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Shasta Nelson, M.Div.

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5 Things to Consider Before You Move Away from Your Friends

Posted: 05/26/11 09:23 AM ET

It is estimated that 40 million Americans will be moving this summer. That's a lot of friendship shifting.

In my work around the subject of female friendships, I'd venture to say that moving is the biggest contributing factor to women feeling lonely, lacking the friendship circle they crave. (Having a baby or going through a divorce/break-up would rank up there, but those events seem to have more of a drift-away feeling, rather than the sudden loss that a move makes obvious.)

Statistics show that we move, on average, every five years. Since the earliest days of our species, humans have migrated across continents in search of food, shelter, safety and hospitable climates. Here in the U.S., our very identity is wrapped up in moving: If we ourselves are not immigrants, our ancestors were. We move for what's important to us.

Five Reasons Your Friends Should Be Part of Your Decision to Move

We will move to have an extra bedroom, a bigger kitchen, a cheaper cost of living, a neighborhood with other kids, a better job or more sunshine. I'm not saying that those things aren't important, but here are five reasons that I think you should strongly consider your circle of friends as a major factor in your decision prior to your next move:

1. What you will instantly lose: No matter how much you want to believe that you will maintain your current friendships after moving, your list of losses will still be lengthy.

  • You may still be able to report to her what you are doing, but you have lost someone to do life with. For all the photos you can post, the status updates you can give and the phone calls you can commit to, you are not creating new memories together anymore.
  • Often with a loss of friends, we also decrease the amount of activities in our lives that we used to do with those people: book clubs, shopping, eating out, play dates, long walks, girls' night out, seeing a movie, dancing, etc. Most of us don't want to do all those activities alone, so we're inclined to pull back from them when we are without a playmate.
  • You also lose the physical support that that person provided -- rides to the airport, last-minute babysitting, support at an event. Even if you didn't call in those favors, we know that you felt more supported knowing that you could have.
  • Our happiness and health is affected more by those in closest proximity to is than by those whom we actually feel emotionally closest to. Distance matters.

The list is long. It doesn't mean we shouldn't move away from friends, but it does mean we should be prepared for the losses that will come.

2. What you cannot get back: You can make new friends that may eventually fill some of those previous losses and roles, but you cannot avoid losing something with the friends that matter now. Regardless of how amazing your friends are or how close you feel to each other now, the friendship will change with distance. Change always brings loss. She can still be only a phone call away, and you can still spill your secrets, but chances are high that she will become someone that you may always feel close to, but not necessarily be close to. Even if you both decide to call each other every week to stay in touch, you still need to grieve for the fact that she will no longer know the people you are talking about or be able to picture you in your new life. You will have to find a new normal with her, transitioning what was time together to telephone calls.

It doesn't mean you won't make new friends, or still stay in touch with current friends, but it's impossible to maintain the same expressions of your current friendship.

3. The energy it costs to rebuild friendships: As a life transition coach, I'd frequently remind my clients of the fact that it takes our bodies nearly six months to recover from what we'd call an "easy" move. Meaning: if everything in your life stayed the same (i.e., job, marriage, schools for the kids) and you simply wanted to move to a bigger house (what we'd call a positive stress change, as opposed to having to move due to house damage or not being able to pay the mortgage), even if you're looking forward to the upgrade, the stress your body will experience in the packing/unpacking, scheduling, buying new curtains, getting acquainted with a new grocery store and finding a new route to work will be felt for six months. So if your move also includes a divorce, new job, new friends, new culture, you do the math, and just keep adding months of recovery.

This is not to say that a move isn't worth that stress, but do make sure that you acknowledge the stress and energy it will cost. In that place of recovery is when you will need to start making new friends, which obviously takes more energy than it gives for a while. Factor it in!

4. The time it costs to start friendships: It's not simply that you only feel the pang of loss upon arrival in a new place; many of the women who go through my 21 Days of Friendship Journey report that they have now lived in their current city for over five years and still haven't replaced the friendships they claim to have left. Much of this is because we can immediately show up in a place and be friendly, but that is vastly different from friend-making. A new job can be instant; a real friendship cannot be. I am outgoing, social, confident and know the value of good friends, but it still took me a good year, possibly two, before I could honestly say, "I have really good friends in my new city." And that was with me intentionally going places where I met women, initiated time together and tried to be consistent for months as we fostered a friendship.

The truth is that while you might meet women you like right away, the time it takes to make friends from curiosity to frientimacy is much longer than most women are prepared to invest.

5. The price it costs to lose friendships: While some of us might decide that it's worth living without that dream backyard or that extra bedroom in order to stay connected to our current community, whenever finances get attached to a move, it becomes much trickier. Living in San Francisco, people move away all the time for a lower cost of living. In other places, the move might stem more from a higher salary or more job opportunities, which are no small things. The Gallup research in the book "Wellbeing" shows that the only life area to have greater impact on our well-being than our social connectedness is our career. So certainly it's justified to care about what you're spending the bulk of your time doing. However, I did come across a statement in the book "Who's Your City" that might startle a few: "If you relocate from a city where you regularly see your family and friends to one where you would not, you would need to earn $133,000 just to make up for the lack of happiness you feel from being far from those people."

How These Considerations Can Inform Our Decisions

I am not against moving. Seeing all these statistics doesn't mean we shouldn't move for a job or to buy a house. It doesn't mean that we can't leave a marriage or a location that is exhausting us. It doesn't mean we can't move for a new start or a sense of adventure. We can and we will.

What these factors do mean is that we'd be wise to appreciate the importance that our local community has in our life. To be mindful that not every reason to move is worth the price tag of losing friends. To pause in the midst of our major life transitions (when most of our moves happen: getting married, having a baby, going through a divorce, retiring) to ask ourselves if we don't actually need our friends more now than ever. To recognize that we will value some things enough to move away, but to do so with our eyes wide open, knowing what we're losing and what we'll need to invest time and energy into on the other end.

And the good news is that there are amazing people everywhere. No matter where you move, you can find new friends. And find them you must. Just be sure to put friend-making on your moving checklist.

 

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