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What I Learned From Moving To A Big City After College

By Julie Mastrine·· 10 min read
What I Learned From Moving To A Big City After College

Media, movies, and advertising constantly send young women the message that big cities are the only places where you can have adventures, meet new people, and be fashionable and sophisticated.

Whether it’s LA, New York, or San Francisco, cities are portrayed as the places where life really happens. Our small hometowns are for backwards, boring people. They’re places to escape from, not places you aspire to be.

Many young women got this message. They rushed off to college and took on crippling student debt so they could move to a city and secure a job that not only paid off the debt, but also allowed them to live the glamorous, big city life depicted in Hollywood, advertisements, and magazines. This path was supposed to lead to freedom, fulfillment, and empowerment.

I followed this path pretty much to a T, glamorizing big cities and leaving my rural hometown in middle America. After college, I moved 3,000 miles away to San Francisco. But I learned that city life, while giving young women great opportunities to grow, get life experience, and get to know themselves, also presents serious challenges and negative outcomes that are rarely talked about in our culture — such as family atomization, loneliness, the inability to form a family, and the trap of hedonistic and materialist pursuits. 

City Friends Don’t Stick around for Long

Cities are transient places. While you may meet a lot of people there, none of them stick around for long. It can be hard to form the deep, trusting friendships we got used to having in high school and college. Everyone seems to be on their way out, not planning to stick around for the long haul. 

It’s always in the back of your mind that someone you meet is likely going to leave. 

There are a few reasons for this. One, most young people are in cities for just a few years so they can seize career opportunities, make money, and build a resume. Two, cities are expensive, so it’s hard to put down roots there or to buy property. And three, lots of people are there simply to consume the more materialistic things the city has to offer — clubs, cafes, restaurants, shopping, the party scene. Eventually, they tire of this and move on to the next major city everyone’s talking about — Austin, Denver, Miami, Berlin.

The turnover in cities was way more significant than my rural hometown, where people have been rooted for 30 years or more. Cities are places of atomized transience. With so few people rooted for the long haul, you feel little incentive to make deep connections with people or get emotionally invested in their lives. It’s always in the back of your mind that someone you meet is likely going to leave. You can feel there’s little point to relying on anyone.

Crime Is a Real Issue

Growing up in a rural town, there was almost no crime. Any time something bad would happen, the whole town knew about it because it was so rare. There was no litter, no graffiti, no broken windows, no car theft. People didn’t even lock their doors at night, because everyone knew and trusted each other.

Not so in the city. Car theft, break-ins, street crime, and open air drug use were so common, I constantly felt vulnerable. Not only that, but sketchy men were everywhere. I had female friends call me scared in the night because their new Craigslist roommate had made creepy comments or refused to let them lock their bedroom door, or their landlord had come into their apartment without warning. 

Car theft, break-ins, street crime, and drug use were so common, I constantly felt vulnerable. 

Being a young woman who had romanticized the city, I was in for a rude awakening. Living in a small town, I had the protection of my father and other members of my family whose job it was to look out for me — plus I was surrounded by people we’d known for years. But in a city, women are truly on their own, unprotected and surrounded by strangers

I noticed my trust in the people around me declined. The crime made me feel stifled, like I had to constantly watch my back. I was told independence would bring empowerment, but I just felt more anxious. I walked with pepper spray in my bag and often with my car keys jutted between my fingers like a weapon, just in case. 

Family Is Literally Irreplaceable

In a city far away from home, you lack familial support. Growing up, you come to expect and rely on your family’s help. Your dad helps when your car breaks down. Your uncle helps you move. Your sister picks you up when you have dental surgery. Your grandma cooks you a hot meal when your heart is broken and you need support. 

But in the city, miles and miles away from family, your network of social support is terrifyingly thin. Cities are extremely individualistic, and I found I was constantly having to hire people to do things that my family used to help with. Movers, Uber drivers, food delivery workers, and therapists may seem like they’re there for you, but they can only be relied on because you’re paying them to be. It’s not out of love and self-sacrifice that they take care of you — it’s because they need the money. 

I constantly had to hire people to do things that my family used to help with.

I may have been making a big city salary, but what I gained in financial capital I seemed to lose in social capital — the networks and deeply embedded relationships that aren’t measured in monetary terms, but in trust, reciprocity, cooperation, and shared values. After a few years in a major city, the hole left where family used to be felt significant.

Cities Make It Hard To Form Your Own Family

Speaking of family, cities make it really hard for young women to form their own. We eventually get older and want husbands and children, but most major cities are horrible places for the average person to do this. There are a few reasons why.

Number one, dating in a city means you often meet men who are enjoying hookup culture. The market is flooded with young women providing low-cost sex, so men have no incentive to commit and become husbands and fathers. With an abundance of young women willing to have sex without commitment, it can be extremely hard to find a marriage-minded man in a city — there’s just zero cultural or social pressure on them to commit to one woman.

Number two, even if you do find a good man, property values are insane, and the average Millennial salary just doesn’t allow for us to buy a house in a major city. Add in childcare and other costs of living expenses in cities, and having children just doesn’t make sense there. Plus, you’ll be lacking the support of your extended family network who could help with free childcare.

The average Millennial salary just doesn’t allow for us to buy a house in a major city.

And finally, young women are told to value their career ambitions over a family. Most cities are extremely feminist and liberal, which means women who aspire to marriage and motherhood are seen as totally antiquated. Progressive city folk promote the idea that motherhood is squandering your potential and talent. Women get the message not to prioritize this.

It’s no wonder there are so many single women in cities when all the financial and cultural forces there work against us getting married and forming families. The longer I stayed, the more the city felt like a fertility trap.

Having New Experiences Doesn’t Lead to Long-Term Fulfillment 

The lure of hedonistic, materialist pursuits is absolutely massive in cities. You can become totally distracted from your own spiritual and personal growth by constantly filling the void with new experiences.

In cities, there’s always something new to do or discover. This was my absolute favorite part of living in San Francisco. But after many years of making sure I spent every weekend having a new experience — going to a club/party/festival/restaurant, meeting new people, and seeing new things — I actually found myself feeling pretty empty over time.

I committed to giving back and serving others more, rather than consuming all the time. 

Young urbanites may be lured by the constant pursuit of pleasure, but this leads to serious spiritual decay. If you never deny yourself and constantly pursue worldly desires, you become perpetually dissatisfied, feeling like you always need more and more material things and experiences to fill that hole in your heart. It’s a bottomless pit.

When I realized this, I decided to turn things around. I committed to giving back and serving others more, rather than consuming all the time. But this ended up being hard to achieve in a big city where everyone is constantly pursuing status, pleasure, and material things. Starting a business, having children, learning new skills — all of that can be hard amid the city culture.

There Are Plenty of Things To Do and People To Meet outside Major Cities

Moving to the city, I made the mistake of thinking that the higher population would mean I’d have a bigger community. This turned out to be dead wrong. A higher population actually meant more people from totally different backgrounds, competing values systems, different goals in life, and more crime. The result was less community, and thus, anonymity and loneliness.

I eventually left the city and went back to small-town America. I realized people actually have time and space to get to know you outside of major cities. Their values aligned more with mine. No one is in a rush, so forming social connections actually becomes easier when the population is lower.

People actually have time and space to get to know you outside of major cities.

And while our culture often positions major cities as the only places where novelty and excitement are attainable, it’s just not true. Small towns and rural areas have plenty to offer. In the last year living in small town America, I have never been bored. I’ve explored street festivals, checked out beautiful historic architecture, enjoyed outdoor concerts, done tons of hiking, browsed local art galleries, and gotten to know local business owners. In a small town, the faces become familiar, and people want to get to know you. This breeds trust and a depth to relationships that I never found in major cities.

Closing Thoughts

While our culture pushes young women to think that city life is the best option for their late teens and early 20s, the downsides of pursuing that path are seriously overlooked. Atomization, crime, hedonism, and spiritual rot are big issues in cities.

Moving to a big city after college gave me wonderful experiences, but I ended up realizing that home had just as much to offer, and I didn’t really need big city life after all.

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