Leaving a City Made Me Feel More Like an Adult
Shifting to small town after ten years of city life has felt like a second adolescence
When you live in a big city, it can be very difficult to imagine living anywhere else.
So much of your career, identity, social life, earning potential, and dreams for the future feel inextricably linked with the chaos, kismet, and opportunities of city life. But then, once every century or so, a global pandemic unfolds that challenges your career, identity, social life, and dreams in one gigantic swipe.
At least that’s what happened to me. And so, just under a year ago, I moved from a city of about 9 million to a town of about 60,000. I did this with about as much foresight as you might book a plane ticket in the Before Times. I had to make a change, and it seemed like a good idea, so I went for it. Luckily, I wasn’t wrong.
In the past 12 months, I’ve learned a lot about myself, including the fact that while city life had a lot to offer me — and yes, there are things I miss —it was also insulating me from making many decisions and changes that I was in fact ready for at the age of 31. As a result, the last twelve months has felt like a second adolescence of sorts. If moving to London at 21 was the first step in adulthood, then leaving it roughly ten years later has felt like stage two. Here’s what I’ve learned.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One of the great draws of city life is that you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it. Not so once you leave. These days, if I want sushi, an Uber, a cart full of groceries, or a date, I can’t simply pick up my phone and summon it without speaking words. Nor can I simply walk out my door and walk to a shop within one mile to get the exact snack or condiment or beverage that I want.
Instead, I must plan ahead: I can’t get by with just a carton of yogurt and dried pasta in my cupboard on a Monday night. I must have a minimum amount of groceries on hand at all times. I must check which restaurants I like offer take out, and when—because it’s certainly not on a Monday night. I must make sure to go to the bakery that makes the good sourdough before they sell out, and I must buy multiple bottles of the kombucha I like when the one shop that sells it has them in stock. And if I want sushi? Well, I have to take the train to London for that.
Some veteran city dwellers might say this sounds like hell, and I’ll admit, the first time I realized Uber didn’t operate here, my stomach dropped. But since then, I’ve come around to the idea that I can’t always get what I want. It’s made me appreciate perks like takeout and taxis — the latter I now summon within ten minutes by calling a local cab company—much more. It’s meant I now have an extremely well-stocked pantry and bar cart. It’s made me more invested in the small businesses I support, because I frequent the same ones more often. I spend far less money impulse buying random things I want on my walk home, because those things simply aren’t there. My bank account thanks me.
Anonymity Is Not an Option
In a city, you can pretty much do whatever you want. No one will care. If you decide you want to break out into song in the middle of the Underground? That’s fine. Same if you want to have a huge fight with your partner on a street corner — no head will turn. If the barista messes up your order while you’re having a bad day, feel free to totally overreact—they see it all the time. And if you are misfortunate enough to be using the dating apps, you can safely assume that every single bad date you go on (and there will be many) can be wiped from your internal memory card as soon as it’s over. You’ll never see that person again.
All of those privileges disappear when you leave. Where I live now, I see the same shopkeepers, dog-walkers, sea swimmers, and baristas mostly every day. I behooves me to be friendly, even when I’m not feeling it. Meanwhile, dating is a much more intentional effort, one where even if you like someone a considerable amount up front, it’s wise to wait a little longer before progressing to ensure they are not going to be a huge headache to run into if things don’t work out. Self control, hello nice to meet you.
All of this amounts to something: You really have to be the person you want to be in the world, all of the time. The veil of anonymity is no longer there to protect you and erase your mistakes. I like to think I was never an asshole when I lived in a city, but I certainly didn’t make an intentional effort to be friendly every day. I definitely do now.
Adulthood Feels More Attainable
In a city, it’s easy to feel like the financial trappings of adulthood—property ownership, a car, outdoor space—feel so far away that it’s better to not even bother figuring out how you might attain them. Better to spend your money on museum memberships and nice bottles of rosé with friends rather than putting it in a savings account—after all, that’s why you live here!
In London, the idea of paying half a million pounds for a two bedroom flat in zone 5 was so ridiculous to me, I sort of just didn’t give it space in my brain. That wasn’t for me, that was for other people. But when I left, and the financial calculus changed considerably, it was like a switch flipped in my brain.
All of a sudden, the idea of not having to move to a different rental every one to two years, and having nice furniture I could invest in as a result, and maybe even a compost heap in a garden, felt incredibly appealing. Saving money no longer felt like deprivation, but exactly what I should be doing. As a result, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between not wanting something and it feeling so unavailable to you that you convince yourself you don’t want it.
Who Am I When I’m Not Overstimulated?
For city dwellers, it’s easy to overlook the incredible effect that relentless external stimulation has on the human nervous system. Every packed bus, busy street, loud cafe, housemate coming home at 2am, and construction site cacophony is a little signal to our brain and body: Stay alert or bad things will happen.
Now that I’m not in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and the main soundtrack to my working day is flocks of seagulls, I’ve noticed how my needs feel different. I feel far less interested in seeking out more external stimulation. I miss friends due to the pandemic, of course, but the idea of rushing to a bar or pub to meet a friend after work for two harried glasses of wine sounds like hell to me. I find it easier to read books for long stretches of time, and to do nothing. The kind of deep rest and contentment I used to hope to attain on vacation feels far accessible to me on the weekends.
And yes, I’ve never slept better in my life.