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I’m moving across the country soon, and I’m totally overwhelmed. I’ve lived all my life on the east coast and now I’m moving to the Midwest. A place where I know no one. Yes, it’s exciting. I’m on a new path. Starting with a clean slate. Trading skyscrapers for corn fields, and all the other romantic metaphors. The bottom line is: I’m terrified. I’m leaving behind my family, boyfriend, college friends, work friends, childhood friends and professional contacts. I know that I’m headed into a good opportunity, but what’s really worrying me now is how I’m supposed to stay in touch with everyone!
Where is the rubric for this? I know different people will need different modes and frequencies of communication — but there are just so many options to consider. Should I set myself reminders to text people? Or maybe I can save time by scheduling automatic emails every week saying, “I’m still alive. Please don’t forget me.” Who do I follow on Snapchat and what happens when keeping in touch means that I have a chronic case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? And how do I prioritize who to visit with my limited budget for plane tickets?
My instinct is to send out a Google form to everyone important to me with questions like: “How often would you like to communicate with me?” And a drop-down menu: “Every day.” “Once a month.” “Occasional newsletter updates.” “Never again, thanks.” Or maybe I need a spreadsheet with all the names of people I’m leaving behind and a checklist so I can send missives occasionally to those who care? Your advice would be much appreciated. Or, better yet, could you share me on the master doc for navigating a big move? I’m sure someone has a system for this.
Missing Everyone Already
No one has a system for this that I know of, and I’m pretty sure if someone had cracked the code I would know about it, because they would be richer than Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg put together. Why? Because people hate moving, especially a big move. Moving ranks second on the list of major sources of stress, right behind dealing with the death of a loved one.
So you’re coming by your anxiety honestly. It sounds like you’re leaving behind everyone close to you, and heading to a place where you know no one. I did the same thing when I was 22 and again when I was 26. Both times, I was terrified.
Interestingly, the Internet and cell phones didn’t exist back then. I did talk with friends and relatives on the phone, but long-distance calls were pretty expensive, so mostly I had to stick it out. I wound up feeling pretty isolated in both cases. But that sense of isolation was a big part of what forced me to explore the cities I’d moved to, and to make connections with the people at my new job.
I can certainly understand your desire to maintain a sense of connection with your people, your boyfriend and family in particular. But the degree to which you’re trying to game plan a “communication strategy” feels like a doomed attempt to hang on to your old life. After all, if you spend all your time talking to friends from your old city, how open will you be to meeting new people? Think about that person who spends the entire after-work gathering glued to her phone. Is that a person living in the here and now?
Again, I’m not suggesting that you cut ties with those important to you. And I do think it’s good to communicate to important people that you’ll need some support as you make this big move. But your letter suggests that you’re a person who values control. And you have to have to accept that moving to a new place is not an experience you can control. There’s a lot of built-in unpredictability: where you wind up living, who your neighbors are (at work and at home), who you click with. You also can’t control which of your friends and relatives will make an effort to stay connected. Some relationships endure, even in a long-distance form. Others fade.
I’d caution you against spending a lot of time online after your move. Why? Because, as you note, FOMO is an issue for you. And the one thing that fosters FOMO more than anything else is spending your leisure hours online, gazing upon an airbrushed version of the lives of your friends and family. That’s almost guaranteed to make you homesick, as if you’re missing out on all the fun back home.
Honestly, I had a much easier time of it back in the 1990s, because it was so expensive and inconvenient to stay in touch.
I realize you’re moving to the Midwest for a job opportunity, not to make new friends. And I certainly hope you can hang on to the relationships that matter to you from back home. What’s more, if you find yourself utterly miserable out there, for months on end, you can always move back. There’s no shame in that. People do it all the time. But I do think it would be a shame if you never really gave the move a chance, in terms of exploring a new place and building new relationships.
And that’s going to be virtually impossible if you’re spending all your free time texting and web surfing and hunting for bargain tickets back home. Or constructing that Master Spreadsheet to Eliminate Emotional Dislocation and Loneliness.
Author's note: The tough truth here is that moving to a new city is disruptive. I can feel Missing Everyone Already trying to undo that truth. I don’t blame her (or him). But I also suspect clinging to the past will not only prevent him/her from moving into the future, but existing in the present. What do the rest of your post-modern nomads think? Post your feedback, and/or counsel, in the comments section below. And please send along a letter to Heavy Meddle, if you haven’t. — S.A.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.