How Much Does Where You Live Matter?

About once a week, I go through a complete existential panic about where I am living.
Publish date:
November 15, 2011
home, existential crisis, moving

If you asked me to describe my ideal place to live, I’d say somewhere warm and sunny, with open-minded people and good food. I spent most of my 20s searching the world for such a place and now I live in Holland. The Netherlands are dank and cold for most of the year, the people are relatively conservative and difficult to befriend and major food groups are mashed potatoes and what appears and tastes like fried stew-flavored baby food. About once a week, I go through a complete existential panic about where I am living. I am hyper-aware that if I have children here, something I very much hope to do in the coming years, then I would be for all intents and purposes stuck here for good, permanently tethered to the place at least until my kid turned 18. I have a background of nonattachment to places. Rather, I have a background of looking for more in a place then it is physically capable of providing.I’ve lived in Chicago, Olympia, WA, Tucson, Washington DC, New York and Portland and left them all. I’ve checked out Austin, Santa Barbara, Boston and Santa Fe as possibly fulfilling places to live out my days and all came up short. And those are just the places in the US I’ve tried. I’ve moved to Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, and London. I flirted with living in Poland, Morrocco, Bali, Prague and Greek Cyprus. When I didn’t like Greek Cyprus, I walked through the bullet-marked border into Turkish Cyprus. Somewhere along the line, moving became the answer to all of my questions. Choosing just one place felt like abandoning all of the other options.

I was still at the age when I could move a million times and not be concerned with the passage of time. No destination was too far-flung when looking for the place that would feel suddenly like home.

I don’t have that luxury anymore. I wish it weren’t true, and I never expected it but 30 hit me like a ton of bricks and my life and finding my place has suddenly taken on more urgency. The wandering, which was always regarded as interesting, is starting to smell like avoidance as I age.Mostly, I am afraid of being left behind by time, of waking up one day an untethered old woman, wondering where the time went and what I’ve done with it, always looking but never really living with no family, no friends, no home. Somewhere along the line, I already realized that it was never going to happen that way, the sudden magic of “finding my place.” It should have been obvious far sooner. Looking back on my thousands of experiences, it was the places I’d least expected to find contentment (like Tucson where I moved once for an archeology internship) that actually gave me some of my greatest fulfillment. It was about feeling inspired, about people giving me opportunities, about great conversations and personal growth. For someone so used to moving, it is a difficult lesson. I hope if I stay put I will find those things again here. I say it forcefully in my mind sometimes, trying to stamp it into my brain: ”I am here. In the Netherlands.” But soon it flies away like salt being blown off of a table. And I start to think, “Where else?”

It is hard to try to make do with what I’ve got when there is a big world out there. I look at maps. I Google flights and come up kind of empty. For now I will stay and try and hope that I do not regret. Where are you? Are you happy about it or doesn’t it matter? What do you need in a place?