Breaking Up and Moving On

Pop quiz: What is the #1 thing that people ask of you with the promise of pizza and beer? Hint: it involves boxes and sweat and avoiding their phone calls.

Yep, moving.

Two responses to that real quick. 1. Pizza and beer in exchange for hours of hauling furniture is not – nor has it ever been – a fair trade. 2. If you are in your 30s this is no longer an acceptable or appropriate offer. But I’m not here to talk about pizza and beer (though wonderful topics, of course.) I’m here to talk about moving. And no, not the neighborhood switch you so bravely made last fall or the post-marriage, city-to-suburb exodus you took part in.

I’m talking about moving far away, picking up and replanting; taking a job, or a lovah, or a ‘just because, dammit,’ and crossing state lines, the country, the world. I’ve done this a few times in my young(ish) life, and it’s a lot of things: it’s new and exciting, it’s confusing, it’s scary.

It’s….a lot like a breakup.

Sure, you’re probably not going to describe a breakup as exciting (unless you are a masochist). But in my opinion change is always exciting. Eventually. I realized this moving/breakup parallel when I migrated back to Chicago after a few years away. As it turned out, my move unfolded (and felt) much like many of my breakups: it started with a minor sense of disconnect, then some time apart, followed by big questions, some bigger realizations and decisions, and finally, the big split.

The whole thing took me by surprise, actually. One could say I never saw it coming (a line I have honestly said about at least two of my relationship-endings). I was simply spending the summer in Chicago because it happens to be pretty perfect that time of year (Hello, 100 Days of Summer) and also because it was my sister and her husband’s final summer in the city before moving West. I couldn’t have known how myself I would feel as I got back into city life. I couldn’t have known that a career opportunity would serendipitously present itself there. I couldn’t have known how perfect it would be that my stuff was in storage, awaiting a new apartment in Nashville whose September first lease I had not actually signed yet. As it turned out, I was accidentally primed to leave a city that I hadn’t even realized was no longer right for me.

Then came the hard part: announcing my decision.

This is where it really felt like breaking up with a boyfriend. There were a lot of ‘ It’s not you, it’s me’s (which feel really true at the time,) there were some ‘Maybe this is just temporary!’s, and there was tons of explaining something that actually doesn’t have a great explanation. You just know when you know, don’t ya? In my moving (and relationship) experience, when the place where you are living/loving stops making sense, stops bringing you joy, stops feeling like home: you know. Even if it’s hiding behind a few layers there in your inner knower. My mother describes it as the moment “when the peace is gone.” It can almost be startling; how the things that used to click seem to suddenly switch gears. Whatever used to work just stopped working. People change, places change, and it is peculiar and amazing all at once.

So I moved; and I moved on. I said goodbyes, I looked into eyes that really didn’t understand why I was going, I stuck to my guns, and I reminded myself of what felt the rightest in the moment. Because what else can you do other than trust what you know to be true right now?

A few months went by before I ran into my ex. And by ‘run into my ex’ I mean, of course, I visited the city I had left. This is the part where you realize that <gasp!> things have gone on without you. Yes, even without your glorious presence, this thing that you left behind grew, changed, became better. That weekend I went to three different new restaurants, saw new developments, boutiques, coffee houses; grumbling under my breath the whole time about how it suuuuuure was nice that these had just popped up right when I left. It was like running into your ex and seeing that he finally taken all of your advice. Great, Nick, I’m really glad to see you got rid of those horrible pageboy hats only after we broke up. No, no it’s cool. I wasn’t embarrassed for 2 years by your Livestrong bracelet or anything…Yeah, your hair looks great! Oh, Crossfit? Oh wow. You workout now? Neat. My first trip back to Nashville was a lot of squinty eyed observation, wistful nostalgia, but then reassurance that I had done the right thing. It wasn’t for me anymore, but I still held fondness for it. I wanted it to do and be well. It didn’t feel like home, but I still held closely the memory of when it did.

I remember a poignant breakup in my early 20s when I wrote letters to all of my ex’s friends and family saying how much they’d meant to me and how much I would miss them (I spent some years being  a walking RomCom, okay?). The funny thing is I’m pretty sure I never wrote a letter to him, just his people. I was clearly ready to say goodbye to him, just not those he’d brought into my life. And so it is with moving. You’re never really ready to leave the people you leave, even if you’re ready to leave the place where you met (and loved them). At least in my experience. They stay immortalized in your memory as wonderful, pivotal, truly irreplaceable people bound to a city you can no longer call home.

That’s the rub. That’s the real pain of the breakup. You know you never would’ve been the same person without them, but at the same time, you’d never be the right person if you didn’t let them go when it was time.

Not everyone experiences this unique coin that is half pain half joyful rediscovery. Some people have the beautiful luxury of staying in one place all their lives, or planting roots effortlessly and early. But for those of us who feel the restless call to go; to move, I say take the gamble. Not because it’s easy, not because it makes sense to everyone (or anyone), not because you’re sure it’s right. But because one of the best things in life you can do is learn how to listen to yourself; one of the best thing you can do in life is know when to say goodbye.

So what was your hardest ‘city breakup’? Your best? How did you know it was the right time to go or stay?