Falling out of love with Madrid and finding my place
We sometimes feel a certain unease that gets gradually bigger until we can no longer ignore it. It wants to tell us that something's not right. It could be a relationship, a job, a thought loop, or, in my case, the place where I live. Every two or three years, this unease starts taking over. This time, it hit harder, and I tried even harder to subdue it.
Now I live in Madrid and when I moved here, I thought it would be for good. Most people remain in the town they were born in. That first home will forever remain a home and that's a rare feeling to come by. I always knew it wasn't going to be my case though. But the feeling of strong connection, belonging and a willingness to explore a place is special. I've traveled to many cities but the adventures and ties I develop there are never enough to consider them as a place to live. Madrid did feel like that and had no competition.
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I moved to Madrid two days before lockdown. I was planning to move at the beginning of the Summer as I had organised a couple of long trips that would serve as a transition period. When I had to cancel those trips, I already felt disconnected from the place I was living in: my hometown Murcia. I had been there for over three years and a change was long due. So I decided to press the trigger and move to Madrid as soon as possible. I'm grateful my friend Monica hosted me, but due to lockdown, what was supposed to be two weeks turned to two months. Luckily, she's the best and we got along great.
I found an apartment and for the first time lived long-term by myself. I picked all the furniture: a comfortable sofa, nice kitchenware, decorated the walls, filled up the shelves with my books, and installed a great projector setup with a quality sound system. It became my first home that truly felt like home and wasn't tied to my parents. They had actually sold my childhood home a few years back which had made me feel home-less for some time. That was no longer the case. I became infatuated with my apartment. To this day, I often look around and feel gratitude for such a space.
That's pretty much where my love towards Madrid ended. With the pandemic1, I quickly became bored and I was worried that the cycle was kicking off again. Why do I always grow tired of where I live? Looking back, this time was different. I left London because I couldn't handle the lack of Sun. I was also initiating a sabbatical and couldn't afford to keep living there. Murcia, instead, was always going to be temporary during that sabbatical and I was spending over half the year traveling. I never saw myself living in my hometown
In Madrid, weeks were passing by and fusing with each other as they were all the same. I would generally be either working at home or hanging out in the same place with the same people.2 The repetitiveness got to me. Where was the excitement of a big city? Some people enjoyed and needed the calm, peace and excuse to spend more time at home enforced by Covid. While I need a good routine for stability and discipline, I felt like a shadow of myself and I couldn't help but project those feelings onto Madrid.3
When health measures eased up, I made a real effort to find my place here. Around the same time, I kicked off a new sabbatical.4 I needed to reconnect with the feeling of being alive and the playfulness the world has to offer. Madrid and I also needed a break from each other to try to rekindle the relationship. I mixed some long trips around the world with time in Madrid where I tried to find new activities and meet new friends. Though I met some beautiful people, I didn't meet my people. I still found myself doing certain activities alone or not doing them at all.
If not Madrid, then where? Not having a clear answer made it impossible to consider moving away. Actually, the answer had always been there right in front of my eyes but the difficulties involved served as excuses. There had been one other city roaming my mind: New York.5
It's very hard to move to the US due to their strict immigration laws. I was also discarding other options as I didn't see myself there long-term, it was more of a 1-3 year timeframe. My perspective changed during my sabbatical. While climbing Kilimanjaro, I noticed how I had given into comfort and that was holding me back. By chance, some online content popped up about taking the plunge and finding one's home. That hit hard. If my gut had been telling me to move, why not?
While preparing everything — finding a storage space, figuring out what to do with my stuff, searching for accommodation — and coming close to finalising, I chickened out. My plans for the year had changed and I would have to spend more time in Spain. I also hadn't figured out things like money and visa and moving would clash with my short-term goals. In the end, I decided to give it another year. Instead, I would do a test-run of living in New York for 2 months as visiting a place is never the same as living in it. And I loved it. Even though 2 months wasn't enough to meet people and I spent a lot of time by myself, I felt much happier than in Madrid.
The last straw was struggling to show friends around Madrid. It was the opposite in London — where I lived for the same amount of time — and in NY — where I've hung out only for a few months. No dig on Madrid, it's an objectively beautiful and fun city. The issue is that I haven't developed an emotional connection to it. In London and New York, I quickly found my special places. I could point at different corners and explain them with passion, and I developed my own routes to enjoy the various neighbourhoods.
What makes a place feel like home?
Madrid is like a familiar home to me, a city I visit when I go back home to see friends and family. It's a comfortable, warm and caring city, but it wasn't sufficiently exciting and interesting in its professional and cultural options.
I'm surprised by how much I've changed. I started off being a nature person and hating big cities. I imagined my ideal place would be out in the wilderness to soak in the peace while being less than an hour away from a professional hub. But I then moved to London and discovered the possibilities of cultural and activity abundance. It's something I didn't know I needed. Covid made the gap so much worse. I also started paying attention to my intuitions while removing pressures and expectations on myself that freed me up to aim for something better. At the same time, I began picking up on the energies that a city's inhabitants emanate and felt attracted to a specific vibe found in cities and communities that weren't Madrid.
I recently turned 28, and though it feels late6, it wasn't until now that the different elements in my life have started to come together. I can now enjoy life with a renewed positive energy and I seek to continue exploring and stretching myself. I want novelty and excitement. To feel intense emotions. I feel curious and playful. And all these emotions better match a bigger city.
Now I have a clearer idea of what I want from a place to call home.7 I need easy access to peace via big parks, rivers or nearby hiking areas. I love walking and I'd love to have a variety of places to explore nearby. I want to be close to professional communities where things are happening so I can find people to collaborate with. I also love meeting people that do all kinds of different things and that are curious; it's those most different from me that tend to teach me the most. I want the excitement from knowing that there's always something going on; any given day, whatever side of me I feel like nudging, there will be multiple activities and communities to match. The energy of a city is important, where most people are happy and proud of living there. In general, I'm looking for a vibe that feels inspiring. Oh, and the weather is important too. The change that comes with having four seasons is beautiful, and while it's okay if it's cold, I have a high baseline of minimum sunlight.
Traveling has always been a big priority in my life. I'm addicted to the freedom I attain during long trips. Together with the fact that I could only live 2-3 years in the same place, I was doubting what was best for me. Was it was the stability of sticking to one place or the discovery and excitement of constantly traveling. It's good to have a home base in a city you're excited to return to and where you make the long-term friends you talk to on a daily basis. But I've also noted that I've made several real friends while traveling. The environment created by a trip leads to meaningful connections and moments that don't happen in regular daily life. So the answer for me is both — some phases ask for stability and others for constant movement.
I've made peace with not having all the answers and with not matching the life rhythm shared by those around me. Who knows what may come later, and who knows if I have something going on that makes me want to move every few years. I probably haven't found my stability yet and that's proof that I should follow my intuitions as they will be the path to find my stability — if it exists. The answer could be that stability for me is constant movement.
There is one thing I want to do better this time around. Cities can be very lonely and I didn't do much to change my luck. I'd always imagined city life to be a whirlwind of social events, but the reality didn't quite match my expectations, deepening my feelings of isolation. Now I realize I need to be proactive: I should join local groups and attend events, and try to build a new community for myself.
I think I did the right thing waiting a year. I wasn't ready. But now my intuitions about moving have cemented and I'm confident about the decision. I also have a plan B in case the visa situation ends up taking a very long time: spending a year in Tokyo. Either way, I'm excited for next year.
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Everyone I know that moved during Covid struggled heavily to adjust to their new cities.
I'm very lucky to have had such good friends so close to me.
I love the excitement that comes from exploring, engaging in a wide range of activities, and meeting new people. Even as an introvert and having a hard time taking the first step to meet new people, it's always worth it.
It was my second time saving money for the luxury of working on myself and on my own projects.
I have also felt attracted to Tokyo and Los Angeles for possible short stints.
I guess we each have our own speeds.
Or at least what my present self wants.