Can You Be Happy Anywhere?

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I used to think that you could be happy anywhere. That happiness was just a state of mind. Something I was in control of.

And that when it came to happiness that it didn’t really matter so much where I lived but that it mattered more how I talked to myself about where I lived. I figured if I could master my self-story, I’d be fine.

I’d grown up in Maine. They say it’s a wonderful place to raise your kids, and they’re right, I suppose (granted, I never grew up anywhere else so I don’t have anything to compare it to subjectively speaking). The vast majority of my peers survived until graduation, aside from one who fell through the ice one winter, another who was shot by a hunter’s stray bullet, and a few that were killed in car accidents.

The real challenge in Maine comes in adulthood. The economy has long been difficult, especially north of Augusta. Jobs are scarce. And if you’re a person who enjoys culture or art, you’re going to have a hard time of it.

I’d say that there really isn’t any to speak of, but I know several Mainers who would interrupt me and remind me of expositions that happen once a year in some sleepy coastal towns. Or a museum with a small collection and limited hours. And they’re right. There are artistic people in Maine, and they do try. And you can see a few things if you’re willing to plan and be patient.  Potentially rearrange your schedule to trek to some place to see a few things. And hope that the weather doesn’t throw a wrench into your plans. But it isn’t like the city, where there’s something always going on, where you can slip and fall on art and culture without even meaning to.

In the city, it’s just there. Always waiting. Usually with multiple options.

So between the lack of jobs and culture, pretty much every close friend I had fled Maine after graduating from high school or college. But I stayed. I spent my late teens and early 20s recovering from an abusive relationship and fighting my own brain. Eventually, I married Seth. A local boy, the only other single person my new friends at the time knew.

Where my high school friends had been scattered to the four winds, his social group was still largely intact, still in Maine. Where I’d been restless, troubled, always emotionally wandering, he was happy with his life. All that had been missing for him was a companion. So I essentially clicked into place in his life. In a slot that had been designated for me, “Wife.” An expansion pack.

And as the years wound on, and even some of his friends started to talk about moving Away, getting Out of State, I’d turn to him and say, “You can be happy anywhere. It’s just a state of mind.”

I Wasn’t Happy With Where We Lived; My Husband Wasn’t Happy With Monogamy

Seth would agree. Because he was glad to be in Maine. Sometimes he thought he might like to move to Portland, the big city a few hours away, instead of living up north near Bangor.

Seth was happy about Maine. But he wasn’t really happy about monogamy.  He’d frequently tell me after we were married that he felt like he’d settled down too soon, before he “got a chance to taste all the flavors” (an analogy that always made me wince, the idea of sampling people like a buffet, not worried if you accidentally consumed them).

This made me sad. And that he felt like being with me was settling. But I craved stability. Seth had been the first stable long-term relationship that I’d ever had at that point in my life. And up until then, I’d never seen nonmonogamy in practice that looked even remotely stable.

So I did my best just to ignore his expressions of regret and not take them too personally.

“Men are just like that,” a friend said when I told him about it. “If we’re having sex with one woman, we want two. If we have two, we want three. Seventeen are better than sixteen. It doesn’t have any bearing on worth. Don’t feel bad.”

But I did feel kind of bad about it, like I was stifling a person I loved. Keeping him from doing what he really wanted to do. And I also felt bad because I worried I’d never be enough, for anyone, on my own.

Especially since it wasn’t just with men. I’d experienced a feeling that I wasn’t enough for the women I dated either. This marriage to a man came after dating a long string of women that I’d fall in love with who would go on to later leave me for men.

But I didn’t see a way to reconcile any of this, his regrets and my desire for stability.

Opening Up My Marriage Gave Me the Courage to Finally Move Out of State

We’d been monogamous for eight years when a reasonable compromise finally presented itself. Friends of ours came out to us as polyamorous. I was skeptical at first, but I watched and saw how well it worked for them. They were really responsible, stable people. They both worked at good jobs, were raising two adorable kids, and volunteered in their (sometimes very scarce) spare time. And they had a really good marriage.

And shocking everyone, I found over the course of a few months that I decided I’d be okay with having an open marriage.

As I mentioned in a previous post, questioning monogamy led me to question many other things. And one of those things was the idea that you could be happy anywhere.

I’d long wondered what it would be like to live in a major city. But it had all seemed daunting and scary.

However, I realized… opening up my marriage had been even more daunting and scary. And I’d been able to do that.

So who was to say that I wasn’t able to move? Yes, I was pushing thirty — and everyone else I’d known had left in their teens or early twenties — but I was beginning to realize it wasn’t too late.

And as we both continued to meet new people via dating, an opportunity presented itself when we got to know a bunch of people in Cleveland.

We moved there. Everything changed. At first it was stressful, as my husband and I, when confronted with our lack of compatibility (something else we would be able to eventually question), would go on to separate. And I would switch careers multiple times.

But I found so much happiness in Cleveland. I built the best group of friends I ever had. Ones who really got me.

And when I got remarried, it was to one of those friends. My best friend, really. Ten years later, we’re still going strong.

The Happiness Is Different Depending on Where You Are & Who You’re With

I first started writing this essay in late 2018. I’m sitting here, about a year and a half later, and so much has changed. In mid 2019, I moved away from Cleveland to Dallas for a big job opportunity.

It was trying. I spent months separated from my husband while I stayed behind to fix up and sell a nearly 100-year-old house in Cleveland, and he started a new job in Texas.

When I finally got to Dallas, I was exhausted. I basically slept for an entire week. And even then, I spent most of my time indoors. Writing. Recovering. This lasted for months.

It wasn’t until the past few months that I started to venture out, mostly to take some pottery classes.

And of course, the recent pandemic has driven us all indoors. Which of course includes me.

There’s no getting around it: Dallas is very different than Cleveland. Faster paced. The area is richer, and the folks are more competitive (it becomes apparent when you drive), which is very challenging to me as a person who dislikes that sort of thing.

But I do love the weather here. And there’s a lot to see and do culturally (normally, when we’re not under shelter in place).

I’m happy here. It’s not the same as how I was happy in Cleveland. Or even how I was happy in Maine. But I’m happy here.

I think it’s true that you can be happy anywhere. There’s an openness, a certain attitude, that makes happiness nearly inevitable. But happiness can mean many different things. And I also think the depth of that happiness — and what it exactly looks like — is different depending on where you are and who you’re with.

Featured Image: CC 0 – Pixabay