What If You Just Moved and You Realize It Was a Mistake?

Cathy Goodwin explains the psychology of moving, when things go wrong.

Posted Aug 21, 2018

Bella’s intro: I just read an excellent new book about moving, that gets it right about what a big deal, psychologically, a move can be. Cathy Goodwin’s Making the Big Move: How to Transform Relocation into a Creative Life Transition (3rd edition) speaks to people of all marital and relationship statuses. I was happy to discover that Goodwin was great at recognizing the concerns of single people who are moving, so I asked her if she would write a guest post for “Living Single.” I’m grateful that she agreed. Regular readers may remember Cathy Goodwin from a previous guest post she wrote in 2016, “How hospitals do us wrong.” Even now, two years later, I am still hearing from people who appreciated what she said there.

Single, Just Moved, And Made A Mistake

Guest Post by Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.

You probably know that moving is one of the greatest stressors of modern life–right up there with losing a loved one or a job. But surprisingly few resources are available to help.

When you look for books on relocation, you’ll find lots of tips to help you pack a box. But for most people, the biggest challenge is how to pack up your life–especially if you’re single.

And the biggest expense isn’t the moving van. It’s discovering you don’t fit with your new home.

You spend hours on the phone with the people you left behind, pay a hefty bill for psychotherapy and plot ways to move back to where you started. You might even sabotage yourself at work till you finally get the message: “You made a mistake! Hit the rewind button!”

Here are 5 tips to help.

1. “Moving for Family” can be the best thing you ever did…or the worst.

My clients often begin a consultation with, “I want to live closer to my family.”

Typically, these people have always enjoyed vacation time with their extended families–parents, siblings, nephews and nieces. They assume that more time will be even better. But living nearby completely changes the relationship.

When you visit once a year, your time together becomes a special occasion. Your family and friends make room on their calendars to spend extra time with you.

When you live around the corner, they go back to being busy. Your favorite brother has activities scheduled every night of the week. Your nieces and nephews want to spend time with friends their own age.

Your relationship with the community changes too. When you’re the visitor from out of town, you’re invited to parties as a special guest. When you’re the solo person on the next block, you’re an extra who doesn’t fit neatly into an eight-person table.  

Even worse, you may not be able to duplicate your career in a new city. Even if you’re lucky enough to land a good job, you’ll find organizational culture varies from place to place. Anne, a single financial analyst, was dismayed to find she was expected to come in on Monday and share stories about her weekend...hopefully with a romantic interest to fuel the gossip mill.

Most likely you’ll be happiest in your new location when you’ve been fully responsible for the decision to move. When you’re reluctantly persuaded to make a move, you’ll often resent whoever persuaded you and you’ll be miserable.

You’ll know. Your friends will know. And all too often, your boss will know.

To avoid this mistake, take proactive steps to build your own life and make your own friendships when you move. Everybody helps you get settled the first few weeks. After that, you are on your own.

2. Expect to wait six months to three years to feel settled in your new home.

Ignore those chirpy people who say, “You’ll feel at home in no time.” Most likely you’ll need at least two years–sometimes more–to feel comfortable saying, “I live here.”

Cities, towns and regions differ widely even in the same country. Each location has its own unwritten rules and customs that you violate at your peril.  

At some point you may not even want to assimilate to your new home. Sometimes the culture will conflict with your own values and lifestyle. Even today, a single person can feel like an outsider in a family-oriented town.

You may be able to connect quickly when you belong to organizations with chapters in multiple locations–anything from a church to a Rotary Club to a college alumni association.  

Just don’t be surprised if your new group doesn’t resemble the one you left behind. I’ve belonged to college alumni groups in three cities. In one, I found good friends, a few of whom became close. In another, I enjoyed the people but we connected only at meetings. And in the third, I felt alienated and eventually dropped out.

3. Make short hops, not leaps, in your first year.

When you’re new in town, you’re fair game. Every professional organization, club, neighborhood group and leisure activity will recruit you. They’ll act like you’re a prize they’re trying to win.

As soon as you commit to a group—even a class—by paying dues or signing up for regular meetings, the game is over. You’re now a newcomer who has to prove you deserve to be included.

Additionally, the people or groups who are most eager to connect will inevitably be the neediest. The neighbor who keeps bringing you little gifts, the group that invites you to become an officer, the friend who keeps inviting you…you may have found your potential soulmate or you may be the only person they haven’t driven away.

Avoid long-term commitments for at least six months–maybe even a year. When you join anything–even an informal coffee group–your absence will be noticed when you stop coming. You’ll be making a statement if you decide to do something else. In a big city it’s probably not a big deal, but in a small community, you can burn bridges.

4. Build your support system before you need it.

Almost always, two things happen after you move.

First, the people you left behind–those who cried, “Don’t go! We will miss you forever!”–will stop returning calls. They’ll maintain the friendship via posts and tweets on the social marketing engines.

Second, the people in your new city who said, “Oh, please move here! We’d love to see more of you!” will be busy with their own lives. If you’re lucky, they will help you settle in, but they have obligations and needs of their own.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself disconnecting from your old friends after a few months. Your interests may have diverged since you last spent significant time together. They got married, had a baby, returned to school, found a new career, or became immersed in art, sports, comedy, animal rescue, or politics. If you don’t share their new interests, you’ll slowly grow apart.

Build your own network of friendship and support, based on where you are now–not what you would have wanted five years ago and not what your friends think would be in your best interests.

Finding a new physician or hair stylist can be scary; finding a therapist or coach will be even more daunting. If you’re a native New Yorker moving to Birmingham, you may not be speaking the same language–literally. Ideally you’ll have access to someone who knew you “before.” They’ll realize you always talk fast –you’re not nervous. Or you always speak slowly–you’re not depressed.

5. Take advantage of what’s unique and special in your new home—things you’ll miss if you decide to leave.

Almost every city, town or hamlet has unique sights, features and opportunities you won’t find anywhere else. Take full advantage while you can.

Ken was transferred from Boston to the southeastern U.S.–one of those states that had a deep history going back to the Civil War. He moved away as quickly as possible, frustrated as he tried to understand their accents, let alone their values and social customs. Later he realized he missed an opportunity to learn about U.S. history from some original monuments, not to mention some historical places that had no connection to the Civil War. 

Eventually one of two things will happen.

You realize you like living here better than you expected. You don’t want to move again!

Alternatively, you’ll be in a better mood, which means (psychologists say) you’re likely to make better decisions. And if you do return home or move to a totally new destination, you’ll be stronger, wiser and far more prepared for a brighter future.

Cathy Goodwin -- she provided it
Cathy Goodwin
Source: Cathy Goodwin -- she provided it


Cathy Goodwin is an author, researcher and career/business consultant. She’s lived all over North America, including Canada and Alaska, and hasn’t made her last move yet. Making the Big Move, 3rd edition, is an update of the original, published by New Harbinger in 1999. It is part of the Midlife Career series. Other books in the series include Your 21-Day Extreme Career Makeover and Intuition for Business and Career Decisions.