In two weeks, I'll be saying a tearful goodbye to a dear friend who's leaving D.C. for far off corners of the globe. He's lived here for about six months -- well within the city's average turnover timetable.
This is not my first farewell, and it sure won't be my last. Hell, it's one of three in the next two months alone!
As America's most popular destination for relocation, with the country's second-highest population growth rate, D.C. is more of a revolving door than most cities. People -- especially young people -- flood D.C. in pursuit of internships, fellowships, advanced degrees, military stations, months-long political campaigns, two-term stints on Capitol Hill, et cetera, et cetera. And now that the city is attracting serious startup investment, an even greater influx of young people is inevitable.
But then, as sure as they come, these rootless young people will leave. The Georgetown grad student will earn her M.B.A. and move to a New York bank. The Congressman will lose his reelection bid and his staffers will disperse. The Department of Justice legal assistant will pursue a law degree back home to receive in-state benefits. The high-earning consultant will go to an Ivy League business school. The Foreign Service Officer will complete D.C. training and head to Beirut. The military officer's station will move from the Pentagon to the Far East. The wanderlusting waiter will up and leave to tend bars in Sao Paulo. The nonprofit staffer will accept his invitation to the Peace Corps in Africa.
As a young D.C. resident for nearly three years, I have known and said goodbye to many of these exceptional and ambitious people. They and their scenarios are numerous and ubiquitous. Indeed, acknowledging that "no one is actually from here" is a tired D.C. trope.
Yes, being in flux is an inevitable and enviable characteristic of young adulthood both in and outside the Beltway, as we stumble around, trying to "find" and define ourselves. But young people in other cities across the country aren't spinning in and out of the same revolving door as those of us in the District.
According to new 2013 figures from the Census Bureau, mobility for young adults has fallen to the lowest level in more than 50 years as debt-ridden, cash-strapped 20-somethings move back in with mom and dad to pay off college loans and toil in low-wage jobs. But today, Washington is set apart from this national norm as young adults flock here in pursuit of jobs that -- even in the recession's wake -- are still scarce elsewhere. The Government might be broken, but it never goes out of business.
For a young person in D.C., this urban vibrancy and hodgepodge of peers make for quite the dynamic social scene. But, for one of the seemingly few young people in D.C. who has no plans or hopes of leaving anytime soon, this transience can be heart-wrenching, especially when it comes to dating.
One of my friends (we'll call her Mary), excitedly recounted meeting a Hill staffer at a bar the other weekend. Mary, a skeptic of sorts, seldom gets excited about random flirtations, so I was surprised to see her so starry-eyed. But, of course, there was a catch: this guy is bound for New England in the fall for grad school.
What should she do, she wondered? Agree to see him again and -- assuming all goes well these next few months -- set herself up for a tearful goodbye come September?
The romantic hopefuls might be inclined to say yes -- of course she should give this guy a chance! You never know!
But, after one or two more hopeful romances and tearful goodbyes, jaded disenchantment starts to feel inescapable.
So, what to do? Do you -- in hopes of avoiding relationships with an expiration date -- preface every first encounter with an, "Um, excuse me but... before you buy me that drink, are you planning to leave D.C. in the foreseeable future? Oh, Albania with the Foreign Service? Cool. Thanks for the drink. Bye."
It's hard to say. That approach might be safe, but it's also presumptuous and limiting. Why not enjoy a few great months? You really do never know, after all.
When lamenting the emotionally tiresome transience of this city to an older friend, he offered a sliver of a silver lining:
"Everyone might clear out in their early- to mid-20s to follow their dreams or find themselves or whatever, but a surprising number do come back."
The return of the flock isn't surprising, when you think about it. Washington, D.C. isn't just the seat of government, it's a thriving economic hub where residents are enjoying a personal income boom. In terms of pure wages, D.C., on a per capita basis, was 79 percent higher than the national average in 2012. And now, with the aforementioned startup boom, D.C. is attracting a lot more than just policy wonks. Not to mention, the D.C. housing market is exploding while the rest of the country incrementally recovers. It's no wonder people return in pursuit of a prosperous career, solvent real estate investments... or an old flame.