One of my friends recently told me that he felt he was living in multiple cities at the same time. There was the city where he slept and worked. Then the city where he hoped to soon be working, and finally the city where his significant other lived. Each of these places demanded a portion of his attention and it was taxing to be in all of them—with body or mind—at once.
This multi-locational living can take on a variety of forms. For some people, it is a daily commute from a suburb of residence into a city for work. She wakes up earlier than the city-dwellers and clutches her to-go coffee cup on the long bus ride into town, arriving home in the same lengthy fashion. Another person may feel the pull of two cities in the form of a long distance relationship (as mentioned above). He holds late-night phone conversations across time zones, picturing his significant other going about her business in a far away place. If he’s lucky, he can sneak away from his primary home for a weekend here and there to see his loved one. He wants to be in both places.
Personally, I am partaking in the complex dichotomy of living in one place but planning to be in another. We get new jobs (or apply for them) in new cities and while we wait for them to begin, we imagine ourselves inhabiting new space—walking those streets in our mind’s eye until they feel like our own. Finally, I also see multi-locational living take shape in the process of temporarily relocating for work or extended vacation. In this case, someone rents an apartment in a new place for a month or more, and she begins to acclimate herself. The city starts to feel familiar, yet when her time is up she returns home.
How do these separate spaces make their demands upon us? What is the effect of being tugged in two or three different geographic directions? Unfortunately, the split can precipitate considerable harm. Allegiances naturally form for one place over another, and those sentiments can breed undue resentment. I witness this bitterness growing in some of my friends as they return to their parents’ homes after college and search for jobs elsewhere. While they may have harbored fond feelings for their childhood cities when they were away at college, their frustration at the economy and their lack of independence can turn them against these places. The “grass is greener” mentality takes hold as they envision themselves moving out and onto brighter places.
When geography separates us from our loved ones—whether for a workday or for months on end—we face particular struggles. Researchers at Umea University in Sweden determined, for instance, that a commute longer than 45 minutes increases a couple’s risk of divorce by 40%. We see how competing commitments to work and home (represented in the separate cities) raise tensions between family members. Meanwhile, couples who live in vastly separated cities usually reach a decision point where one thing has to be nixed: either the relationship or the physical distance. Managing responsibilities to multiple places is quite the feat.
I see a few potential paths here. We can compartmentalize our cities so that one is our “work city” and one is our “home city.” We can also maintain allegiance for one place over the others. Or we can find a way to appreciate each place for its particular role in our lives: the towns filled with childhood memories, the places where we dream of living, the cities seeped in career potential, and the locations where we find ourselves at any given moment.
Do you split your time (physically or emotionally) between different cities? How does it affect you?