Miss Pearl: Can you learn to fall in love with a place?

moving box closeup

"Miss Pearl" is AOA's advice columnist. She offers advice here now and then. Got a question for Miss Pearl? Send it along to MissPearl |at| alloveralbany |dot| com.

Dear Miss Pearl:

I realize this makes me sound like an asshole, but whatever, it's how I feel. So, here it goes: I don't like living here. I want to. But I don't.

I moved here about a year and a half ago from a another city for my job. (I don't want to get too specific about the city or my job. It was a big city, much bigger than Albany, on one of the coasts, let's just put it that way.) I didn't know much about the Albany area. I had been here a few times for work. But the job was a promotion, so I took it. And the job has been good. I like my work life. And considering how much cheaper it is here, the financial part has also been good.

It's just the rest of my life here is not good. I wasn't sure for a while why I didn't like it here, but I think living here feels like I've settled for some place less than where I've lived before. I know I shouldn't do this, but I just can't stop myself from comparing stuff here to where I used to live. My neighborhood. Restaurants. Events. Everything here just seems small and sorta dull compared to where I was. I don't even know what to say about people being excited that Sonic is coming here...

I still have a lot of friends where I used to live, and every time I see a Facebook or Instagram from them about something there I get envious. Yeah, lame. I know.

It's not that I think Albany is bad. And I could see how maybe if you had kids this could be a good place to live. Maybe this just isn't the right place for me.

I don't want to change jobs, but I've been seriously thinking about it so I could move somewhere else.

So is there something I'm just missing about living here? Can you make yourself fall in love with a place? I would settle for falling in like.

-Boxes Packed

Dear Boxes Packed:

There are times you just aren't going to like a place no matter what you do. Sometimes you just have a vague subconscious reaction to the vibe walking down a street. I worked in Saratoga Springs for a while, and no matter how many individual things I may have liked about it, as a place, I don't fit in. So maybe it's a matter of finding a different neighborhood -- all of our local cities are so different from each other, I can't imagine you would dislike all of them. But it sounds like you dislike the whole region.

It's all relative. Albany, New York -- it's more exciting than Hartford, Connecticut. Aren't we better than Binghamton? At least as cool as Rochester?

I think we're up and coming. We have new places opening all the time, and I have friends who are making magic renovating old houses with real character in Troy. There's no traffic. There aren't people yelling racist or religious diatribes or anything at all outside our window at all hours of the night. The airport isn't far. It's a perfectly fine backdrop against which to build one's life. It's about finding a niche -- friends, a relationship, the places you love to frequent. Once you find that, perhaps you won't miss your old life as much.

Also, nostalgia is a very strong force. I'm sure you didn't think the place you previously lived was perfect while you lived there.

When I graduated from college I wanted to move to LA, NYC, Paris, Prague -- anywhere -- to waitress and live in an apartment with very little furnishings. And now, after experiencing some difficult situations, I've gotten to a point where I am perfectly happy to live out my ordinary adult life.

It's easy to think if we only get up and move to some other place we'll be entirely more interesting versions of ourselves.

Sometimes you want to explore historic ruins as old as time and frequent places where you can't even begin to understand the language, and other times you're just happy to have all your laundry done. It's easy to think if we only get up and move to some other place we'll be entirely more interesting versions of ourselves. I go on trips and imagine what it would be like to live there. Who would we be if we lived in Boston, DC, or Portland, Maine?

After college, when I left my white bread suburb to live in a colorful Brooklyn neighborhood filled with Caribbean people and Hasidic Jews, I'd turn up my Kelly Clarkson CD while I decorated my apartment with my purchases from the Pier 1 Imports on the Upper East Side. I had moved to escape everything I deemed dull and small from my upbringing, and all I did was bring the suburbs to the city. You can't escape yourself.

I had moved to escape everything I deemed dull and small from my upbringing, and all I did was bring the suburbs to the city. You can't escape yourself.

For me, there are things I have found in this area that I would be legitimately sad to imagine my life without. I'd miss weekend scenic drives to darling Hudson Valley towns, exploring the Dove & Hudson bookstore, and eating brunch at the Iron Gate. The Troy Farmers' Market has such a fabulous selection of delicious products as well as so many cool people to chat with. I think New World Bistro would be a find anywhere. We may not have an Anthropologie, but we have Anchor No. 5, the Fort Orange General Store, and Elissa Halloran. There's not much that's more fun for me than taking out all the hot sauces on the tables at Mexican Radio and sampling each of them. And if I had never lived here, I would have never discovered the Finger Lakes as a peaceful, beautiful, and convenient vacation spot, and imagining that just breaks my heart.

All that, and there are friendly, interesting people all over the region who truly care about making things better.

It's been six years now since my husband and I moved here from NYC. This year I've spent more time back there for work. I like when people mistake me for someone who lives there. I get a secret thrill from knowing how to navigate such a crazy place without having to think about it at all.

But when I think about the time that has passed, what our life would have been like if we stayed in the city (fabulous friends, going out to expensive bars so often, increased job competition), I don't feel sad or somehow inferior. I think about how it felt like the heaviest step I would ever take plopping onto the Amtrak platform in Rensselaer that day, the sun streaking across the Hudson River, the cabbie telling me how much more space I would have, getting lost and ending up at the corrections training academy out toward Slingerlands, my husband unpacking glasses carefully and ordering pizza, and everything that came after. I think about all we would have missed if we hadn't moved here.

It's your life, every bit of it, and it's up to you to create the best life you can no matter where you are.

-Miss Pearl
____

Miss Pearl is Ms. Emily Lemieux. She makes a living taking care of artwork and often imagines her friends as a Real Housewives franchise.

Got a question for Miss Pearl? Send it along to MissPearl |at| alloveralbany |dot| com.

More Miss Pearl:
+ What should I do about the neighbors who don't shovel their sidewalk?
+ Who you calling honey, sugar?
+ An eye toward Bethlehem, and not feeling friendly

Comments

No place can be everything to everyone. Boxes Packed focused entirely on urban life, and while there's a diversity of urban living in the capitol district, it's not and never will be L.A. Much of what makes the area special is the suburban and rural experience and public natural resources. If that stuff isn't really your thing, you're not an asshole, you just have personal tastes that don't mesh well with the region.

That said, you do have to put in effort to like this area. It doesn't come to you; for better or worse, you have to seek it out. And that's not for everyone either.

And I'm with Boxes Packed, the interest in pedestrian food, and preciousness of the local food culture in general, is depressing. But again, it comes with the territory and there's a lot to get excited about beyond Sonic and Trader Joes, seek and ye shall dine.

I too moved here about a dozen years ago from a much "cooler" place and I still am not in love with upstate New York. There are things I think are great and the group of people I finally (! - man are you a hard lot to get to know) surround myself with are fantastic. But the Capital Region as a whole - eh. I can take or leave it.

But I stay partly because I finally just took leaving off the table. Because where I came from before wasn't perfect either. Or the place before that. Or the place before that. I have lived enough places to realized they all are a bit boring some days and less than what I want to have to go find for myself - so here has to be okay for me in order to move forward.

I would encourage Boxes Packed to take the idea of leaving entirely off the table for 1 year and see what happens. Anything is bearable for a year if you decide to be really present in the here and now.

An ex-girlfriend begged me to move with her to Ithaca - she said it was "so cool!". Instead, I met another woman and we moved to Schoharie. We agreed that anyone can be cool in Ithaca (insert L.A., NYC, etc.), but it takes a real cool person to be cool in Schoharie. I guess my point is, its not always where you are, but who you are, that matters most.

It's hard when you don't like where you live. I left upstate NY after graduating from Syracuse University in 1994. I lived in New Jersey (various cities 1994-1997). I lived in Brooklyn (two different parts 1998-2002). I lived in Seattle (2002-2007). Then I had to move back here when I got seriously ill, disabled and unable to work or live independently. I moved home to live with my mother who had made her life here, from the time we moved here in 1986.

My mother's mantra is "grow where you're planted." She found things she loved doing and places she loved going and she made a good life for herself here. The most important thing to her was that living here was affordable and allowed her to buy a home and save money for retirement - all while enjoying a good life.

When I had to leave Seattle I thought my life was over and I could not imagine living with my illness and disability. Having to come back to the one place never wanted to be was a big part of it. It took some adjusting, to say the very least and it was more difficult to meet people, make friends, and find things to do that interested me due to my circumstances. It took time and effort, but I did manage to make it work. Of course I didn't have the option of leaving, like the writer of this letter.

I was officially diagnosed at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC. My mom and I took a few trip to New York City and I also visited friends in New Jersey and on Long Island. I walked the Brooklyn Bridge (which I never did while I lived in Brooklyn), I walked the High Line (which didn't exist when I lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan). I saw the Klimt exhibit at the Neue Galerie and the Who Shot Rock and Roll exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. The Amtrak ride to the city is relatively easy and inexpensive (though Penn Station is one of my least favorite places in NYC).

I joined Meetup groups here. I made some friends. It was hard to keep friendships going - people are busy and have work and interests that I am not able to engage in (drinking alcohol, dancing, hiking, biking, etc.). I made one friend and she moved to Seattle. I made another friend and she moved to Brooklyn. I pretty much gave up and worked on nurturing my existing friendships (despite most of my friends living in Seattle, New Jersey, Brooklyn, or other places in the country).

Every two years I took a vacation to Seattle. I used the library here A LOT and found sites like AOA that let me know what was going on that might interest me. I went to some concerts at the Upstate Concert Hall and the Egg. I've seen a good number of films at Spectrum 8, one of my all time favorite theaters since I was in HS at Albany High in the late '80s. I found restaurants like New World Bistro and Mingle for special occasions.

I miss Seattle a great deal, still, but it is not the city it was when I left. Even if I well and able to work, it is not a place I could afford to live now. I couldn't afford to live in NYC when I did (but did anyway) and now it's totally unattainable. If I had had to leave Seattle due to not being able to afford to live there (rather than a progressive, degenerative neuromuscular disease) I'd have been even angrier and sadder. Where would I have ended up? I have no idea. Portland, OR is even too expensive a place to move to now.

If money is not a problem for you and you can easily get another job somewhere else, where you believe you would be happier living, then if I were you I would move. Life is too short, with too many uncertainties to remain somewhere you are miserable if you are healthy and have the financial means to do so.

If, however, money is an issue, and you have a good job here that you might not be able to get somewhere else, if I were you I would work on trying to make a life here that works for you. As Miss Pearl said "It's your life, every bit of it, and it's up to you to create the best life you can no matter where you are."
Or as my mom says, "grow where you're planted."

Good luck to you. I truly believe if you sit, quietly, and listen to yourself, what you truly want and truly need, you already know the answer as to whether or not you should move. (I mean, you did sign your letter, Boxes Packed).

Boxes Packed,

I understand where your head is, and as a transplant from Boston by way of several years in Seattle, I am here to tell you that there is hope. If you want to, you can fall in love with upstate NY, and the capital district. I promise, I have lived it.

First, you need to really try. Maybe give yourself a year to go balls-to-the-wall and really make a dedicated effort. If you just can't after 12 months, then think about moving on, but this is a place that takes effort. Albany/Capital District are not going to greet you at your doorstop like NYC will, you need to look for things. But they are there. Try, and don't just resign yourself to being one of the people here who only complains without doing the work to make your second home feel like home (the complainers are the worst!).

Also, ignore the people who are celebrating the arrival of Sonic, or lamenting that we don't have a Crate&Barrel, that choir is little sad, and will just make you frustrated. Tune it out as part of the cacophony of weirdness that exists in any metropolis, no matter how small.

For me, I became enamored with this place by learning some of the local history, there are a million interesting sites and stories. Upstate NY has a mystique unparalleled to me because of the magic of Washington Irving, Herman Melville, the Catskill mountains, and the Mohawk River. Read local history, learn what lies beneath, it may help you develop a sense of pride about your backyard.

And go do things that your old city didn't offer. It was probably not easy to get into the woods and see a waterfall where you're from. But it's very easy here. We have about 4 mountain ranges around us, and 2 major rivers. Rivers + Mountains = waterfalls, they are everywhere. Waterfalls are good for the soul, that's objective fact!

There are a million historic sites, places to hike, little towns to drive to. This is one of my favorite blogs to master your Capital District weekends:

http://capitaldistrictny.tumblr.com/

Best of luck!

I was born and raised in a Western NY city mentioned in this post, and I often get defensive whenever someone slams it as being dangerous or lame or boring. My philosophy was that if you don’t like where you live, then move. If you can’t move, then help make it better. I’ve learned to mellow out a bit.

I currently split my week between the Capital Region and a much larger city about 6 hours south for work. Soon, I won’t be a New Yorker anymore and there are definitely things I will miss about this region – too many to list here.

All of this to say, ‘Thank You,’ to Miss Pearl, AOA, and Boxes Packed for a civil and realistic conversation about this topic without resorting to listicles and animated GIFs.

It's already been mentioned but I would suggest Meetup.com groups around the area and just following this site (AOA). There are a lot of fun, open-minded, welcoming people in this area and I think it's the people that really make an experience - no matter where you live.

I just ended up here after college when my college roomie went to grad school and I tagged along since I had no other plan. I always liked living downtown, loved the history and old brownstones and I liked seeing the city evolve into what it is now (better restaurants, night life, wider variety of people) I used to take it personally or be annoyed when people criticized Albany's smallness. In the past few months, however, I've had a major shift in my thinking (triggered by non- Albany related things) and don't quite feel the same way about the area as I used to. The thought of moving crosses my mind. My opinion is that, unless you are writing this from prison or you are a tree, move. Life is short. The world is big. If the area ain't working for you, no need to overanalyze--just make a plan and move.

Boxes Packed: You've been here for well over a year and it seems like you do WANT to like it here. But you don't, so to me it looks like this area isn't a good fit for you. And that's completely fine. My suggestion is to move on to a place that has more of what you're looking for. It seems like your gut is telling you to move. And I've learned that you gotta go with your gut feeling in life.

PS. Does this have anything to do with the lack of bike lanes?

Sorry Miss Pearl, Hartford has it's faults, but being less exciting than Albany is not one of them.

This is a great post. And the comments are great too.

This is such an important subject. It's worthy of much discussion. But I'll keep it brief.

I'm native to the area. I was born in Schenectady, and lived there until 15 years ago when I moved into the city of Albany. I'm now 48.

I've often had big city envy. I love to spend time in New York. I drive down and spend a night or two, or three, at least twice a year. I've always dreamed of living in NY.

I don't begrudge him/her one bit. Albany is a great place to live. I like it here. A lot. But to suggest it can compete with large cities is delusional. There's a thousand things that make the Capital Region special. But it's not NY, or San Francisco, or Chicago and it just cannot compete with cities of that size.

One last thing; I'm perplexed why Boxes Packed won't name the city he/she is from. That is not cool. One is hardly revealing one's identity by declaring "I'm from Los Angeles". What the hell does Boxes Packed think they're hiding by not revealing the city they're from? That info is valuable to the discussion.

Dear Boxes Packed,

With all due respect, I believe that you may be missing the point.

The CapitAl Region (Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and the interstitial suburbs) ARE behind the times and "boring" in comparison to the larger cities. Too many of the people born and raised here accept mediocrity, because they have never experienced anything better on a consistent basis (barbers, Italian restaurants, blah blah). That is to be expected.

But there are incremental changes afoot, even with regard to such superficial metrics (barbers, Italian restaurants, etc.). The place is getting better.

But that's still not the point.

This place gives you space. Literally, it gives you more living space, for much less money (work input/time). There are fewer people, so you actually have more space within which to operate. You waste less time navigating hazards caused by overpopulation, on a day-to-day basis (commuting), and this is usually a net-positive situation.

Perhaps you are still fairly young (under....ouch....35)? In which case, if you are still in your 20s and you "need" the stimulation of NYC, SF, or Seattle, then GO! Get gone, now!

For some people who have already gone through that stage of life in a more exciting city, a smaller city like Albany/Troy/Schenectady adequately meets the basic needs. It is not a compromise. It is a conscious decision to live in a slower, less-stressful place.

Truthfully, this can be a depressing place. The weather is awful. It sucks for six months a year! Many of the people here are "provincial" and boring. Such as it is.

One of the other commenters had it right. Ignore the losers who excitedly wait for the new Sonic.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the lower population density forces people to actually look around. In a place like NYC, there are just too many people to keep track of. The Capital Region gives one time to see (the same) people on a more human scale. On a percentage basis, there are just as many interesting people here in the Capital Region as there are in New York City. Just do the math.

The secret to enjoying this area, in my opinion, is that you have to explore the periphery. Walk around weird corners of Troy or Albany and explore. Go on daytrips into the countryside. Go 1 or 1.5 hours in any compass direction, on any given weekend. Take a hike, go to a museum, etc. And, try not go to NYC more than once every 6-8 weeks.

Give it another year! It's not so bad.

Move. Do it sooner than later. Later being when you are kind of stuck because of kids, a mortgage on a house losing value, and your lucrative job being a pair of golden handcuffs. You can find another job, maybe not as good, but good enough. It seems to me that you have taken a psychological inventory of what you need and the Capital Region does not provide it. Proximity to the country, more space, the cultural heritage may not be your thing. As with loving anything or anyone, it shouldn't have to be that much work to fall in love and stay in love. Time to move on.

Take advantage of the lower cost of living locally- save up sufficient $ to give you the financial buffer needed to go wherever you wish with less pressure.

What a thoughtful discussion...while I love living here I can totally see how small city livin' isn't for everyone. I agree with the above commentors. Life is too short to be unhappy. You have to accept that it is what it is and if it ain't for you then move on.

Go back to where you enjoyed life. When your life requires something else, then change. You seem to have only changed for the money - not worth it. Safe travels.

I moved here six years ago for my husband's job and "Boxes Packed" aptly described how I feel. I have found that the people who love it here tend to have large networks of family in the area. Sometimes it is tough to find a new job that would enable one to relocate, but I hope "Boxes Packed" has the opportunity to move on. I am hopeful I will be able to go to a better place for me as soon as possible, but for those who love the Capital Region, I respect and appreciate that it is their home. I think the Capital Region is like a distinctive food-- you either like the flavor or you don't. To follow that thought, if the anchovies are perfectly fine but they aren't my thing and never will be, then they are best left for those who truly enjoy them-- same as the Capital Region.

It is possessible... For me it happened a few weeks ago, watching my kids play in the spring sunshine in Washington Park and thinking about how this city and its people are helping me heal.

I don't think you'll "fall in love" with Albany unless and until you have found the people/job/activities etc. that make you happy, and that would make you happy no matter where you were living. Put me in a city with the *most* beautiful architecture/friendliest people/most beautiful landscapes/best nightlife in the country (etc.), but if I dislike my job, and don't have great people to experience that life and city with, I might just find that "fabulous" city to be nothing more than a cluster forgettable buildings; faceless strangers; blurs of browns, grays, and greens, and unbearable drunks.

But, Cabs.

Dear Boxes Packed: I tried living in a small city in the south for seven years and I just kept getting more and more depressed. So I agree with the people who say "move!". If the place is not a good fit, it's just not a good fit. No harm, no foul.

I also had an experience in Orlando that made me think. Orlando looks horrible if you just drive around. Once you're outside the "attractions" area it just all strip malls and crappy chain corporate food, with gated communities. That is what it looks like until you meet great people who take you to great restaurants and help you start learning the good places . Then Orlando is great.

So you really don't need to feel like an asshole either way. I've lived around here for more than 30 years and I still don't feel like I've adequately explored the natural beauty or all the fun things to do inside - I have a long list of restaurants I still want to try!!! Living in a large city would make me depressed beyond belief, but living where there are about a zillion cute little towns evenly dispersed across the landscape is exactly what I love.

I'm a day trip junkie. You're obviously not.

That doesn't make me a provincial weenie or you a jerk. Go for what you love and don't look back.

We completely understand & AGREE with boxes packed. We moved here 15 yrs ago because of the schools, which were great for our children. But, we have simply given up on loving this area. Here's how we fell in like; maybe this will help - we go to the events listed on AOA's Stuff To Do page. Always have a great time and glad we went. (We're going to see Hamlet this week which we would not have thought of doing w/o AOA.) We volunteer. Seriously, volunteering is important. It helps put down roots. We also watched how people that are generation Albanians live. Seems like everyone has a weekend house or campground. We go away on the weekends as much as possible. And, we keep travelling. Whenever we feel like we can't stand another day in the CR, we take the train or a bus trip (there is always a club or bus company going) to NYC for the day that has a few extra seats on the bus. It's also really easy to take a flight to Myrtle Beach SC from the Albany Airport. I have another coworker that is racking up miles on her car - she drives to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire 3 weekends a month.

If you like your job and your coworkers you're 3/4 the way there. Now start liking how you spend your leisure time and less time thinking about your hometown. That's how we shifted our thoughts and it has made all the difference.

Worse for me than not liking living here in Albany is living here and really wanting to like it. The city has such incredible potential. Perfect size, INCREDIBLE architecture, access to rural areas. Cities need not be large to be great, in fact the Romans felt a city of 30,000 was the perfect size to function and give all the citizens what they need to have a great life. What kills me about Albany, and I've been here nearly14 years, is that every time I see something starting to improve and I get excited, I am usually let down. Case in point is the Park South development. I envisioned a little Village where daily activities of life would occur in a small to mid size city setting and what do I get? A strip mall with HULKING garages! WTF! I look forward to the New Convention Center and Hotel, but I just know it will be as empty as the Empire State Plaza after 5 PM. Having said that I am learning to love some things about the area...beautiful airport and train station with ease of use to get to SOME places. Little real traffic. Some incredible loving and caring friends. I can drop my daughter at school and pick her up, which if I lived in a large Metropolis I could never do. I enjoy Thatcher Park and Five Rivers and cool Albany places like the Wine Bar on Lark or the Speakeasy under the City Beer Hall or Wolf's Beer Garden the Egg or The Palace Theater to name a few. It is sad to live your life in doubt but you only have one life and either you change or you move, because, sad to say, this place isn't going to get much better:(

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