A Five-Year Reflection on D.C.

16 07 2010

Ever since I moved to D.C. exactly five years ago, straight out of college, I’ve been expecting to leave.  I told myself this city was just temporary, and that I was only coming here because I had other friends coming here and really didn’t know where else to go or what else to do.

Everyone loves to hate on this city– especially the people who grew up around here.  90% of my friends who live here are “planning” to move somewhere else at some point– usually either San Francisco or New York, with the occasional Philly or Chicago thrown in there.  For the first four years I lived here, I was one of those people.  You’re always hearing how much better every other city on the planet is than D.C.:  The people are nicer in Chicago, cooler in San Francisco.  There are much more outdoor activities to do in Colorado, and nobody is stressed out all the time like they are here.  New York is just much more fun– there’s more to do, more to see, bigger energy.  New Orleans has more flavor, Philly and Baltimore are grittier and more “blue-collar,” Phoenix is less humid, L.A. has more attractive people, San Diego is great for surfing, Montana is far more beautiful, Nashville has a better hippie music scene.  All D.C. has are a bunch of ugly, uptight political-types and a lame night-life.

With all of this buzzing in my ear for the past five years, it’s really a wonder that I’ve stuck it out.  But each year when my lease was up, there was something keeping here– either a job, or a boyfriend, or a grad program– so that over the course of my five years here, I was really forced to put down some roots.  I have a D.C. license, D.C. plates, I know all the Starbucks baristas and the people who work at my dry-cleaner by name. Almost all of my closest friends are either here or an easy drive away, either to New York or Charlottesville.  I spent a whole summer doing an internship in Chicago, and while I totally fell in love with that city, I missed D.C. so much by the end of the internship that I purposely missed a connecting flight from D.C. to Charlottesville one time so that I could have an extra 12 hours in D.C. and catch a ride down with a friend instead.

Now, when I think about moving somewhere “cool” like San Francisco or Chicago or London, like I once dreamed of doing, I think about all the people that would no longer be in walking or driving distance, and it’s just not worth it to me.  Obviously, I would eventually make new friends in all of those places, but it took me five years to make the friends in D.C. that I’ve made, and not only are they irreplaceable, but I really don’t feel like starting over from scratch.

It occurred to me recently that there are two kinds of people in the world:

1) The kind who love to move around every couple years and constantly travel, spending a year here, six months there, who really derive the majority of their energy from being in a new place and meeting new people and learning a new language and feeling disoriented for a while.  I have a lot of friends who are like this, and I respect them immensely for their ability to do that.  Sure, they miss their friends and family, but they are willing to only see their friends and family a couple times a year if it means that they get to keep moving.

and

2) The people like me, who derive the majority of their happiness less from the newness or coolness or beauty of their physical surroundings than from the feeling of being physically surrounded by a relatively large, supportive, high-quality network of family and friends.  I am not ok with seeing these people once or twice a year; I want to see them once or twice a month.  My wanderlust is satisfied by traveling abroad, or visiting people for a week here or a week there–I don’t need to actually move to these places.  I need to be able to have barbeques at my house and invite my favorite people over for trivial pursuit whenever I want, or take a bus up to NYC for the weekend when I haven’t seen one of them in a while, and it’s worth it to me to miss out on snow-shoeing and rafting in Colorado to be able to do that.  Once I am forced to move somewhere, my immediate instinct is to dig my feet in and wiggle my butt into the sand until it makes a clear impression and then stay there as long as humanly possible.

I’m not saying that I agree with anyone that D.C. is as lame as people make it out to be– it’s really not, especially in the last year or so.  And I’m not saying that my surroundings are totally irrelevant to my relative happiness, because they’re not.  Ever since I moved from Adams Morgan to Mount Pleasant, I have been a markedly happier person.  But again, that could be as much because of my awesome roommates as it is the neighborhood itself.

I can acknowledge that there are thousands of other amazing places in the world that I’m probably missing out on by continuing to live in D.C., but my main point is that I don’t care.  I love my people in this city and the surrounding areas, and that is enough to keep me here for a long, long time.

What do you guys think?  Are you more of a type 1 or a type 2?

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11 responses

16 07 2010
geof

by default, a type 2. i agree about the energy, although the channels through which that energy flows can be complex. i thought i was a type 1 for a long time, until i realized i wasn’t actually going any of the places i wanted to go to. i own property here, have a job I like, my spouse has a job she likes, we have good friends and family close by. i’m pretty sure i will live in DC for the rest of my working life. my current type 1 fantasy is to get a 1-2 year contract to work somewhere in south asia after i finish my grad program, and then come back to dc. it may end up just being a two week trip to thailand in novmember, which is DEFINITELY HAPPENING. WHOOOOOOOOOOT!!!!!

16 07 2010
Sara

I appreciate this post, especially as my own four years in DC is coming to a close in exactly 2 weeks! I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my time here, and it’s incredibly bittersweet to see it come to an end. As much as I’ve been a DC hater, I’ve also been a DC lover and I can’t believe my time here is up!

I think I’ve always wanted to be type 1, but I’m actually type 2 – and in the long run, I know that the close proximity to DC/Baltimore is going to be a big factor into any living situation i enter into. Come visit me in Cville!!

16 07 2010
districtramblings

D.C. will miss you, Sara. But Charlottesville still counts as “surrounding area,” so you’ll be seeing a lot of me.

16 07 2010
bros

you can’t be an emotional hoarder and be a type 1, so that isnt a possibility for you DR.

Im a type 2 too but not because I am around family or anything -ive lived so far away from them for so long, seeing them once or twice for over 10 years feels almost normal,although I wish I could see them more for sure. I simply hate moving and think moving is the worst activity ever, aside from like, spider collecting or something.

I love DC though, and I never understood how anyone could hate on it. everyone is smart, clean, professional. hot foreign guys abound. there is no riffraff, low numbers of hipsters, no grungy stupid art scene and amateur theater hour. its the center of american politics! for an opinionated political junkie like me, DC is like this beckoning beacon of action, but alas…..philly and its hipsters it is….

16 07 2010
Wing-it

i think being a one or a two depends on your age and circumstances beyond your control. As a one, I dreamed of travel anywhere everywhere – but always coming back to friends and family. My high school and college friends went from Delaware to Boston so scattered I lost touch with most of them. Family from Penn. to Maine. So lets say my roots were scattered. Married in June and left the reception for a small town in Mississippi. Never had been in the South. My new husband was sent to learn all about the oil business having been hired by an oil company. First year marriage with roughnecks who lived in trailers and moved from rig to rig. They were my first friends and they mostly overlooked the fact that we were Yankees. Then to west Texas where we moved from motel to motel so never made friends there. Started to feel lonely for the east coast especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. then to Baton Rouge, LA. where we bought a house, had two babies and settled in making new friends only to be transferred to New Orleans 5 years later. All but two of my best friends were born and raised in New Orleans so their roots and memories were solid. I knew for sure I had no roots anymore, so had to decide that this is my home and I never want to leave. By way of another move, I am back in Mississippi with some new friends but many old New Orleans friends who have moved here to be by the beach. So there it is. You cant have it both ways. Travel and look for greener pastures or settle down and be happy where you are. I’ve travelled alot, crossed the ocean aboard ship 4times. worked in the Caribbean – lots of travel in Europe, but always coming home to where I want to be. Home. “There’s no place like home”.

16 07 2010
IP

I am far and away a grass-is-always-greener sort.
This serves me well when having or deciding to move somewhere new, by casting doing so in the favorable light of “getting to” or “taking advantage of the opportunity to” move. It has also, however, contributed to the feeling of – surprise! – rootlessness I’ve always felt. And I mean always: I’ve felt like a visitor, outsider, transient, wayfarer since the time I was a little kid. This is not through any fault of my family, nor of the many friends who treated me like family. Perhaps it’s partially a symptom of a cultural phenomenon inherent to this young salad-bowl-of-imported-ingredients of a country we live in, which is stronger in some subcultures or groups and, for the most part, intensifies the farther west you go. American cultural expressions – art, film, music, literature – media, politics, social mores, and economics are shot through with nostalgia and its partner in crime, cynicism, often both at the same time. Whether Classics or Contemporary post-Postmodernism, printed local paper or 176-country insta-whatever-feed, socialist-progressivism or reactionary-libertarianism, Family Value Fundamentalism or world-as-a-nudist-commune(!!!)ism, horse-drawn carriageism or solar-powered, 100%-recycleable/biodegradable Futuremobilism, protectionism or NWO/One World Governance, there is a sense of “anywhere but where we are now.”

This and the fact that the majesty and the magnificence of the world are not only ubiquitously advertized, but more importantly readily accessible, contribute to the idea that we can go anywhere, do anything, change anything (either forward or backward), and that, in fact, we ought to.

Whatever the causes may be, I know that I am usually looking forward to the next thing, often before I’ve even begun to settle into the current thing. Like our trusty blogger says, I’ve always “been expecting to leave,” or at the very least to change, whatever situation I’ve found myself in. This is true for location, relation, vocation, and even vacation. I SAY that, because this is the nature of the world we live in, we need to make the moments and situations we find ourselves in every day really count. But I don’t always do this. My type-2 tendencies – which are also part of my makeup, we homo sapiens being social animals and all – have the unfortunate effect of making me complacent in the appreciation and gratitude departments when I’m around whatever various patches of soil in which I’ve managed to sink a few roots (i.e., “I see these people every weekend, what’s the big deal?”). It’s easier for me to remember to participate fully in and appreciate the moment when there is a real probability (let alone a certainty) that an event, situation, or experience will never happen again. I’m one who needs that kind of stimulation to get me to remember my mortality.

I don’t know whether I hope someday to not feel this wanderlust, cuz it does drive me to do some cool pretty things and meet some pretty cool people in pretty cool places. I don’t even know whether I look at it as something to “get over” or “grow out of,” which implies deficiency. But I do know that I respect and admire the work it takes to develop roots, and sometimes I envy or pine for the closeness that so many people have to home and all it entails.

What I really want is for all my people to develop really deep roots within less than two hours of one another so I always have a home to go to get just enough type-2 love whenever my type-1ness is wearing thin. And it’d be exciting for all you people, cuz all the NEW people I’d meet everywhere and would like to sink some roots with would move back to this wonderful home in the sky and join an ever-increasingly dense root network aaaaaalllllll for me!

So, DR, whatever you gotta do to get that going…

16 07 2010
districtramblings

I’m doing everything I can to get the root network going, it’s been a major goal of mine for sometime. It doesn’t help that people like YOU have to MOVE all the time.

16 07 2010
Greg

I would crush you at trivial pursuit.

19 07 2010
Liz

Being one of the most recent friends to LEAVE you and probably the most confirmed “wanderluster” of them all, I have to say that this move has definitely been the most difficult, precisely because it does not have an expiration date on it. Going to camp for 1 month, college for 4 years, Europe for a semester, the Peace Corps for 2 years… it was all part of an intricate web that would inevitably lead me the next adventure. However, this one feels different. I have purchased things, NEW things that didn’t come from Craig’s list, IKEA, or the last tenant. I have a PAYCHECK, bills, and people that expect me somewhere from 9 AM to 5 PM EVERY DAY. In addition, apart from that month I spent in India when I was 18, being a DC-girl in the small-town Alps is definitely more of a challenge than I have had in awhile. And I do thrive on the newness, the constant learning, the beauty of my new surroundings, but I also love the fact that it only took 2 weeks for the people in the bakery to recognize me. Of course, it is a lot easier when I am the only one who doesn’t speak the language (as many classes as I have taken, I have yet to find one for Swiss Mountain German, and anything else here just won’t do.) We will see how it goes, but I guess being a foreigner in a locals-only town is a challenge one can never really prepare one’s self for. The only thing you can do is join the soccer team, drink a ton, and make your terrible language skills sound as cute as possible. Oh, and have LOTS of visitors. I cannot stress that last part enough, Laura.

19 07 2010
Timur

Great post. The sentiment is spot on for so many conversations I have had regarding life and career trajectory in DC. However the more I think about it, perhaps it is more of a generational sentiment. I have friends in a wide range of cities who vex over these same issues.

I would have to say I am a #2 who has taken a few sabbaticals into #1territory.

Again, great post.

19 07 2010
swirz

people are everything. And D.C. is the center of the American universe. No surprises there.

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