This week, I got to stay a little closer to home to teach, just a mile down the road to be specific. Although I’ve lived in Orrington since 2015, counting last night, I’ve maybe stepped foot into my local library a half dozen times. Honestly, I haven’t engaged with the town I live in much, including interacting with my own neighbors.
The reason is not because I’m a hermit who chose to live in the woods to avoid all human contact. Orrington and other small towns in the area, are bedroom communities for Bangor. Because housing is expensive and difficult to find “in town,” many people will live in the surrounding towns and commute into the city for school, work, and pretty much everything else. By living in Orrington, I have a half hour commute into Bangor and a beautiful, affordable townhouse.
Is it the ideal situation? To be honest, no, but I can’t really afford to change it. For all intents and purposes, I live in the middle of nowhere. This is a question I’ve been dealing with lately. Since the AmeriCorps Conference, to be specific. Our keynote speaker was from the organization “Live and Work in Maine.” His presentation discussed the topic of what people are looking for in a place they choose to live in, with a plea for young people to stay in rural Maine.
What I’m looking for in a community are not things that the place I currently live in offer. I’d like to live in a “walkable” community with everything I need at my fingertips. Although I have a car, reliable public transportation would be ideal. Since I take pride in my home and its appearance, I’d gladly participate in a HOA.
For my entertainment, I’d like to have an active arts and culture scene. Some of my favorite hangouts include theatres, bookstores, ethnic restaurants, and cafes. I’d also like my neighbors to be a diverse group of young professionals like myself who are welcoming to newcomers.
I’m a fairly well-traveled person, so I do have some ideas as to where I’d like to live. I know I wouldn’t want to live in a large city like New York, because it’s too crowded. I found that out when I went there on my senior trip and returned with a whole new appreciation for my hometown. But that doesn’t exclude all major cities.
I fell in love with Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN when I stayed there with my aunt the summer after college, it has since earned the honor of being the “best” place to live. I also enjoyed Raleigh-Durham, NC when I visited family there in middle school. Not much has changed since it’s now the second “best” place to live. In high school, I attended a National Honor Society convention in Salt Lake City, UT and took full advantage of their excellent public transportation system. I’d even be willing to stay in Maine, with the greater Portland area topping the list of my preferred destinations.
So, what’s stopping me from making this move? After all, I’m a young single who doesn’t have a family to uproot. The answer is not really that simple. My colleague asked me this question during my presentation and it’s been gnawing at me since. I usually try not to let anything he says bother me because he is a stereotypical mansplainer who likes to hear himself talk, but this time he had a point.
He remarked that if I were to drive just four hours south to Boston, I’d have a great, high-paying job at a tech company instead of the gigs that barely keep my head above water here. I explained to him in my answer that different people have different priorities, which is the truth. I know that I’d never want to live in Boston or somewhere similar, but sometimes wonder if I’m limiting myself in that way.
When my ex first accepted a job offer in Montreal, I told him to go on his own to see if he’d like it before I move there with him. He didn’t speak a word of French, so I expected him to come crawling back after a month. Nearly two years later, he’s still there and has a career as a software engineer successful enough to allow his new wife to be a stay-at-home mom. As you can imagine, I often wonder if I would’ve gotten used to living in the big city and had a better life as a result of going with him.
So, why didn’t I? Or, why, as an independent career woman, do I not make this move on my own? First, I do have student loans and other debt to pay off. In order to take care of this, along with moving expenses, I do need at least an employment offer in hand. The catch-22 here is that most companies prefer to hire local candidates. Despite this, I continue to apply for work in hopes that something will happen.
Second, I’m an only child with aging parents. For as along as they’re living, I need to be within a reasonable traveling distance of them. At the moment, I’m a four hour drive away from them, which is manageable, if they do need me. Since I left home for college, they’ve both had health scares that have reinforced the need for me to stay close. My extended family members love to give me guilt trips to remind me of this any chance they get, despite moving thousands of miles from their own parents (who are now deceased) when they left home.
I know what you’re thinking, “Stop blaming everyone but yourself for not taking steps to improve your life. After all, your ex abandoned your family for a job offer in a major city with no regrets and he’s doing better than he ever would have if he stayed with you.” Yes, but women tend to be more “family-oriented” and prone to guilt to begin with, so these factors affect our decisions more.
So, the answer to where I want to live is where I can find work and live comfortably while fulfilling all of my responsibilities to myself and others. I encourage others to do the same level of self-examination before loading up the U-Haul and hitting the road. It’s the most responsible thing people can do for themselves, their families, and the communities they choose to belong to.