and energy for building new friendships is hard to find.

    But thanks to phone and Skype, I get to stay in touch with all my old friends while I slowly build new friendships in my new home.

  8. I always try to use the best of my iPhone and iPad when feeling alone. Of course it’s better to find new friends.

  9. I really appreciate your take on this and that someone even wrote about this topic at all. My family moved a lot when I was younger so I was the new girl sooo many times. I hated it. But when I became an adult I seemed to keep up the habit of moving. I like that you focus on compassion and acceptance and love for who you really are. Very affirming – and then how it helps us feel more that way toward other people too, thus making relationships and friendships easier. Important all the time, but even more so in a new town.

  10. sonal

    liked this article . It is true ,we carry with us what we are today, our past ,what we did ,what we achieved what not . What we are today is not based on what we were ,it is based on what we think now,at present .what we do and what we are planning to do . All these thoughts when put in to practice makes our thinking positive or negative . what we read do not change our thinking but it does support us to change it . Thank u so much Tina for sharing .

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