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?