There may come a time in your life when, through choice or necessity, you will find yourself abandoning the metropolis you’ve called home for however many years. The bars you’ve been kicked out of, the parks you’ve surreptitiously pissed in, the various former workplaces where you once spent so much time ... they may no longer be a part of your life. Maybe you got a job offer somewhere where people smile and wave at strangers. Maybe you’ve got kids and don’t want them to see you arguing with your terrifying Eastern European landlord anymore. Maybe the Yakuza are looking for you. Whatever the case, it’s time to say goodbye to big-city life and resettle someplace quieter. This will be an adjustment, but it doesn’t have to be a painful one.
When you’re living in a bigger city, it’s easy to forget that there are other, smaller places in between said cities. But they do, and many of them are more livable than you might imagine. Some of them, in fact, are so livable that, within a few years, you will visit your old city and shock yourself by wondering why in the fuck people live this way. Here’s some advice on how to get to that point.
If you’re moving to a small town, there can be some temptation to go all-in on the idea and find yourself a place way the fuck out in the boonies, someplace with a stable in the front yard and a mile-long driveway. Stop. Don’t do that. You will drive yourself insane. Maybe one day, you’ll get to the point where you can live way out in Nowheresville and find a sense of peace. But getting to that point takes baby steps, and if you go for complete isolation right away, you will break yourself.
Instead, I’d suggest getting as close as you can to the center of whatever town you’re moving to. If you can find a place where you can actually walk to places, that’s great. If not, at least make sure the nearest supermarket is less than a 15-minute drive away. You’re used to being around people, and if you’re suddenly in a situation in which you spend entire days seeing no faces but those of your immediate family members, it’s easy to fall into a deep depression.
At the same time, beauty matters. Don’t settle down in a place across the street from a strip mall just because it feels slightly more urban than that cabin in the woods. Exurban grimness is not your friend. Instead, find someplace that will let you bask in the beauty of your new landscape—the mountains or cornfields or sand dunes or whatever—when you look out your window in the morning. It’ll make you feel better.
Be advised: Renting in a small town is way different than renting in a big city. You are way less likely to end up with a slumlord and way more likely to find somebody who doesn’t own any other properties. It’s not out of the question that your landlord will randomly show up with a lawnmower, cut your grass for free, and tell you to have a great day. People in small towns can be really nice like that. They are also, however, way more likely to decide that they want to sell your house and that they won’t be re-upping your lease. Plus you won’t have anywhere near as many options as you’d have in a bigger city.
So maybe you want to buy instead? If you’ve spent your entire adult life renting apartments, it can be hard to wrap your mind around the idea that an entire house could be yours, but there’s a good chance that it can, and maybe that’s a better idea. Think about it, anyway. Buying a house is a terrifying prospect, but there are distinct advantages. (The whole house-buying process is way too elaborate to get into here, but people do it all the time. It’s not impossible.)
Those magical big-city nights where you’re with one group of friends and you run into another and you all end up plastered at some bar you never heard of, and soon you’re hanging out at some B-list celebrity’s condo, smoking weed out of an eight-foot bong? Those don’t happen in small towns. (Or, in any case, they haven’t happened to me yet.) And even though cities have reputations for unfriendliness or fakery, it can be harder to meet good people in a smaller city. You’re drawing from a smaller pool, and you’ve got to overcome that weird new-in-town shyness. It’ll take some doing, but you can find yourself a good crew.
For one thing, if you already know anyone in the town you’re moving to, reach out. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend from middle school or your cousin or someone you met that one time when he came to visit a co-worker and you had a couple of beers together. Call them, email them, friend them on Facebook. Even if you don’t click immediately, people you already know, even slightly, are your lifelines. If you’ve got friends who have friends in those towns, that’s good, too. Follow through on that. Don’t waste your time worrying that it might be weird. Maybe it will be, but you need to hang out with someone, and your city friends will goddamn sure not be coming to visit you.
It’s best to get over any kind of awkwardness fears. It’s fine to make friends with the parents of your kids’ friends, or to hang out with that one guy from work who says that you should get beers sometime but doesn’t seem to mean it. He probably really does mean it. People in small towns tend to mean what they say. And don’t be a snob. If someone seems nice but talks about gardening or prog rock all the time, then it doesn’t matter how much you don’t care about gardening or prog rock. Maybe you haven’t given enough of a chance to gardening or prog rock. Or maybe you can just talk about other things. You are, after all, an adult, and there’s always sports.
(As for dating, I can’t tell you anything about that. I was married when I moved here. So that’s my advice: Be married already when you move to a smaller town.)
You are probably not going to find amazing Ethiopian or Southern Indian or Brazilian food in your new town. Maybe there’s, like, one pretty good farm-to-table restaurant in town and a couple of acceptable Chinese takeout spots. Learn to like them. You know what’s pretty fucking good? Outback Steakhouse. There’s a good chance you have it. Stop whining and enjoy it.
And don’t tell people about how much better food was in the city where you used to live. Nobody wants to hear that shit. Here in Charlottesville, Va., where I live now (and where the restaurants are actually pretty great), there’s this local bagel chain that everyone loves. People always tell me that the bagels from this place are better than New York bagels. They’re not. They’re not close. But I don’t argue with those people. If everyone in town is happy with something, don’t be the one guy shitting on it. And those bagels, from that local chain? They’re not bad. I like them now.
Lots of people have lived in cities. If you blow into town thinking you’ll be a king there because you have several TV personalities’ numbers in your phone, think again. Look: Asshole are assholes everywhere, and people in small towns can tell when you’re being an asshole just as well as people in big cities can. Sometimes, they’ll figure it out quicker. So don’t be an asshole.
Do you know how cheap smaller towns are? It’s the best. It’s fucking great. If you’re lucky enough to make big-city money while living in a small town, count your blessings every day. You don’t have to live in a shitbox apartment, you can maybe own more than one motorized vehicle, and you won’t have to teach your kids not to step on needles. So stop worrying that some cool band isn’t coming to town or that you have to order your clothes on the internet now. Your life in a small town won’t be the same as your life in a big city. But maybe, if you approach the whole enterprise right, it can be better.
Tom Breihan is the senior editor at Stereogum; he’s written for Pitchfork, the Village Voice, GQ, Grantland, and the Classical. He is tall, and on Twitter.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
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