Sometimes The Radical Decision is to Stay

I have had a whirlwind of a year—I moved in with my boyfriend, finished my Master’s thesis, graduated, adopted a dog, got engaged, and started wedding planning. In the midst of all this, we were talking about moving to another city, maybe Philadelphia, maybe elsewhere.

And I was up for it. Until I wasn’t.

When I moved to D.C. almost 7 years ago after college, I had the explicit intention of planting roots. In college, I had studied abroad twice, shaking up my life to live in Ghana and then Italy for five months each. It was wonderful, but left me feeling rootless when I returned—was I a Midwesterner? Or was I now a citizen of the world? Where was home? I yearned to feel settled. And I told myself I would probably only stay in D.C. for one or two years, then move on.

Seven years later, I’m still here.

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I thought I could plant roots that would blossom quickly into a beautiful, established foundation for my life. But even after a full year in D.C., I barely knew how to navigate a bike around the city, I had only a handful of distant friends, and I was working in a job I knew wasn’t permanent. I learned that roots could not be acquired spontaneously.

Roots take not only time and effort, but commitment. A 100-year-old tree does not move to a new state because it decides it prefers cold brew to rainwater. It stays. And I have already left one life behind in Indiana.

Whether this transience is spurred by valuing experiences over things, wanting to travel, job relocation, or other valid objectives, it’s not for me anymore. For me, the radical decision is to stay, to settle in deeply, to become an active member of my community.

The only problem? This seems to mean moving to the suburbs.

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This new Vox article explains how not having a “tribe” can lead to anxiety and depression. And that by separating ourselves into solitary houses in the ‘burbs that are only accessible by cars, we cut off friends and extended family. In most parts of this country, we don’t have public spaces where we can run into the people. When I was a kid, my parents had to drive me 30 minutes to get to my friend’s house. Go figure—I didn’t have many sleepovers.

That’s one of the reasons I prefer D.C. over Indiana. I haven’t owned a car in 7 years. And I feel confident that we can find a suburb somewhere nearby with an active community and farmers’ markets and public spaces. That’s way harder to come by in Indiana.

But it doesn’t have to be. It all depends on choices. My brother wants to buy a house only if it sits on at least 10 acres of land. He doesn’t want other people around. But what if those other people—the annoying, nagging, real life people—provide our best route to happiness?

Even without many gathering spaces (aside from church, which helps), many people in Indiana find a way to connect with others and create public space. My grandparents have lived in the same area for their entire lives, for over 80 years. My grandma used to bike 10 miles on the two-lane highway into town just because she felt like it. She is active in her church and volunteers to run the local polling station each election. She knows every family that owns each house surrounding her own, and, if they move, she can tell you the name of the son who is staying there until they find a buyer.

If even my grandmother can do it in the middle of the countryside, I think I can manage in a suburb. But it requires me to commit.

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Now I have family here—Joey’s family is from Maryland. Mother, brother, sister-in-law, uncles and aunts. We can drive an hour to see them on the weekends. That means more to me the older I get.

Maybe if we all start small, by getting to know our neighbors and creating more and more public space, we will find that our roots naturally take hold and we will grow more and more reluctant to rip them up.

Until next time,

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