This is a Love Story.

I should start with a confession: I haven’t always loved DC with the gusto and passion that I do now.  Not even a little bit.  Not even close.

Now for the story.

It was the hottest part of the summer of 2009, and a young(er) version of me had just graduated from college. Armed with a few of my favorite books, a plan for a long distance relationship, and not much else, I  moved across the country for the first time and settled into an overly-expensive apartment with an interesting roommate situation courtesy of craigslist. Awesome. I had fond memories of a previous summer spent in DC and looked forward to my upcoming graduate school adventures- but I honestly hadn’t given much thought to making DC my home. I fully intended to leave the East Coast and job-seek in San Francisco as soon as I graduated.  With this outlook, I struggled more than I thought I would as I missed my close-knit group of college friends, cheap sushi, In-N-Out, the Pacific Ocean. Predictably, it was difficult to make new friends and connections with one foot out the door. I can’t count the number of times I flew home that first year. I relied on those trips home to reenergize me and give me the strength to get through grad school in one piece.

Predictably, there’s a turning point in this story. A few key events took place and forced me to put two feet in my new city. It was no longer an option to stick to my safety zone of people who I’d known in my previous life and hermit myself away between trips to California. I made a conscious effort to try something radically new. I began talking to strangers. I sought out friends in DC from the internet (hi). I even began going out and about the town alone. I branched out and resolved myself to finally explore the place I had chosen to live. The next step was to learn everything I could about the parts of DC I hadn’t explored. I began seeking out and immersing myself in local blogs and newspapers, learning the history of the neighborhoods where I worked and lived, and attending local events.

When I made these changes, a few crazy things happened. First of all, I made new friends!  And to them, I wasn’t a sad girl who missed home, but a girl who was energized and excited/exciting.  Secondly, I felt the kind of confidence that comes with expanding your comfort zone and pushing your boundaries.  With this newfound confidence, I landed my first full-time job. In the field of my graduate studies. Win.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, I fell in love (figuratively and literally). With my new efforts, I managed to find not only places but also people who filled the home-shaped hole I had been feeling when I moved away from California almost 3 years ago. I realized that this could only have happened when I stopped looking for California everywhere. Still, I may lament the absence of San Diego burritos or react in a smug fashion to freak earthquakes on the East Coast, but I would never expect DC to be something it’s not.

This whole topic reminded me of this beautiful quote from a piece from Thought Catalog on transplants and loving the cities we come to:

The romance is this: move through these cities, use them, build breathless expectations and change our hair or clothes for them, parade them, admire and hate them, try to be more like them, strive to be opposite from them, cry in front of them, stay up until sunrise with them. They are the definitive and bold-print turning points that lead into some higher understanding of the world. We are suckers for their gridlines and grime and their smells of soiled streets, for the things they promise, even though we know they’ve promised the exact same to everyone who came before us. Afterward, they are nothing more than those we take in bodily form, love, lose, scorn, and probably one day love again. So then, nothing less either, I’m sure.

How do you make the cities you live in home to you?

13 comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I felt the same way when I left the urban area and moved to the suburbs. For years my home was not where I lived, but rather where I moved from. It mattered little to me that I often drove round trip for 50+ miles every weekend, holiday, for every hair appointment or Dr visit. Then , one day, after about 5yrs, I discovered that I could have my hair done in the “Hood”. No, not the urban area that I moved from,but, the nice pristine suburbs! I had finally found a new home!

  2. Kate says:

    I had lived in Beijing almost two years when the idea that it was home finally clicked with me. I think what really brought it on was a two week vacation to Vietnam. I remember very distinctly saying to my partner that I really wanted to go home, and I didn’t mean my mother’s home, but ours in our city. Since then, we moved to Shanghai (which never really did feel like home, despite truly lovely friends), and now Berkeley. Berkeley started to feel like home when we bought a house here six months in – a pretty expensive way to set you mind up, but a comforting one nonetheless.

    I think you’re so right about letting yourself be open to the possibilities your new city offers. I was decidedly closed-minded about liking Shanghai, and that negative energy was surely felt by those I came into contact with.

    Also, Elizabeth – even in the four years we spent in Beijing/Shanghai, I still would wait to get my hair done until I was back in the States! Found someone here in Berkeley that I like though – maybe it’s a sign?

  3. melissa says:

    I do think getting your hair done in a new city can be definitely be a sign of a turning point! I finally gave in and started getting mine done in DC just last summer :)

  4. gemma says:

    Melissa this is so great – I know exactly what you mean. How wonderful is the pride in knowing you’ve started anew and are rocking it, all through your own efforts. It’s such an ego-boost, and yes, perfect for attracting new friends!

  5. Camilla says:

    Really fantastic, so heartfelt. We had such similar experiences in DC. Even though I lived there for less than a year, I’m glad I got to share that time with you!

  6. cindy says:

    I completely agree with Melissa. Cutting your ties with your old hairstylist is totally the sign of a new era. I am still looking for a hairstylist in Bali… :(

  7. Justine says:

    Just like between people, I think with some cities we feel the “chemistry” between. It feels great to find a place you can call home.

  8. Lindsay says:

    Such an inspiring post and beautifully written! Makes me realize that I need to get out there and discover DC. I will…eventually… :) LOVE the quote you ended with.

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