Home Is Where Your People Are

July 24, 2018

Back in May I was sitting in a coffee shop feeling glum. I clearly wasn’t settling into my new home. The friends I had come to to live nearer to weren’t all that excited about it. Everything around me was in a weird language I didn’t understand. I was down and out, and in a fit of desperation I asked some random English-speakers why they lived here.

“Well, it’s cheap, and it’s a part of the world we probably wouldn’t get to see otherwise.”

It wasn’t exactly the inspiration I was hoping for, but it struck a chord. Ostensibly those were the reasons I was here too. It’s inexpensive, and there is some romance in living abroad—especially somewhere out of the way like Lithuania.

Without a further word, I composed a letter to my landlord, informing him of my early termination of my lease. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but the opportunity costs of staying here were way too high.

And then somehow, overnight, my complaints about living here went away. The knowledge that all this wasn’t permanent was a weight off of my soul. All of a sudden I was making friends everywhere I went. I was going on dates. My reptile brain realized that everyone speaks English anyway. There was beauty everywhere around me that I had failed to notice. Things were looking up.

But now I was leaving.

I suspect things were looking up because I was leaving. I noticed the exact same thing in Denver—the two months before I left were by far my favorite times in the city. I don’t claim to have any real understanding of this phenomenon. But if I had to guess, I’d say that there is something about knowing I’m leaving that overrides my usual anxieties. The freedom to try things, and if they don’t work, be comfortable in knowing that “fuck it—I’m leaving anyway.”

That’s a freeing thought. It’s the permission to be bold and possibly make mistakes. And, as they1 say, fortune favors the bold. On one hand, I know that all of this is bullshit, that nobody actually cares if I make mistakes and don’t move away. But believing it’s all bullshit is not the same alieving it.

Today I’m sitting in that same coffee shop, reflecting back on the mistakes I made when moving to a new city. Maybe if I write it down I won’t make them again.

1) When I first got to town, I was so exhausted by being social that I doubled down on my personal projects. I didn’t go out much. I didn’t meet a lot of people. While this was a great way to get things done, it wasn’t a very good way to build contacts in my new city. At the time it felt great; I didn’t need the social contact, so I didn’t seek it out.

This is, however, a poor long-term strategy. Like most things in life, it’s better to build a social circle before it’s absolutely necessary for survival. “Drink water before you’re thirsty.” I knew I was being unwise at the time, but I couldn’t be fucked to fix the situation. In retrospect, this was probably a defense mechanism.

2) I started taking Lithuanian language classes when I moved to town. This was good for getting some understanding about what was going on around me, but I took it too far. I tried to conduct all of my business in Lithuanian, and was more or less successful. Except that my Lithuanian was so bad that I restricted my conversations to things I could comfortably express. I began to shy away from meaningful conversations because I couldn’t have any. Which is stupid because everyone here speaks English anyway. After I realized this, I switched back to English, and things got much better almost immediately.

3) I hung out in antisocial places. A lot of my first few months were spent at the library. While it was technically out in public (which is good) it was not a place very amenable to making conversation with strangers (which is bad.) Cafes were a better idea.

4) Meeting lots of foreigners. I more or less subsisted on foreigners to keep me socially alive. I’d meet them at hostels, or on pub crawls, or through other cool foreigners. The problem with foreigners is that most of them leave before long. My two closest friends were foreigners, and they left. While it was great knowing them, it sort of feels like a wasted investment.

There are other mistakes I made, but most of them are variations on these themes.

It’s becoming overwhelmingly evident that home is where your people are. I think this is the linchpin I’ve been missing as I thrash wildly and find the best place in Canada to live. These are, I now suspect, bad approaches. Neither optimizes for finding your people. Does it really matter how big the dating pool is somewhere if the people who live there are not people I want to date?

Anyway. Live and learn, I guess. Despite the tone of this post, my time in Vilnius has not been all bad. There have been a lot of good times, and I have met a lot of really cool people. At the end of the day though, it just didn’t feel like the highs balanced the lows. I’ll always look back fondly on my time here.

And it’s one hell of a conversation starter.

  1. My friend Austin.↩︎