We were fortunate enough to spend Labor Day weekend in our hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. It’s been almost a year since Sam moved from TC to Chicago, and I’ve been in Chicago for about seven months. Moving from a town of 15,000 people to the third largest city in the USA was definitely an adjustment. We’ve learned to live a little bit differently—in some ways life is easier, in other ways it’s harder—but now that we officially feel settled in our new apartment, Chicago is growing on us.
Previously, every time we’ve visited home in northern Michigan, it wasn’t easy to pack up and drive south to Chicago. We missed the open roads, fresh air, public beaches, home-cooked meals, and patches of grass welcoming an afternoon snooze. Those drives back to Chicago were tinged with the feeling that, somehow, I wasn’t strong enough to make our lives work in Traverse City. Like I did something wrong in the five years we tried to establish a life in our hometown, and it was my fault that it never felt right living there. When a place is so beautiful and peaceful it must be easy to live there, and I just didn’t try hard enough to be happy.
It wasn’t until this most recent trip back to Traverse City that I was simultaneously in love with Traverse City and grateful for the fact that we moved away. For the first time, we were visiting TC on our own terms, with zero obligations to see anyone, do anything, or check something off our errand to-do list. We were truly tourists in our hometown.
We were free to do whatever we wanted, and we intentionally didn’t set any definitive plans with anyone or anything before arriving. Of course, we had things we wanted to do—see friends and family, hike the dunes, go on a trail run, visit our local running shop—but we didn’t set a timetable or try jamming everything into a short trip.
Everything progressed organically, pieces fell into place, and we didn’t stress ourselves thinking about the migsht’ve beens or shoulda dones or wish we couldas. Whatever happened, happened. And whatever didn’t, didn’t. It was a practice in letting go and focusing on what felt right to both of us in the moment without worrying that we were late to a prior engagement or didn’t see everyone in the entire town. We slept in, swam in the lake instead of showering, and visited some of our favorite places. Just the two of us. Enjoying the moment and one another.
The result? A perfect weekend retreat.
And when it was time to go, we were ready to go. We missed our bed, our minuscule apartment, the energetic buzz of the city, the multitude of brunch options after our long runs, late nights with our Chicago friends, and seeing something new every single day. Both of our jobs are interesting and engaging, and we’ve been conditioned to enjoy our new daily routines. It was a bit shocking to both of us to discover how much we were ready to get back to Chicago. It was the first time that leaving Traverse City felt like the right choice.
Chicago feels entirely unfamiliar in all the ways that Traverse City feels familiar. Chicago is new, alive, young, hip, playful, challenging, and diverse. It’s full of endless opportunities and events and restaurants and new people to meet and a lingering sense of danger but not enough to paralyze us the way it once did. So many things about Chicago are hard, but for where we are in our lives, I want life to be a little hard. I want to work for something. I want the rush. I want the unknown. I want the backseat of a crowded Uber with the window open and the last of summer’s warm air blowing through my hair and the radio blasting a Chainsmokers song as we pull onto the Dan Ryan and the surprise of discovering that the feeling rising up from my heart in this moment is love. It is love for this place and this time in my life. I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love with a place so vast and populated. But the best thing about love is not expecting it and then uncovering it when you need it most.
It’s not that Traverse City is a terrible place to live. On the contrary, it’s a great place to live…someday. We had reached a plateau in TC and needed to push outside our comfort zones in order to discover who we are and what we want out of our lives. For where we are and what we want to experience, Traverse City just isn’t the right fit.
That’s not the same as saying it’s not the right fit for other people our age, or that it isn’t possible to find happiness living there. It’s just that, for the first time since leaving TC, we felt confident in our decision to leave our familiar little bubble and scare ourselves with the unknown. Making a life-changing decision (like selling your house and moving into a strange new place) comes with a lot of regrets and hesitation and the burdening guilt of wondering if, just maybe, we did something incredibly stupid that we would regret it in the coming years. This past trip back home gave us the long-awaited relief that, yes, we were acting from our hearts when we decided to leave and try something new in Chicago. It wasn’t a mistake, it’s just a new adventure filled with new challenges.
I know it doesn’t sound like it from this post, but I am fortunate I can find peace in TC as a visitor again. Sam and I both look forward to the time in our lives when it will feel right to be there again as residents and not just tourists, but that time isn’t now. For the past few months, I felt guilty and ashamed of moving away because I was unhappy in a place that so many people consider a paradise. Knowing it will always be my home even when I don’t live there is a comforting feeling as I explore a new place. I look forward to many more northern visits with the sunshine, Lake Michigan, our families, and the beauty of home.