Why I’m in Philadelphia Instead of Seattle

Photo credit: Jamesy Pena, CC BY 2.0.

I didn’t exactly choose Philadelphia. If you had asked me as a teenager where in the world I would want to spend my first decade of adulthood, I probably would have said Seattle, the closest thing I have to a hometown. I spent several years of my childhood running around Greenlake, biking the Burke-Gilman trail, playing soccer in Ravenna park and visiting Candy Cane Lane during the holidays. I love the crisp summers and the rainy winters, and since I moved away at the age of 17 I always thought that as soon as I had sown my wild oats I would move back. So it’s come as a surprise that I’ve been in Philly for nearly a decade, and have no plans to leave.

I was lured here after college by the dual promise of living in the same city as my long-distance boyfriend and a part-time job in my field of choice. The relationship went up in flames within months of my move, but the job lasted six years and helped me build a career. Philly grew on me. I was charmed by the historic row homes and urban parks and BYOB restaurants, the abundant art and the proximity to friends on the east coast. I learned to navigate the city by bike, was able to afford a studio apartment on a nonprofit salary, and made some truly great friends. A few years after my big heartbreak I walked into a dive bar on a random Sunday night and met the guy I would eventually marry. But I remained ambivalent about the city.

Philly is no Seattle. It’s a grittier city, a study in contrasts of old industrial neglect and shiny newness, deep poverty and artistic innovation. There are no mountains framing my ride to work, the job prospects are slimmer, the city government less progressive and more broke. Hiking options are fewer and further, and the Jersey Shore doesn’t quite have the majesty of my beloved Puget Sound. I took my born-and-bred Philadelphian husband to Seattle for a vacation and he marveled that people actually waited in line for the bus. We rode the ferry to Bainbridge Island and I nearly cried when Mt. Rainer came out to say hello. The siren song of the Pacific Northwest continued to call my name.

What to do with such a longing? Do you follow your heart and throw caution to the wind? I had ended up in Philly in the first place because I was chasing something that looked better from afar. Was Seattle really worth my longing? Should I just commit to Philly and make it work? Would I always wonder what my life could have been like if I had been brave enough to take the plunge? My husband and I would fantasize about what our lives would be like in Seattle in one breath and in the next talk about buying a little row home in Philly. I felt like the lead in a romantic comedy, but instead of suitors I had cities, and instead of marriage they offered the prospect of a home.

To help make a decision, we both started applying to jobs in Philly and Seattle. I was finishing up three grueling years of graduate school while working full time and was ready for a change, and my husband was tired of pushing paper at his office job. We figured we’d put our resumes out into the universe and let it make the decision for us. The joke was on us when I got a job offer in Seattle the same week he got one in Philly.

I had always imagined the moment of getting that golden ticket back to the Pacific Northwest as a moment of pure joy. Instead, a feeling of dread twisted in my gut. With a salary offer in hand and a potential move date, I quickly switched from fantasy to the very daunting reality of moving clear across the country. I figured out that the slightly higher salary I’d been offered worked out to about the equivalent of what I was making in Philly when accounting for cost of living, and not accounting for my husband needing to find a job. I figured out that it would cost at least $5K to move all our stuff across the country, and another $3K to get a new apartment while breaking our lease. I figured out how much a flight to visit my best friend in DC would cost (minimum $300) compared to my frequent Megabus trips from Philly ($35).  I figured out that it would cost us twice as much to buy a house in Seattle’s red-hot housing market than in Philly’s relatively tame one. I read about Seattle’s homelessness crisis and police shootings and found that reality didn’t quite match up with my idyllic memories anymore.

It’s very strange to feel like one of your oldest dreams just came true only to find yourself deeply upset about it. My husband was game for anything, bless his heart, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get excited. I would think about my hard-earned Philly friendships and cry. I’d think about the place where I get my hair cut, which took me YEARS to find, and cry. I’d think about spending several more years in a cramped apartment and cry. I’d think about how Seattle has changed so much from the sleepy fishing town of my childhood to a gleaming Amazon behemoth and cry.

In the end, my gut made the decision for us. My husband took the job in Philly and I turned down what once would have been my dream job in what once would have been my dream city. I could feel my 17-year-old self despairing at me. But as soon as I got off the phone with the very nice recruitment person I felt a wave of relief.  I chose Philly. I didn’t just stay here passively, it was an active, difficult, choice and it feels right. I had Seattle on my doorstep, asking me to choose it, love it, and I just didn’t love it back as much as I once did.

Last year, we bought our little row home in Philly. Both of us have since gotten better jobs where we are happier. We planted our first garden this summer, started volunteering with the neighborhood association, and have a standing board game brunch with the couple across the street. We used the $5K we would have spent on the move to buy a little hatchback that has ferried us to those far away hiking spots, as well as to take spontaneous trips to visit people we love in DC, Baltimore, New York, and Pittsburgh. The day we closed on our house, we crammed that car full of dishes and pillows and had a picnic in our brand-new kitchen with one of our good friends. It wasn’t a dream. It was home.

Claudia Vellutini lives in Philadelphia with her husband and cat. She’s a data nerd by day and a writer by night. You can usually find her riding her bike.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Moving Series.


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