The London Chronicles: Stay or Go

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by Jason Bourne

This article was written on May 12, 2016

I have been living in London for nearly six years now. I’m in my thirties and it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is no longer a city that meets my needs. However, the decision to leave is not that easy and it is actually filling me with a lot of sadness as each day passes.

I think almost every Londoner who wasn’t born and raised here struggles with the decision to leave. It is scary the amount of people I have met over the past several years that talk about leaving London. Yet none of these people ever leave. I’ve asked people how long they have thought about leaving. So many have been struggling with this for longer than half their time in the city. Recently a girl, that has been in London for 13 years, told me she has thought about leaving for 11 years. You would think for such a transient population, it wouldn’t be difficult to leave if they wanted to.

Now that I am in the position of seriously considering leaving, I can put myself in the shoes of so many other uncommitted Londoners. There are likely a few big reasons for why they are scared to leave, because that is what it is – a fear of what lies beyond.

Most people who live and work in London believe they will not be paid that well or find as many job opportunities anywhere else, with the exception of maybe New York City. For those that want to escape the trap of glamour cities, they fear they will be met with either a never-ending job search and will end up in a long period of unemployment. If they find work, they fear they might suddenly find themselves making less money. The opportunities to climb the corporate ladder are limited. Of all of these, the only reason that makes sense to me is the lack of a diversified economy with plenty of jobs for anyone with any type of experience. London does offer something for everyone. There aren’t many cities where I could have three different jobs in three different industries with a background in one field. I found that in London. As for the money, well what matters is what you are left with at the end of the day. I am fairly certain there are hundreds of 2nd and 3rd tier cities that would leave me with more disposable income.

Another reason is a fear of being bored. In London you are never out of things to do or people to meet. However, humans have an underrated capacity to adjust, for out of sight is out of mind. If you don’t have access to hundreds of bars, stupid ideas like pop-up restaurants and secret cinema and loads of musicals or plays – you will forget what it was like to ever have so many options. So being bored, isn’t really a concern in my mind. However, if you’re single, it is downright scary to move to a smaller city where the population around my age is dominated by married couples with children. That is a legitimate concern. A boring city is one thing, but a city where you experience limited options for single friends and potential sexual partners can be a depressing thought. At this point I have to ask myself – is London really better for this? Friendships are fleeting and superficial in London. People are always leaving or they are too busy to even spend time with friends, at least not for more than a massive get together for a drunken binge night at the bar. Relationships with girls are frequently met with the thought there is always a better option in a city where there’s millions to choose from – for both sides.

There is one thing that probably hurts a little more. Nostalgia. London is a city that will be paraded in front of you constantly if you ever leave. It is always present in movies, in television and on the news. You will never escape it. You will see images of a city that gave you fond memories and it will bring sadness. It will remind you of a time that has passed, a reminder that you are aging. I think this plays a part in a lot of people’s minds – a fear that they are missing out. What could have been. They’ll see an image of sunny London on the news and think, “I wonder how many people are at the Westbourne today? I wonder how many girls I could’ve met if I was there tonight?”. Chances are – not much and not very many. You start to play in your mind the line that “if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life” and feel as though you gave up. Yet it is also sad if you use this as a reason for staying. So many of these people who I know that talk about leaving London seem to be really saying they don’t want to grow up. They want to still be able to go to bars into their 40s, which you can easily do in London.

In summary, the reason my debate about leaving fills with me sadness is not because of the aforementioned. It is not because I will have to face growing up and will have bouts of being reminded of London. It is not because I might have to accept some drab job filled with boring married people. It is not because I will be forced to hang out with dudes who can only get away once every two months on a Friday for “guys night”….at their house….for a poker game. No. It is because I have to make this decision in the first place.

London is an ideal city for a lot of people. Perhaps for too many people, for every person that leaves, three arrive. Perhaps that is where the problem lies. Ultimately the overcrowding of the city and the high living cost associated with that is what drives people away. To many, that isn’t fair. It’s as though there is a Darwinian struggle that goes on in London, and the strongest survive merely by the size of their wallet. I don’t know what the future holds, but without a major depression or financial crisis the city will be inhabited by wealthy landowners, with service industry peasants paying rent to meet the needs of the wealthy. I don’t want to feel like a peasant. I believe this is the primary reason many of my peers want to leave, but never do. They feel like they’ve lost some kind of struggle if they choose to leave, that they are second-class. There is a lot of struggle to survive and earn the right to enjoy London for what it has to offer. It’s a dangerous game however, because no matter how much you put in, you only seem to get half in return. It’s a war of attrition and that is a war that millionaires will win every time. Only a fool would continue to fight in the trenches, when the battle is being won in the air.

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