The last time I wrote for this blog was in the fall of 2018, immediately after I moved to the magical city of Winston-Salem.
A year and a half later, I can confirm that Winston continued to be the most magical, healing place I’ve ever lived. I connected with incredible resources and communities there: an all-female co-working space, a validating support group, incredible insightful grief counseling, simple low-stress volunteer opportunities that fed my soul, a liberal church community, the BEST gym, the best coffee shops, the best everything. After years of navigating depression and feeling like a shell of myself, this place brought me back to life, basically.
And the people! I have a history of getting attached to people quickly, but Winston was especially magical in the friend department. I made friends who are genuine and hilarious and thoughtful and trustworthy. Our conversations guided me through life experiences that felt so isolating for so long, and I loved being able to text someone for a last minute drink or movie or pop over to someone’s house in my sweats for dinner or TV watching. These kind of easy, comfortable friendships usually take years to build – in my experience – and I feel very, very lucky that I connected with people in Winston so quickly. They’re the kind of people who I want to do life with, basically, and I miss them already.
All this is to say, if you had asked me last year where I saw my life in 5 years, I would have said, “Right here in the magical city of Winston-Salem!” without hesitation. I imagined buying a house there and being very, very, very happy for years to come. But instead, I just moved to Dublin, Ireland. Why? I’ve asked myself that question about a thousand times.
Truthfully, Bret and I have been talking about making an international move ever since our 2016 UK bus tour.
We spent a week with 40 people from all over the world (we were the only Americans!) and we had the best conversations and the best time exploring new places. It made us want to have experiences like that all the time.
Bret would have moved to pretty much any city he’s visited since then: Shanghai, China; Tokyo, Japan; Montreal, Canada. I had reservations about all of those places, mostly because of the language barrier and my limited career options, but when we found an opportunity in Dublin, it felt like the OBVIOUS choice. There is no language barrier. It’s relatively close to home. It has Guinness and castles and beaches and $20 flights to pretty much every European city. It’s honestly THE place I would have named if you asked me where I hoped to move next, even though I’d never visited. And I know if this opportunity had come up while we were living in Boone, I would have jumped on a plane and never looked back.
But then, Winston happened. And that makes this SO MUCH harder (for me).
When Bret got the Ireland job offer, we were both so surprised, it felt like a life-changing decision. The idea of moving so quickly overwhelmed me logistically and emotionally, but the idea of missing this opportunity crushed Bret, so we did what we both wanted: Bret moved to Ireland in August, and I spent the past six months living in Winston, savoring the time, and further digging into my routines there.
I figured out the next steps with my job and began sorting through what we were going to ship and sell and store… but mostly I just enjoyed the extra time living in my favorite city (you didn’t think I was done talking about Winston yet, did you?). I worked 8:30-4:30, and video chatted with Bret, and then I went to the gym every afternoon and spent the evenings hanging out with friends or taking myself on a date or cooking dinners that lasted for three meals at a time. I didn’t feel lonely. I adored my solo evenings. It was such a comforting feeling: being secure in my identity and feeling like I belonged exactly where I was.
Truly, I never wanted to leave. And I considered staying in Winston longer. Bret and I were both thriving in our own spaces and we were comfortable with the long-distance. We have a few friends who are also in international long-distance marriages or relationships so this concept wasn’t weird for us. And it’s not like we were always apart: we spent two weeks together in Oct/Nov, and a whole month together around Christmas. We probably could have kept living independently for the next three years, but I also knew I would regret not ever having the experience of living in another country.
I kept saying that I wanted to give Bret time to make sure he REALLY loved Dublin enough to stay before I uprooted my whole life – which is true – but at some point I accepted that even with his glowing endorsement of Dublin (“the work culture is so much more laid back!” “Everyone is happier here!”), I was never going to feel ready to make this move. I was never going to reach a point where I wanted to leave Winston. And so, I did the uncomfortable thing. I booked the ticket. (Actually, I handed Bret my credit card and he booked my ticket – I really couldn’t bring myself to do it haha.)
I felt like I was going to throw up when my friends drove me to the airport, but I got on the plane. And after some painful weeks of packing up our entire apartment and saying goodbye to my bed and my couch and my desk and other material things I was way too attached to, I was ready to completely zone out from exhaustion on that flight. I did, but only after having a sweet conversation with a single woman in her 60’s who moved from England to New Jersey when she was 30. It was reaffirming, to hear how her experience was challenging but worth it.
And now I’m here! It sort of feels like a dream. I’m excited to reinvent our routines and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise, but (as I’ve mentioned several times now) I’m legitimately heartbroken to be leaving my Winston community behind. I never want to make decisions out of fear, but after some pretty painful and turbulent years I finally felt comfy and settled and the idea of changing EVERYTHING feels overwhelming. It means it’s going to be a while before I feel settled here, and that’s hard. But sometimes being uncomfortable is the only way to grow. As my therapist said, it’s going to be devastating, but it’s going to be worth it.
So, I’m settling in. I’m teleworking for DC during the day (for now) and daydreaming about what my Dublin life will look like in a few months.
The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is slowing down. My hope is that I find some non-profit work that I love, but not right away. I’m going to take a ‘sabbatical’ to write in Irish cafes and build my weight lifting routine and continue to work on my own healing and growth before I add too many new stressors. I’m going to find a new therapist and a new gym. I’m going to do yoga, like, every day. I’m going to bake bread and cook good food and spend a lot of time reading on my new balcony. I’m going to explore my new city in a very slow-paced kind of way. It will be the total opposite of the DC work culture I’m used to. I’m calling 2020 “The Year of the Sloth” and I can’t wait to see what it actually feels like to take a break and LIVE that way. I know it’s a huge gift to have this option and I don’t want to waste it.
Some days I feel really grateful and excited about it all. Other days I’m scared to be giving up my work identity. Every day I’m heartbroken over leaving my friends and I’m afraid of feeling that Boone-level isolation again. Because I’ve made several moves as an adult (Harrisonburg –> DC –> Florida –> Boone –> Winston-Salem), I know it takes time to connect with new people and find new routines. Winston was the exception so I’m keeping my expectations low for the first few months.
All in all, I think this kind of change will be good for my mind, body and soul. I am giving this place a chance. And I hope I love it here. But if a year or two goes by and I don’t feel those things, I’ll leave because everything is optional and everything is temporary.