I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life in a small town versus the big city. I live in New York City most of the time now, having done so for the past three years of law school, and I will continue to for the foreseeable future. But more and more I feel that I’m a country mouse at heart.
I grew up in a Connecticut town that is not technically “small” but has a certain small town feel. There’s a lot of school spirit surrounding teams, you tend to run into people you know wherever you go out to eat or shop, and Main Street is straight off a classic Americana postcard.
Of course, most young people are eager to go off to college and then move to “the city” i.e.: New York. I thought there was no better place to live than Manhattan even before I got there as a young adult. All of the cultural institutions I love like the New York City Ballet and Metropolitan Museum of Art, great restaurants, Central Park to run in, and most of all, millions of people in motion every day certain to make for an invigorating life.
As I’ve learned over the past three years, all of this is true. The artistic places I loved as a child are still close to my heart, there are so many dining options so I can eat out even with my dietary restrictions, and it’s fantastic to have such a large running community. Joining organizations like the Junior League, which I expected, and November Project, which happened by way of a Junior League friend but was totally different and unexpected and is truly awesome, has expanded my social horizons. I never know who I might run into walking down the street, either. I’ve literally bumped right into classmates from elementary school or people I took ballet with or went to camp with who I haven’t seen in more than a decade.
But as much energy as the city has, it isn’t what makes me feel most alive. I love Central Park, but I miss the opportunity to be in the real outdoors, being able to run for miles and hear only birds chirping and bees buzzing (okay, and maybe some lawns being mowed). I feel most energized when I’m waking up to a sunrise and a big gulp of fresh air, and most at peace when I can see the stars at night.
As a child, I was a bookworm and ballerina, but I always had plenty of time outside that I took for granted. I didn’t understand that engaging with nature was something I would miss when it was gone. Being back in my Connecticut town this summer studying, and now relaxing in between post-exam travels, I’ve spent the most extended period of time outside the city that I have since law school began. Though I miss seeing my friends on a regular basis, I really don’t miss the hustle and bustle and skyscrapers and dust much at all.
Speaking of those friends – it’s funny how you can feel lonely in a big city, and not very lonely at all when you’re actually by yourself in the woods. I think I glamorized the city as a place where all your friends congregate at once, and that is the case for some people to a greater extent than others. But as I’ve mentioned before, my closest dozen or so friends are scattered far and wide. I’ve been lucky to develop a broad social network, and am becoming closer with friends I’ve met through the NYJL and NP. But nobody stays put forever, and in fact, I can feel more isolated knowing that some of the people dearest to me have moved on and aren’t coming back when I consider that they were part of the reason I was so determined to make the city my “real home”. There is also, of course, the specter of “meeting the right person” that tends to be emphasized in the city-country debate. Yet I honestly believe more and more each day that those meetings really come down to chance!
In the end, I just feel better about myself and more at peace with the world when I am somewhere I can be outdoors and not feel confined. I’m not claustrophobic, exactly – though I’ve always been fearless at great heights and extremely uncomfortable in dark, underground, or confined spaces. But I am aware enough to recognize that things I love about the summer and other seasons may also make me more suited to a life other than that of a city mouse. It is the right place for right now. My job, many friends, and artistic and athletic things I love are contained on the island of Manhattan. But down the road, I think I’m enough of an outdoorsy girl at heart to want to make somewhere else home. No idea where that might be. Maybe right here, elsewhere in New England, straight across the country or some other spot on the globe. Only time will tell.
Are you a city mouse or a country mouse, or somewhere in between?
Do you see certain places as better for different stages of life?
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12 thoughts on “City Mouse, Country Mouse”
I can relate to this SO much. I lived in NYC for ten years after growing up in a very small town in Northern New Hampshire and attending the University of New Hampshire. I had to move back to New Hampshire at 30 when my father was diagnosed with cancer and it was really hard to adjust. I mean really, really hard. I ended up staying for 4 years and every time I would go back to NYC to visit friends I would always wonder, “how did I LIVE HERE?” Now I live in Glasgow and it’s honestly the perfect size city for me. It’s about 700,000 people, full of culture (of course, I’m foreign here so it is to me), beautiful architecture, etc. and within minutes you can be in nature. I think some of us can adapt either way, some of us need a balance, and some of us it’s black and white. You’re so right, though, about how you can feel lonely in a giant city like NYC but not when you’re in nature.
I’m glad you found your place – it’s what we all want right?
I am somewhere in between. I love big cities — unfortunately we’re just far enough from Manhattan that I never get there. 😦
But I don’t think I’d be happy LIVING in a city.
My niece really thought she wanted to live in Manhattan . . . until she went to FIT – after the first year she lived at home & commuted.
I love cities but definitely could not live in one long term. Having lived in Center City Philly for graduate school and then working in NYC after, I really appreciate moving back to CT and having the fresh air and the quiet. While I wouldn’t be opposed to moving back to a city, I’d want one with less stress than NYC. Maybe Boston, perhaps DC, but I would love to try out the West Coast at some point. Time will only tell, but I do know that with different stages in life, I have wanted different things. And right now I love where I am.
I love where you are too…Fairfield County is pretty awesome. It does make me sad that there aren’t as many opportunities in my field in places just OUTSIDE NYC like here, and that so many people need to commute.
I’ve lived in a bigger city all my life, but I definitely prefer the atmosphere of smaller towns. Of course, I say that without ever having actually lived in one, but I do know that my city just feels way too big and crowded, and that I crave somewhere a little more quiet. I definitely think that we want different things at different times in our life though.
It’s part of the journey, I suppose!
First I have to say I LOVE the post title…Modern Family? 🙂 I’m from a small town and now live in downtown Seattle. I love parts of living where I do, but every time I go home I remember how great it is there too! Plus my dogs LOVE the huge yard my parents have…not so much the tiny fake grass potty area surrounded by concrete.
Actually no, didn’t know that was a Modern Family reference? It’s from the children’s book 🙂
I totally feel you on this. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and moved to Chicago three years ago. I LOVE living in Chicago–there are so many things! Shows! Museums! Restaurants! Stores!–but lately I’ve been really, really missing the open space and quiet of home. I saw a heron yesterday near Lake Michigan and was beside myself with happiness, because seeing any sort of animal around these parts other than pigeons is a huge deal–when growing up, we had cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, tufted titmice, catbirds…and that was just a normal day. Never mind the deer, woodchucks, foxes, etc. It’s nice to have access to everything without trouble, but I miss the quiet, the simplicity, the nature…sigh. I can’t see myself leaving Chicago for something smaller anytime soon, but living in the city really makes me appreciate going home.
I actually think I’d be happier in a rural, more “country” environment than I’m in now, which is a suburb very close to NYC. I’m not a city person, though I wish I was because I’m so close to the city! I also love the outdoors and vast open space.
Sometimes the reach of the city extends further than we know…I’m lucky in that the CT suburb I grew up in is sort of close to the edge of where you might commute from (door-to-door for most commuters here is upwards of 1.5 hours each way) so it’s a little more country-suburban.