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Settling on the location of ‘home’

November 24, 2018

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hello, Carolyn:

My husband and I are at a crossroads, trying to decide between staying in our current city, near his family and where we have established friends, or moving back to where I am from originally. We would be closer to my parents and in a (hopefully) better job market.

We are both torn by the decision. My siblings and friends no longer live in that city so we would be starting over in many ways. There will always be reasons to stay here and always reasons to leave.

Any advice on how to make the decision and when to know it is right? Sometimes I feel if we don’t move now we never will, even though I know that’s not necessarily true, but each year we are more ingrained in our lives here. I have applied your advice about making the decision and living with that for a while to see how it feels, but I still feel so torn.

-- Moving Cities

So, by my count, the only reason to move is the possibly better job market? You’d gain proximity to your parents, yes, but lose proximity to his people, so there’s no net gain for you as a couple as far as family.

Is the chance of a better job worth all this angst?

Or is this really about your preference for your family over his? And if so, is he OK with that?

Maybe you’re clear about what you ultimately want, but your letter isn’t. And if the letter is a reflection of your state of mind, then it makes perfect sense that you don’t know where to live.

So, stay right where you are and go back a few steps in your thinking. Not this place vs. that place, but, “what do I actually want?” Suggest the same exercise to your husband.

You have to know your priorities to know how best to serve them.

Built into the process of setting priorities is acceptance that you won’t get everything; you can’t be near both your family and his, so which do you prefer? You can’t both maximize your career potential and remain near your established friends, so which matters more to you?

Plus, any decision needs to include as broad a vision as possible, to minimize unintended consequences. A job-market upgrade can mean a higher cost of living; family proximity changes the calculus of major illness; culture and climate can dictate how you feel, whom you meet and where you spend your time -- doing what. “Home” is a simple feeling that comprises more variables than we know.

If you cite the job market because you’re struggling financially, to the point it’s wearing on you, then skip the introspection and just apply for jobs in your parents’ city. Give yourselves an actual point of comparison.

And, don’t be so quick to backpedal on this: “Sometimes I feel if we don’t move now we never will.” There’s a lot of truth to it. Ask anyone who planned to move “soon” and now has, say, responsibility for an ailing nearby relative or a kid who just started high school: The longer you stay, the more connections you form, and the harder it gets to leave.

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