Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am a 21-year-old who works two jobs and goes to college. I have always had this dream to move to a big city and start off fresh, but pushed it off due to the economy and my fears of being alone and broke.
Well, my little sister (who is 18) told me she will be moving to California in a year. There’s my calling card to go with her, right?
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Meanwhile, my childhood sweetheart and I have been dating for two years now and we’ve gotten quite serious. Although I know I’m too young to even think about marriage or anything like that, I do see my future with him. Do I go with my sister and follow my dream, or do I stay to be with the person I love? Is moving to a new city all that it’s cracked up to be?
— Love and Life
DEAR LOVE AND LIFE: Please don’t take such a binary view of it; going with your sister is not your Big Chance to move someplace new — it is merely a chance. This love, too, is a love; you don’t know if it’s the love.
Don’t let the man and the sib take over this conversation. It’s about you and whether you need to scratch this city itch at some point — or, maybe I should say, call your own bluff.
The most logical way to answer that is to start making concrete plans independent of your sister’s move, right now, with a thorough to-do list. For example:
(1) Finish college (or transfer to one in the city of your choice?)
(2) Save x dollars
(3) Work with your school’s career office to identify promising locations and potential employers. If applicable, set up informational interviews.
(4) Research the locations — cost of housing, availability of make-enough-to-get-by jobs if it takes time to get a permanent job, etc.
Talk about this process with your boyfriend, but also keep it going as a separate thing. If and when you get to the point that you’re ready to relocate, then see how you feel about the relationship (see above) and make your decision.
My bias: I don’t think staying rooted for someone at 21, against the pull of a dream, is a good idea. Talking to him about it, though, will tell you a lot; if he doesn’t share your sense of adventure, then that’s an important bit of information on your compatibility long term.
As for whether “moving to a new city (is) all that it’s cracked up to be,” you’ll get different answers from different people, since sometimes, obviously, people love their new digs so much they never go back, and some give it a hard, lonely year and bail. There are too many variables to say with any certainty whether it’ll be a rewarding thing for you.
That said, I think any version of testing yourself is worthwhile in terms of experience — i.e., not necessarily success or happiness — as long as you do it responsibly and commit to making it work. It’s not about where you are, it’s about what you learn when you get there.