imageLast weekend, our friend and next-door neighbor Gayle invited us to go with her to hear some live music at a local venue here in Grand Lake. We arrived after the band had already started its set and we sat down at a table with some of Gayle’s other friends — two retired couples we’d never met. Elaine, one of the women, sat at my left. After the band had played a few more songs, she started up a conversation.

It began, as many such conversations do, with questions like “Do you live here in Grand Lake?” and “Where are you from?” I naturally reciprocated. I learned that Elaine and her husband spent most of their year in Louisiana, after relocating from their native Florida to be closer to their son and grandchildren. When I asked how she liked living in Louisiana, a pained expression came over her face. In both Florida and Grand Lake, Elaine told me, she had found a sense of community through her churches, but hadn’t managed to do so in Louisiana. The congregations there were of the “holy roller” type and she felt out of sympathy with them.

She seemed quite anguished by her feeling that she did not belong, and we talked at length about it, in part because I so related to her experience. Not that I feel that way now, but at this juncture in my life, I’m very much afraid of feeling that way in the not-too-distant future. My daughter Emma will graduate from high school next year; when she leaves for college, we will leave Chapel Hill and move away from the South … but to where? I’ve always felt puzzled by those people who retire and move to some distant state where they don’t know anyone. I’m not retiring, but if we move somewhere else, how will we meet other people and develop a sense of community?

There are aspects of life in Chapel Hill that I’ve enjoyed these past 15 years, and in many ways, I feel that I belong — to my writers group, to my small circle of close friends — but I don’t want to stay in the increasingly conservative South. After small town life, I’m also longing for a more urban experience. I can’t afford to live in New York or London (lifelong dreams) and besides, as a writer/therapist in private practice, how would I meet people? When we moved to Chapel Hill, we instantly made friends through our children — other parents we met at school and sporting events. Now that the kids are nearly grown and on their way, I’ll no longer have that context.

Once we sell the house in Chapel Hill, Grand Lake will become home base for a time, but with a year-round population of only 350 or so, it’s way too small. With all the outdoor activities and visitors who come our way, summer and early fall are fine. But what then? Where will we live? How will we make friends? Like Elaine, I feel quite anguished about this issue. It’s not easy to meet people who are reasonably thoughtful and emotionally sensitive, and I’m not a man who enjoys superficial conversation. I’m not a church-goer, either, so I won’t have that option.

Last fall, I went to visit my brother- and sister-in-law on Martha’s Vineyard where they were renting a house during the annual fishing tournament. One day, we visited a local arts and crafts show where artists exhibited their work. I also noticed a table where a local writer sat with her books on display. She lived year-round on Martha’s Vineyard and wrote mysteries that took place on the island. She wasn’t famous, but she was well-known on Martha’s Vineyard and a valued member of her community. I felt envious in the good way — not that I wanted to spoil her experience, but I could imagine feeling proud and satisfied in her position.

As I grow older, belonging to some community seems increasingly important to me. I think we all need to feel that we belong and are valued by members of our community, don’t you? As I worked my way through the backlog of comments here on the site (and I’m finally caught up!), I felt some sense of community. I felt moved by seeing names and reading comments from people I’ve “known” for several years now, even if we’ve never met. Many of you are part of my virtual community.

But it’s not the same as belonging in the day-to-day sense. Where will I live and belong? How will I contribute to my community? What I envision seems hard to find, too, perhaps just an ideal in my head. The Northeast is appealing … except for the Winter and early Spring when I would be there. The South … no, thanks. California has the weather but is unaffordable. Is there an affordable city with mild Winter weather and a welcoming environment, where people read and care about the same things that I do?

Sometimes I think I’m only struggling with the approach of my 60th birthday next year, and that I’m having a hard time accepting that certain options are no longer available. Certain doors have closed. I don’t have most of my life ahead of me and I’m not at the beginning of my career. Perhaps when my book comes out next year, the picture will change and I’ll have a better sense of what is possible. Maybe in the end, we’ll decide to stay put in imperfect Chapel Hill.

I expect that many people my age go through this experience. Do any of you feel this way?

I’m glad to be back to blogging.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. I think everyone has a different balance of being alone and being with others that feels comfortable. And it may change as we age. Twice, I have moved to places where I knew very few people and discovered, late in life, how much I love being alone. I am surprised to find that I am an introvert! No more trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I have used this alone time to build a relationship with myself. Relationships with others seem to unfold naturally and I have been ok with the pace. Ironically, as a single person Facebook has helped me feel connected to others too.

  2. Belonging. I’m sure many people go through their transitions of life wondering and perhaps feeling concerned about their place, establishment and connection. I think for those of us with attachment issues that relational connection and fear of not having a place is or can be an incredibly challenging one. I’ve personally really struggled with belonging and it is so linked with my identity and purpose. Much of my life I have felt I don’t belong and I contribute displacement and lack of family to that. I really hope for you it’s just another adaptation that you will find your place in. I wrote something recently after studying human attachments and connection. I learned that belonging and having people to connect with is an essential need. One underestimated for but one that we need to depend on.

  3. Joe, My husband and I can relate to what you are writing here. We moved to Wake Forest a year and a half ago in order to be closer to the grown kids and plan to retire here. We have lived in Texas, Oregon, Washington and California because of job related moves. We find it difficult to merge into the community here for most of the same reasons you have pointed out. I am 64 and my husband is 68 (and still working). We love the area geographically speaking and love being closer to the grown kids and grandchild. I am way past attempting to change myself to fit in, so I have accepted that life is what it is. We do have friends in other states who visit us and whom we visit, so that helps. Loneliness and not belonging are issues that so many of people our age cope with, so we are, paradoxically, not alone in our feelings. Somehow that comforts me. I’m happy to have found your blog and I keep up with you regularly. We are nearly neighbors and comrades in our phase in life. You are definitely not alone while you transition to the next phase of life. Good luck! I’ll be reading.


  4. I was surprised this past year. My husband died from cancer. Suddenly I realized that all my friendships were ours, not mine. I am really alone and floundering. Here I am in a place where I had a community and now I don’t. I am planning to move closer to my (middle-aged) offspring when I retire, but that doesn’t solve the interim lack of community. I now understand that it is important to have all levels of friends: work, family, your own friends, your couple friends and so on. I think I am on my way to solving this, but the issue of being uncoupled caught me off my guard!

    1. I have heard this before, about losing your friends when you lose your spouse. I wonder why it is that most couples feel comfortable socializing only with other couples? We don’t. We have a number of single friends we regularly invite over for dinner.

      1. You don’t have a suggestion page for future articles, but this might make another good topic.

        I’ve heard the same thing too. I was always comfortable offering friendship to a wide range of people including those with a difference in age and marital status, but I frequently found that some people were not as open as I was. They even made comments that were discouraging. There were older people who would tell me that I should be making friends with people my own age and single woman who didn’t care to be friends with someone who was married.

        I’m not as social as I once was given some of those experiences too. After awhile it becomes quite frustrating dealing with such narrow and rigid rules about socializing when I’m not the person who made up those rules.

  5. Hi Dr. Burgo, I think a lot about community and belonging as well. It feels a little ironic to me because one of my main issues is longing for connection and at the same time being terrified of it. I live in Denver Colorado right in Capitol Hill. I returned to live here after 7 years of living in the suburbs. I grew up in Denver and can tell you in the 1970’s and 80’s it really was a cow town. Now it is becoming an exciting urban center in the best sense and I always say we are becoming a “real” city. It seems we are right at the early stages of possible greatness. Coming back to the city it was amazing to me how the very layout was so much more conducive to community. Our local coffee shop “Pablos” is owned by a man committed to the community concept and he very intentionally does not offer wifi. He has a sticker that says “free hi fives-no wifi”. It really does make a difference when everyone is not glued to the net during their “community” experience. I have met so many people from my community at the big table there. I also find it hard to find a place to connect with people outside of a Church and I hope our society will be able to create more secular but just as sacred spaces for those of us who don’t want to tie ourselves to a particular belief. A story from my local coffee shop illustrates how important this little coffee community is. There was a man who went to Pablos for years. He was a very deep, kind and philosophical guy. He loved conversation and really worked at communicating, listening and was not religious, so he created his community at this coffee shop. I can’t convey what an amazing ability he had to have a great conversation. He knew everyone at Pablos from the owner to the baristas to the customers. He was self employed and fairly poor and did not have health insurance. When I met him, he was suffering from fatigue and arthritis. He never got a proper evaluation for his symptoms and treated himself with alternative care. However, he always showed up at Pablos which he said was the highlight of his day. Finally, his fatigue became so severe that he could not get out of bed. He called several guys he knew from Pablos who immediately went over to his house (a great story which has been now told numerous times involving climbing to the second floor of his house and trying to convince him to call an ambulance which he refused to do at first..) Anyway, it turned out he had Leukemia. Everyone from Pablos went to visit him at the hospital. The disease took him about a week after he went to the hospital. He had just turned 65. When his sisters came to town the entire Pablos community helped with the arrangements and the memorial was at Pablos! He now has a plaque on the big table in remembrance of him. We all miss him very much. So I guess this coffee shop became his church. And I guess there is a way to create community without separating ourselves into religions. So I think any where you go Dr. Burgo, if you look, you will find. Or maybe like Kenny, my friend, you can create your own. Believe me, the people will come! Thanks for the post and hope this reply is not too long!

    1. Kim, I am so sorry for taking this long to reply. What a wonderful story. I feel bad saying this, but I had kind of written of Denver as a “cow town” when I actually have spent zero time there other than passing through on my way from DIA to Grand Lake. I think maybe some weekends in the city may be in order, and I will check out the Capitol Hill area. And I will leave my laptop at home when I go have a coffee at Pablo’s!

      Thanks so much for sharing that story and no, it was not too long!

      1. Hi Dr. Burgo, If you do visit Pablo’s be sure and make it the one on 6th and Washington (the newer one on 13th doesn’t have quite the community vibe yet). Maybe I’ll see ya around the Ranch!!

      2. I live in the same city and while I get the point being made about WiFi, I’m not opposed to it. I think for some people that being in a familiar place while among strangers may be a comfort. And that may be true even if they are glued to the net. In fact, that may be all the “community” experience they desire or are up for. One cannot know the struggles people face and even if they do so quietly. So one has to make room for that as being a valid choice, because people should be able to choose their own level of involvement and not have others try to dictate that to them. However, I seldom experience people as good conversationalists. Instead it has been an endless succession of mindless yappers who indulge in self-talk and that isn’t conversation. The story is nice, however I would find that type of situation extremely stressful for a host of reasons. I think it great that people tried to help him though through encouraging him to take care of himself–at least to call an ambulance. I’ve already dealt with people (relatives & others) who for whatever reasons didn’t/don’t get proper evaluation and self-treated with alternative care. They died as a result of those choices. I don’t care to try to reason with people who refuse to listen either as I’ve already “been there and done that”. For someone like me that would be an incredibly emotionally painful and frustrating experience–one that I never care to re-live on any level with anyone ever again.

  6. I’ve met a lot of people who move to be near their adult kids and so many them don’t seem to be very happy either. One of the older women that I currently know moved from Montana to Colorado to be near her adult sons. One has children and is in an unhappy marriage. This woman also revealed that she never thought that she would be raising more children (her grandchildren) after she raised hers. She talks about how hard it is to meet people and complains about it here.

    I recently met another woman (dental hygienist) who revealed how difficult it was to maintain friendships or meet people and then stated that she had relied too much on her daughter to meet people through school activities, etc. Once her daughter left, so did the social context for those opportunities. I agreed with her statement about meeting people. I had also thought that I’d established a rapport and made a type of connection with her and she seemed interested and jumped at the chance to exchange numbers. I then on a whim decided to call her. Well, she basically did a lot of talking and then stated that conversing with me was like “talking to an old friend”. I learned that she enjoyed independent film and so I asked if she would like to join me to see a movie, although I knew that it was short notice. I graciously offered her a way to decline as well. Well, she never had the decency to call and I never heard from her again and that after she told me all about her life for almost 2 hours–she shared about the poor treatment that she’d experienced from a man who she had recently met. I found the behavior confusing and hurtful, but that is in the context of experiencing that kind of behavior from women more frequently than I’d care to remember.

    “It’s not easy to meet people who are reasonably thoughtful and emotionally sensitive, and I’m not a man who enjoys superficial conversation. I’m not a church-goer, either, so I won’t have that option.”

    I agree as I feel the same. I’ve moved around quite a bit from Calif. to Colorado. I’ve felt a connection to places that I’ve lived, but not a sense of belonging when it comes to community. I’ve found it very hard to find that. I’ve heard repeatedly that I’m kind, personable, etc., but for whatever reason the people that I’ve met seem to have agendas and are inappropriate. They seemed to expect that I’m supposed to accommodate them. They neither seemed friendly or accepting–just inappropriate and entitled. I struggled too with finding a sense of belonging and also rejection. I’ve found it quite a challenge to meet decent people who are a good fit for me both intellectually and emotionally.

    Sorry this is such a long reply. In response to the types of people that I’ve met I feel that I’ve just turned more inward and look for community within myself.

    1. I’m sorry that this has been your experience, though it’s not so different from mine — especially the self-absorbed people who take and take and then disappear. I guess I know what you mean by turning inward to find community, though it’s not really community, is it? It’s more about enjoying the pleasure of one’s own company. I do enjoy my inner experience as a writer, thinker, playing the piano, but I’m also gregarious. I need other people.

      1. Thank you. Yes–community probably wasn’t the best word choice. The pleasure of one’s own company says it better and that is true enough. I have that gregarious side as well, but too few people to share it with that seem to appreciate that side of my character. I just became so frustrated at the types of people that I was meeting–it feels so repetitive. I hungered for a different kind of connection to people and here I was open to meeting new people and having new experiences and feeling always kicked in the teeth given the types of experiences that I’ve had–the one’s that you’ve so often explored on your blog.

        I did volunteering, joined a few writers groups and an outdoor group as well, since I’m more of an outdoor kind of person too. I even decided to try fly-fishing too. When I couldn’t find appropriate people–I also decided to hike alone too. I just kept meeting the most horrible people. One would think that you might find the potential to meet better quality people through volunteering, but that wasn’t my experience either. It was somewhat of a surprise that one could experience such toxic people in volunteer situations–nothing liking quelling people’s commitment. The really sad part is that sour experiences can really turn one off to such activities or lessen your desire to put yourself out there to volunteer more.

        I think I found it surprising too that I would encounter such types in an outdoor group as well. I just figured that one would hope to find people attracted to those activities as being more health focused, which includes mentally healthy too. However in hindsight why I was surprised and disappointed I really can’t say. People are people wherever you go. I know that repeated exposure to discouraging or disappointing situations can make it hard to bounce back and get back out there and try again.

        I’m fairly resilient though. I go through stages. I somewhat cycle in and out of phases where I’m more social, etc. I’ll turn inward at times and self-nurture and then get back out there again.

        Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but something tells me that perhaps you are the same? I think we all tend at times to hunger for new experiences and to broaden or challenge ourselves.

        I strongly identified with environmental work/causes and when that didn’t quite work out for me as I had hoped then that impacted my sense of purpose. I’ve had many challenges with feeling a sense of belonging and community like many here. This subject has really struck a chord with me.

        1. I identify with what you say about searching for quality people and so often being disappointed. Some of the most disappointing of them have been within my profession, which you would think would be filled with mentally healthy people. Not true! Truth is, it is VERY hard to find quality people anywhere.

  7. This is something I’ve struggled with too, very much, and I wish you a really happy outcome as you decide on where you want to live, and I hope you find that sense of belonging and community you want, like the writer you met in Martha’s Vineyard.

    Michelle (in a comment above) really said a lot in a short space. I agree with her 100% — everyone struggles with transitions in life, but I’m sure this is something we (people with early attachment problems, people with “difficult parents”) struggle with even more than others — it’s such a universal need to feel as if we belong, and if we didn’t start out life feeling that way, it’s more of a struggle.

    I relate to this feeling very much. We moved almost constantly when I was a kid, and I never felt that sense of belonging anywhere. Of course my “family” provided so sense of safety or belonging either. Then as an adult when my son was little, circumstances were such that we moved a lot, and I felt really bad for him, although I hope as parents we were more of a secure base for him than my parents were for me.

    Like you, I found that as a parent it was so easy, though, to meet people and make connections through my kids, and to get my sense of community and belonging that way. Many times when the kids were younger I asked myself, “Who will I be friends with, once I don’t have a child to do it for me so easily?” My son is in college now and my “baby” daughter is 10, so I have a few years before I have to answer this question (ha) but it’s one I’ve thought about, too, many times, and so I feel for you.

    I’ve also thought about moving elsewhere (when the kids are on their own) because we, too, live in a very conservative place — a conservative part of California. But then, having been fairly rootless, I also ask myself: where would I go? A large Northeastern city was where I was happiest and “fit in” the best, but (1) I probably couldn’t afford it; (2) I no longer have any ties there; (3) I’m not sure I could hack the weather after California; and (4) I’m not sure I could hack the Northeastern “unfriendliness” (which I never noticed until after I’d spent a lot of time in the Western US, which is very friendly by contrast).

    So, you’ve probably already thought about this, but are you sure that moving from Chapel Hill is what you want? I do know what you mean about the increasingly conservative South (I have some friends and distant relatives in NC), although I perceive that my corner of the US is also increasingly conservative, and I wonder whether it reflects a general cultural shift and not necessarily just “the South” or just “my corner of California.” Maybe I just ask this because I know a lot of people who happen to love NC (and find it more vibrant and progressive than they expected), but of course it’s not going to be the right place for everyone.

    Maybe, too, I ask that — whether you’re sure you want to move — because I’ve thought to myself that even though I dislike my current city as a place to live, and never would have chosen to live here if I were picking a place solely as a place to live, I do feel a little bit established here. The other thing I tell myself is that I’m going to wait and see where my kids land, and maybe move nearby one of them. That maybe sounds kind of awful — especially to the people who follow this blog (a lot of whom probably had parents they would NOT like to move nearby), but I think my kids would not mind it, and they might like help when they have their own kids or whatever. Since my original family was so awful, “family” (in the form of my kids and their future families) means the world to me.

    Well, I wish you well with your decisions! It’s exciting to have opportunities and choices, but really difficult, moving from one phase of life to the next, especially for those of us who struggle with belonging to begin with.

    1. You raise important questions and I promise to give what you’ve written some thought. It’s a very difficult but also exciting time of life. Too bad we can’t have the Northeastern city with the California weather, huh? I guess that sounds like a kind of ideal!

      1. Yes, I vote for “Northeastern city with California weather” (!) — if you can wait a couple hundred years, global warming might make it happen!

  8. What a timely (for me) blog post. Two months ago I moved back to Massachusetts after 22 years on the West Coast, mostly Seattle. Although I enjoyed Seattle, made good friends, learned so much about being human there, I have been wanting to move back home for years and finally found a way to do it. It feels right, at least for now. I am closer to my aging parents and adult siblings. The familiar landscape and architecture give me a visceral sense of belonging. I discover how many humble things, like scrub oak and pine trees, and the smell of Atlantic salt air, now sensed again as an adult, have formed and shaped my identity. After so many years in an urban setting, I delight in living in a small town, where the front page of the paper reports on the fate of a family of piping plovers, and people who teach and who write for that local paper occupy adjoining mats in my yoga class. And yes, I am feeling the challenges and longings of belonging as I embark on making connections so that I can offer my writing groups. I feel optimistic, and sometimes vulnerable, especially when I see people chatting after yoga class who have clearly known one another for years, who have a shared experience of this little town, who know it at a level that I do not yet. It felt good this morning to notice that vulnerability and to simply notice it, familiar old friend. I’m also reminded at this moment of something I read in Thomas Moore’s latest book, which I paraphrase here: “it is soulful work to look for a home — perhaps even the work of a lifetime.” Thank you for sharing your own questions and vulnerability with us. I appreciate your generosity and courage.

    1. This makes me feel hopeful. Your experience of attending yoga class, with a writer on one side and a teacher on the other, sounds about like the community I want to find, although not in a small town. It’s not so different here in Chapel Hill, but it’s just not that home I’ve been looking for.

  9. In my younger years I had itchy feet so I got to travel extensively in connection with employment. I’ve left this area twice and twice made the decision to come back: Why? It’s where I met and married my late DH. My “roots,” such as they were, were here. I grew up in the metro NY area and I wouldn’t move back to that area under any circumstances-I LOVE living rurally. Are the winters here brutal? Yep. A lot of people head south for the winter. But I really enjoy the change in seasons and I no longer *have to* go out. As I’ve aged I’ve downsized and now I rent-a place that’s perfect for me, the old widow with the old cat. I don’t want the responsibilities of home ownership any more-the headache or the expense. I believe we go through phases in our lives regarding material possessions: Desire, Acquire, Pray for a Fire 😉 (Ohh, how we end up with “stuff,” eh?!) There are three universities in this geographically large, remote area that offer all kinds of opportunities for the community and older people through various programs, the local people are suspicious as hell initially but after awhile they get curious about you and take you in. I tend to be pretty outgoing and curious anyway and people were happy to “show off” the area and their knowledge. I never knew people still hunted, fished and trapped to put food on the table, so there’s a juxtaposition of highly educated academic people, students and people who live comfortably with wood stoves and tip-ups, close to the land, who know nature is anything but benevolent. I’ll never be “from here” but I’ve learned a whole lot about life and people: I’m far richer for this experience and leaving my “City-Ways” and comfort zone behind. Besides, with all this technology anything I want or need that I can’t find locally, I can always find on line and have it delivered. I know I’ll die here and that’s by choice, not chance.
    Why not sit tight where you are right now and use it as your “home base?” And travel around a bit, perhaps engage yourselves a long-term rental in different areas and stay for a few months (or 6 mo.) and see how you like it? You don’t have to make any decisions right now, so why not take your time and explore a bit? If people can drain their pipes/winterize their homes here for 6 mo. at a time, manage the mail, medical stuff etc. I’m sure from a practical POV you folks could as well. It’s clear you enjoy people and your natural curiosity will unearth the beauty of the people and the area no matter where you go. Where have you always wanted to visit? Or perhaps return to?
    There’s a “spot” for all of us-sometimes, it takes a bit to find it but I have no doubt as you embark on this new phase of your life, you will. Please take your time-IMO, that’ll be a huge challenge for you as you seem to be constantly “going-going-going:” It’s as if you place a challenge in front of you, “OK, What’s next?” complete it and then it’s on to the next challenge. Convincing yourself to get comfortable with just not knowing for SURE what you’re gonna do next, where you might move next opens the door to virtually unlimited opportunities -which can be inherently a problem: By choosing ONE, inevitably we’ve closed the door to others.
    Scary, huh?! Not really: It’s all part of the Adventure.
    And yes, we *can* change our minds and nothing awful happens. Really 😉 As long as you keep your heart and your mind open, there’s a whole world out there just waiting for you to explore, enjoy and who knows? Maybe find another “Permanent Address.”

    1. Your observation about the way I place a challenge in front of myself, complete it, and then ask, “What next?” — dead on. I think you give very good advice. The more I hear from readers, the more I think I need to try different places “on spec,” so to speak, have some adventures and keep an open mind.

    2. Your comment was uplifting. I’m deeply wrestling with “what do I do now?” and feeling lonely. Thank you

  10. Hi Joseph,

    I understand what you’re saying about belonging and a sense of community being very important. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. Ironically I felt more of a sense of belonging when I used to live in a big city (London). I miss the way people in big cities just seem to accept you without prying too much. Also they do have a sense of community contrary to what most people think. If I had my time again I may have stayed in London or maybe moved to Dublin instead of the small town I live in. I couldn’t afford to move back to the big city now!

    I’ve been in this smalltown for 2 years now and it’s very difficult making GOOD friends – I have loads of acquaintances and have been shocked at the number of horrible people I’ve met. I hope some day to meet some good people (they must be around somewhere). In the meantime I’ve been surprised to find that I’m happy enough with acquaintances. Also virtual communities like this one are great but I agree no substitute for the real thing.

    Could you not live in say London or New York for a year? Would a house swop be possible? Another idea -I know of a few American retired couples who have used rural Ireland as a temporary base to visit Europe. It’s fairly cheap to rent here.

    I think it’s important not to be too far from your children – I guess you don’t want to hear the word granddad but if (when) this happens I think you might want to be close to them.

    1. Yes, I could live in London for a year. I’ve given it serious thought.

      As for my children, they are all over the place. My oldest is in Chicago but probably moving to San Francisco. My second is in London for the next two years but probably moving to New York after that. My daughter will end up in some big city, possibly New York. I agree it’s important to be close to them, but where?

      1. I lived in Sacramento in the early 90’s. It’d put you close to SF, at a lower cost. The area has everything and it’s easy to travel on flights from there, and particularly attractive if you like Lake Tahoe and visiting the Bay Area of California. I don’t think many people think “let’s move to Sacramento”, so that’s why I’m putting it out there.

  11. This transitional time can be tricky. After moving several times halfway across the country over the course of two decades, I have had to work on making connections in new regions at different life stages. Admittedly, the mid-life move at nearly age fifty was the harder one, in terms of meeting like minded people. Previous moves kept our family social connections within the realm of a career/job/school, and we had quick social support.
    This past move was different, as the career path diverted into an independent consulting phase, leaving my spouse with no office to go to, and no ‘instant’ friends. Our child was off to college and I went back to work full time.
    The spouse’s need for socialization combined with my ever increasing desire for less, has left us off balance a bit, and trying to find a solution that suits and meets our needs.
    We have eased into the personal changes, but after a few years are still trying to find a ‘group’ which works for the both of us. I am finding as I age and grow within an interior realm, that superficial socializing is much more difficult than when I was younger.
    This may be a shadow strength, and one I was ready for. It actually has helped me winnow out some junk and hone in on people who I truly can connect with, and it may be a real asset for you.

    My best advice, wherever you go…..find a good therapist you can click with! Good luck with your decision process.

  12. This is going to sound like I am missing the point of your post, but, having attachment disruption issues myself, I cringed at the thought of my therapist packing up and moving away (she is in the same life stage you described with last child off to college ). So I was imagining the upheaval of your Chapel Hill clients if you move for good. Whew! Hopefully they are used to it by now with your summers away.

    Good luck navigating this change. 🙂

  13. *deep sigh* Belonging….I am envious of the Beguinages of 13th century Europe.
    As a fiftysomething unpartnered childless female with all my family long dead, the concept of ‘belonging’ is fraught with biopsychosocial tripwires.

    I am navigating through the acceptance that certain options are not longer available. More anguishing has been the realization that doors I thought had been open to me, never existed in the first place.

    Oh well. Never mind. It’s just a flesh wound.

    1. That’s a very painful comment. I wonder what you mean by “doors I thought had been open to me, never existed in the first place.”

      And who were the Beguinages?

  14. Great to read your thoughtful and personal reflections on the human condition. Belonging and loneliness are something we all must deal with aren’t they? I’m single, my only child is in college almost all on his own, my father is in his 90s. Soon I fear I will be very alone. For now I have my work community which is very important to me. Good luck on your quest….

  15. I, too, am struggling with a sense of belonging.

    I am 44 and spent my whole life in Upstate New York (the Rochester and Buffalo area). My husband, a color and imaging scientist, was employed by Eastman Kodak Company for his whole career. He got downsized 2 years ago but got recruited for another job in his field almost right away … in the Bay Area, California. It was an agonizing decision but we decided that (for financial reasons) he should take it and commute home every 3-4 weeks. I had a new job myself and took it all on … new job, caring for a house, cat and 2 elementary school-aged kids. Always being anxious person, I developed full-on panic attacks during this time period and started seeing a therapist for the first time. My husband was worried and desperately missed his wife and kids. After 14 months, we all decided that we just couldn’t do it any longer. So, we moved to CA, also keeping our house back home, since we didn’t really know what would happen. I work remotely, so location doesn’t matter.

    I miss our home, my family, our friends and my sense of belonging but… having our little family split apart was even worse. It was the right move for us at this point in time but I am really struggling with community. I almost forgot what it was like NOT to have a strong community of neighbors, friends and family to lean on. I don’t have an office to go to much, since I work remotely. We live in an apartment for now, so I don’t really have a neighborhood. I am really trying — I am participating in thoughtful meetups, starting to volunteer at school and starting some other activities where I can meet people and gain some semblance of belonging. I feel like an outsider and I really hate it in some ways. However, I do see the positives … we are all having experiences as a family that we wouldn’t have had back home. We get to explore a totally different area of the country near one of our country’s most unique cities (San Francisco). It is lovely here and THE WEATHER is just unbelievable (it makes me never want to deal with a harsh, snowy Northeast winter ever again).

    I am getting ready to take the kids “home” to upstate New York for 5 weeks so that we can see our family and friends and actually live in our house and enjoy our neighborhood for a time. Deep down, I think that I am looking most forward to being someone who belongs again for a while.

    1. What an agonizing experience, to have to uproot yourself NOT by choice but by necessity when you already had what you wanted. I wonder how you will feel in two years time, once you’ve established roots there in San Francisco? Maybe it will feel as if all the turmoil was worth it.

  16. Dr. Burgo, may I suggest a university town? Eugene, Oregon — home of the Mighty Ducks — may be a fit. If you are a little more conservative, Corvallis is just north. Rain is a consideration, of course, but the Willamette Valley is only hours away from the coast for relaxation, the mountains for skiing, and there is even desert country to the east. The Valley’s weather is quite mild, and there is an eclectic mix of people.

    Currently, I, too, am coping with transitions after my marriage broke up, my son graduated from high school and is off to college, and a retirement after a 33 year teaching career spent in only one building. And now I have another new experience as my ex and I, both greatly changed since the divorce, are dating again — and all of this occurred in only 5 years’ time!

    My best to you, Dr. Burgo, as you create your new world!

  17. Dear Dr. Burgo:

    You say you are about to turn 60. If the photo on you blog is recent, I’d say you are in great shape for 60 years of age!!!

    I have never really belonged anywhere, and I am 52. It’s a terrible, lonely feeling. It’s painful. You don’t want to experience that.

    Maybe it’s a case of “The grass is greener on the other side.” I don’t know, but if you feel like a part of the community where you now live, I’d say stay there.

      1. I think we all may suffer a bit from the “grass is always greener” conundrum. I used to live in Santa Barbara and when I talked about moving I would hear the most negative comments about living elsewhere and the attitude that SB was God’s country–the “perfect place”.

        Well it was extremely expensive and the employment environment was challenging, oppressive and exploitative. In short it was difficult to live there, so I spent most of my time feeling depleted and not able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. I was told that “people pay to live there”. I also recall someone saying that no one would talk to you if you hadn’t lived there for at least 5 years. It was difficult to make friends. That’s the trouble with so-called paradise.

        I left and never turned back. I will admit that snow was a difficult adjustment and I do miss the ocean having grown up by the sea, however I don’t regret leaving and finding another place to call home. I’ve adjusted, although I’ll admit that winter can feel a bit tedious.

        I don’t know much about where you live other than I think that the magazine Parabola was started there. Other than that I agree with the last comment–that if you’ve made a life there why leave. There’s always time to contemplate that more anyway.

        1. When my parents were still alive, they retired to Santa Barbara (where they had met 40 years or so before). I’ve spent a fair amount of time there and find it beautiful but oddly soulless. I think it’s a nice place to be wealthy and well-connected to other influential people, but otherwise …

          1. “… but oddly soulless.”

            Soulless is how I would describe the behaviors of most of the people that I met, although I didn’t socialize with wealthy people. I encountered that behavior more frequently from people who were working–I call them strivers. The work situation was impossible. The few truly wealthy people that I met were actually quite considerate.

            To be honest there were some cozy looking old bungalows that I would have loved to call mine, but it was not to be.

            If you know it well then you also know about Old Spanish Days. I became interested in the dancing and when I tried to find out about the possibility of taking lessons I was rebuffed. I was told that it was reserved for people of that heritage. Needless to say, I never attended the celebration again–there or anywhere else.

  18. Dr. Burgo,
    I have an (actual) suggestion for your next home! Portland. A dear friend moved there after doing lots of research for her retirement, and has been very happy. I’ve visited her several times, and love it. Portland is a big city with lots of culture (opera/music/theatre), and is a very bookish city. It has the greatest public library (holdings per capita) in the U.S., and the library runs any number of programs each year – my friend, a retired librarian, found her new circle by serving on the board and joining reading groups. Plus, it’s the home of Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookseller left standing in the U.S. Powell’s also runs all sorts of book-related events, including “meet the authors” evenings throughout the year. Given its reputation, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of authors/writers out there too (in fact, I know there are). It’s also a beautiful city with a long 20th century history of progressive administrations, with the result that there are trees and small gardens everywhere downtown + free transportation within the downtown perimeter. Lots of funky foreign restaurants, a good mix of natives and recent transplants, plenty of choice about what sort of neighborhood to live in.

    Downside: many people have told me that they couldn’t bear to live in Portland, where it rains about 300 or so days a year – I’m not affected by rain, and would choose “overcast and 45 degrees” over “clear and minus-10” any day in mid-January.

    1. I have heard this before about Portland and should probably check it out. The rain might get to me, though. I’m from Southern California and don’t do well when skies are gray for too long.

  19. While I can sympathize with your not wanting to live in the South, I’ve traveled my whole life, and what I can take from that is everywhere is pretty much the same. There is no perfect place, and what you think will turn out to be a fresh start, just turns out to be more of the same. It seems like you have a good community of friends and I would hate for you to regret leaving it all behind. I’m also a bit confused. You don’t make out that you have any problems with your current situations besides that it is the South and you seem to have some goods friends. I don’t really understand why you want to leave so badly.

  20. Volunteer work is a great way to meet people. That includes things like rotary clubs and elks lodges. Getting out and helping people in your community (where you’re not in the confines of confidentiality) and with like-valued folk is what community-building is all about. I used to be a church goer, but after I stopped believing in God, I found all the same soul and social fulfilling things through volunteer work and starting a nonprofit (on top of my day job). I’m an introvert who lives alone, so it’s nice to have this from time to time for my social “fix”.

  21. Hello Dr Burgo ( since this is my first post and we have never “met” online, I went for the formal name )
    Firstly I wanted to say that I really like your blog site and have been following it and reading all sorts of posts for a while now, I am amazed at how you are able to share some of the things you have written about on here and I have read many posts that have been helpful to me for the things that I am currently going through.
    Also please accept my apologies if any of this seems rambling or incoherent, I have CFS/ME and don’t always think clearly!
    I don’t know how much you would find anything I write here in response to your post helpful but I wanted to respond, I think something in your writing touched something in me, maybe because I am alone in my life at this time. When I say alone, I mean no partner, no friends, no one close to me, my parents live in another city but that is another story, although I have support such as my counsellor and health professionals.
    I am 34 so in a different life stage to you but I think that some things will still be shared- I do not think that I ever felt a sense of community as you have talked about it, it seems quite alien to me or a sense of belonging anywhere at any point in my life- except perhaps in my last relationship which ended almost two years ago.
    I now live in a beautiful little place called St Andrews in Fife, Scotland- yes UK so not sure how this will compare with the way things are in the US?
    There seems to be a sense of local community here but not really accessible to me being an outsider. Having said that what I thought may be helpful to you is that there are lots of ways to meet people here and things to get involved in- which I started exploring this year ( sadly for me, health problems have prevented me from joining in with this more recently but again another long story and I have gone back onto me again ) There are many interest groups and community groups, town events and social coffee mornings, community courses such as exercise classes in the town hall or local churches ,
    I joined a group for students and town folk called Transition- they are an environmental sustainability group ( there is a university here so most things are linked to the students- I am a student but I am an Open University student so I study from home and most of it is online ) and they have things to get involved in such as working on the community allotments growing fruit and veg organically or just fun stuff like meeting up for a drink and a chat in the pub,
    There is also a botanic garden here where I used to volunteer until I fell ill, so that was another way to meet people,
    I wondered if perhaps if you were to move that there would be something similar to that? That you could always find something to join or volunteer in? Perhaps an interest you have always had or trying something new?
    I am really conscious in writing this that you are nearly twice my age and I feel a bit like you may read my comments as teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs but I hope it does not come across that way.

    As I said earlier, I don’t think that I ever had much of a sense of belonging to a community and sometimes wonder if this has a negative side- for example- I have an impression of some communities as becoming very judgemental and unaccepting of differences and they have to “approve” of you and maybe you would not want to be part of that anyway- not sure if idea is based on anything rational or if I have just picked up a pre-conceived idea from somewhere? But have you ever lived anywhere where neighbours are nosy and gossiping and want to know all about you so that they can disapprove? I have come across people like that. Perhaps that is just one aspect of communities that can be undesirable but maybe I am being too negative?
    Maybe you are looking for an ideal that is not out there? I think it is hard not to have something perfect in mind and go for finding that rather than just letting go and seeing where life takes you?

    As to whether you move on or stay put- what can you handle more- losing your circle of friends or the changing political atmosphere? What do your friends feel? Do they have plans to move on or are they staying long term?
    Also is fear a factor? I think in most places, you would be able to meet people in some way? Maybe having spent a long time in a parental role, you have just forgotten how you used to do things before but how did you meet people before you had kids?
    Perhaps you could really get to know a place by visiting and finding out what living there would be like before choosing to move?

    I can recommend St Andrews for a nice place to live and as it on the coast, it gets milder winters than the rest of Scotland and nicer weather! Worth a visit here at least!
    Anyway I have probably written to much so I will end by saying something cliche but true- nothing is perfect

    best wishes


    1. Hi Sarah,

      Even if I’m twice your age, you can still give useful advice … and you have. I do think that I’m holding an ideal that is getting in the way, and that having been in a parenting role for so long, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to meet people in other contexts. I think your village in Scotland sounds lovely! I confess that I’m a big fan of the United Kingdom and have fantasies about living there, too.

      I grew up in Los Angeles and most of my close friends have long since moved away, so they are spread out all over the country. My friends in Chapel Hill are firmly rooted there and firmly opposed to my moving away! One of my fantasies is just to spend several months in different places but remain based in Chapel Hill.

      Do other people fantasy in this way?


      1. “Do other people fantasy in this way?”

        Well I don’t know about other people, but yes I certainly do. I also basically grew-up in So Cal too.

        I don’t think it a sign of anything other than a curiosity about life and other places and that’s not a bad way to be.

      2. who doesn’t fantasize about such things? 🙂
        the best you can hope for is to be able to experience living in different parts of the country/world for a long enough period of time to not call yourself a “visiting tourist” and can still go back to a place you call home, with friends and family who you care and who care for you.
        given the fact that life is short, I would not forgo any opportunity or the possibility to create such opportunity to explore and enjoy people and the world as they are!

        1. I absolutely agree. “living in different parts of the country/world for a long enough period of time to not call yourself a ‘visiting tourist'” — that’s exactly what I want.

  22. I have recently been through a year and a half of therapy for what began as bereavement issues . The process itself revealed deeper stuff I was aware of affected my day to day problems in coping, but not to the extent being in therapy allowed me to examine. So I am glad I did this and am facing possibly last day very soon. For the first time I opened to belonging and revealed how displace I have always felt. I was not really aware of the big picture of the therapeutic relationship, so have gradually made my self come to terms with this relationship as a model for future ones. Its hard but as my understanding increases so my life is changing anyway. I am not alone, but have been terribly isolated. A city born person in a (beautiful) rural area for many years . I know many people yet I have always been incapable of making close friends outside of immediate family. I took up therapy at a point where I could not even be in my own company anymore. For me the big thing is I am now strating to enjoy my own company again, and I am becomming more enlightened about how to relate to others. I have refused a lot of invites over the years. People give up if you keep insisting and making excuses. I am one of these people who seems to be very social very chatty and always smiling.
    The thing is while I don’t feel I actually need that much regular contact with the outside world, I know you have to have some practise to do anything so I am resolving to practise more now I feel able.

    No one has seen the person I have been able to show my therapist. Its become a relief that one person witnessed and accepted me. As for age I am past fifty, and have felt that drag of time running out to make things different , better ectc. And yet if community involvement is still not big on my radar of needs at this point perhaps they never will be.
    I know it is about taking risks. Its about taking a good look at what resources you already have to go on and learning to reassess their use.
    I think one thing is despite our doubts about it, we do keep on changing and growing no matter what age, and have to try and remain open to that.
    I am afraid of how it will be once the door has closed on the (very secret) therapeutic relationship I have engaged in, but I will go on . A year and a half ago I felt very differently.

  23. I think, wherever you are, joining a local theater group is a great idea. It could be as a member of the crew, performer, stage managing, etc.

    It’s very bonding and fun. The people are usually very warm, accepting and age is irrelevant.

    1. It’s funny you should mention that. In Grand Lake, there’s a Repertory Theater that’s fairly well known and does a healthy business all summer. Unfortunately, it is run by a couple of amateurs who don’t know what they’re doing. They have their board of directors entirely snowed and we just decided to stay clear. Maybe elsewhere, though. Thanks!

  24. Advice from one who has moved in late 50’s, when my daughter left for college: yes it is difficult and far more so for an older woman than a couple. Give back. Join charitable groups and do something. It isn’t magic and it isn’t fast but it may work, and it will be satisfying work for you

  25. OMG just tell me what I’m thinking Dr. Joseph! “Is there an affordable city with mild Winter weather and a welcoming environment, where people read and care about the same things that I do?” As I am selling the family home in which I grew up in here in the North Shore of Boston, I am feeling the same way. I am thinking to rent temporarily in Florida just to avoid another freezing winter here, but not sure if that could work year ’round for me. When you find that place – let me know!!

  26. I was talking about something related to this with the poet, Richard Price, who is part of a Month of Authors Reading, a tour of Scottish writers in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. Recently he had a writer-residence stint in the village of Coimbra in Portugal and he said that he discovered he wrote best when he had no time to write and that being away from his day job, family and London drove him to distraction. I said I was somewhat opposite to that living in Slovakia surrounded by a language that I half-understand and that the linguistic isolation sharpened the attention I pay to the language in which I write. I’ve discovered that language is only part of being happy in a community as Slovaks are very neighbourly and the exchange of greetings and a willingness to help lift things or lend an electric cable, for example, are equally important. It’s also great to go into the centre of town and come across half a dozen acquaintances and manage a conversation. A community of 100,000 where it takes me ten minutes to walk into the centre or out into the hills is about right to strike a balance.

    1. It’s an interesting study in contrasts. As much as I complain about not having the freedom to focus entirely on my writing, I’m probably more like Richard Price than I like to think.

    1. To those who don’t already know her, Peggy Payne is a member of my writer’s group and author of the novels REVELATION, SISTER INDIA, and COBALT BLUE. I hear you, Peggy. It’s nice to belong.

  27. Seventy, long divorced and readier than I ever thought I would be to leave what is perceived to be an enviable and glamorous restaurant related business in San Francisco, I sharur conundrum. My high end chef/restaurant “scene” provides me with what passes for community, recognition and declining satisfaction. My hometown has also become more challenging and less user friendly in the last couple of years with no sign of relenting, and the moment I leave my business the community it provides will be gone.
    My solution: A couple of years ago I purchased a small, very affordable apartment near old friends in Germany (I am not German but speak the language fluently.) Having spent some fulfilling time there, I decided to try living there part of the year, which will begin sometime next late summer.
    Unfortunately northern Germany has one drawback – brutal, long, dark winters – so I have decided to look for a small flat in Spain (also a good investment decision). I speak Spanish and what family I have left spends some time there. As I have found staying at their flat is far from a good idea, this will allow us to be in contact without being in conflict.
    Although these are financially sound decisions – or as the guardian of my retirement fund says, moving money from one pocket likely to spring a hole soon to another which is not – they are obviously personally risky, so I am leaving myself a back door by not selling out high here, although it might also be financially wise. (current property prices are ridiculous.)
    The apartment’s are/ will be large enough for me and a couch surfer. I expect to host a few.
    And simple and sparse. The German flat is furnished with the necessary and no more, ,which deeply refreshing. This is my intent for Spain as well.
    As for the personal risk of uprooting late with high hopes: Having dealt with quite a few retired chefs who returned to the “old country” in great hopes only to come back to the US disappointed and angry, so I am forewarned, If the experiment fails, it might at least provide a new perspective on “home”.
    I am up for an adventure at this point, hopefully not the last. A recent diagnosis of a chronic condition which is rarely fatal but doesn’t improve the odds of achieving my family’s history of 90 – 100 year life spans provided a motivating sense of mortality, punctuating the fact that if there is to be one, it should be sooner rather than later.
    Your desire for an urban setting makes sense, as does (what I assume to be) your desire for a non retirement community.
    Friends equally frustrated by San Francisco have moved to high density senior areas like San Diego with no friends and love it. It sounds dreadful. They have made many new friends, but then they are married, which plugs different values into the algorithm. Not golfing and being a club association fan, a retirement community threatens endless daytime television and the usual machinations of the bored and recently disempowered and uprooted.
    On the other hand an appropriately run down flat in Barcelona would involve days of much more appealing and entertaining repairs and puttering.
    A final note: The idea of Europe is very romantic, but I don’t think it is for everyone. I have an acquaintance who purchased a home off the grid in Southern France for very little and is spending the rest of his life there quite joyfully, but it’s country. I speak a few languages and know some of the trip wires in living abroad – we hope the rest will add to adventure but not despair – having lived there for quite some time.If I did not, San Diego would probably sound a more enticing.

    1. I so enjoyed reading this!

      I am up for adventure, too, at this point in my life. I spent many summers and one entire year in rural France and I know that it is not for me. We were welcomed with open arms into the community but it was too isolated. I also speak Spanish and I absolutely love Barcelona. With high-speed Internet available just about everywhere, I could live abroad for part of the year and continue working by Skype. This is actually one of the possibilities on our plate. I wouldn’t want to spend another Winter in Europe, not even in Spain, but a few months a year in Barcelona during the Spring? Why not? If you’re open to major change, anything is possible.

      You’re brave to be undertaking this new journey in your life, but it doesn’t sound at all impulsive or ill-considered. I hope you’ll touch base from time to time and let me know how it’s going. I would love to hear about your adventures.

  28. Thank you for your blog. It has been a comfort to me often and it has helped me in many ways.

    I don’t think I have ever felt like I belong. I have only recently realised how big of a deal that is., sometimes the timing of your posts is quite uncanny 🙂

    My life seems pretty normal to people who don’t know me. I have a really great husband and a beautiful little boy who’s just over a year old, I am a GP and I’ve just started a private practice (so scary, but exciting) I read a lot and I have way too many hobbies everything from cooking to sewing to photography and I even recently started a yoga class. What most people don’t know is that the closest I’ve ever felt to belonging anywhere was in the psychiatric hospital where I was admitted for depression. I ended up losing contact with the friends I made there because I badly needed to see myself as healthy and in control to finish the grueling medical internship and community service. Having a group if friends where what you have in common is mental illness was just too much. Sorry I’m rambling. Everywhere I go, no matter how much I have in common with the people I’m in contact with I feel embarrassed and conspicuous. It feels like I am inconveniencing everyone just by my presence and they are being charitable by spending time with me. I try to say everything I need to say as quickly as possible so that I waste as little of their time as possible. I have even at times starved myself and become skeletal so that I don’t take up too much physical space in the world.

    Looking back on what I just wrote it seam pretty messed up and the spirit of your post is much more “normal” and balanced. I guess in the end I wondered to what extent I am so terrified of needing people or the loneliness that comes from being let down by them that I just don’t allow myself to feel like I belong. To what extent do you think belonging socially is a choice?

    1. I don’t know you well enough to say for sure, but I expect that somewhere underneath, you want desperately to belong but you are terrified of showing and then being disappointed. Becoming invisible or making yourself entirely unobtrusive is a way of warding of the possibility that you might express interest or desire and be met with indifference (that would be shame, as I define it). So, you are defending yourself against an excruciating experience of shame.

      1. Thanks for your input., I think you are right I will be sure to read some more of what you have written about shame to help me understand better.

  29. Thank you for raising these interesting questions!
    My children are still small, so I am in a different phase of life, but my husband and I have already had some talks about where we want to live after retirement. It will most likely be close to where our friends live. I think the lyrics of the song “Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen)” are an endless source of wisdom regarding the most important questions in life. To quote the related passage:

    “Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you
    should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and
    lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you
    knew when you were young. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.”

    I hope you find the liberal, intellectual small town you are looking for.
    Why do you hate winter so much?

    1. I love those lyrics! It’s so true. My friends are spread out all over the country, so bridging that geographical distance requires continual effort.

      I don’t hate winter so much as I do gray skies. I’m also an active, outdoors kind of person and I dislike being cooped up for too long.

      1. Oh, it`s the gray skies. 🙂
        That I can understand, in a topsy-turvy way. I grew up in northern Germany, close to the sea, with lots of rain and gray and cloudy skies, and I love it. Give me a bright blue sky for more than two weeks in a row, and I get depressed. I long for what Jacques Brel described in one of his chansons as “a sky so low that it engenders humility; a sky so grey that it has to be forgiven for it.”
        So it is the other way round for you…..
        Way back at university I heard a sociologist say in one of his lectures that we always want to go back to what we knew and experienced when growing up, in terms of landscape, food etc. Maybe he was right…..
        I have one more question: You mentioned that you don`t want to continue living in the south because it is getting more and more conservative. Most of your American readers seem to instantly know and understand what you are talking about. As a European, I am not so sure. What exactly is it that bugs you about the conservatism around you? People voting Republican? People ignoring climate change? People being intolerant of other people`s life styles? In what way is it getting worse?

        1. It’s the mean-spirited, socially intolerant, anti-government, know-nothing attitude that gets me down. It does show up more on the Republican side of things.

  30. I’m sure wherever you go many people will be queuing up to be friends with such an educated and empathetic man. Best of luck to you,


  31. Good to have you back, Joe. I think this moving at a certain age, is a very American thing to do. Especially, relocating to another state etc. Intense. Settling into a whole new community, learning to feel the land etc- big change. My priority now, settled 20 plus yrs, in my rural community; is solitude to do my Art work, read.. Don’t find I seek a whole lot of company. But live close enough to a city, I can get to Galleries etc. and close to the ocean.. And my kids come and go from a small family compound..
    And I live in a pretty conservative Australian state.. But the underground creative energies bundle along.

  32. Belonging? Hmmm, I wonder what that feels like? I don’t recall having a sense of belonging anywhere. Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in.

    Anyway, I hope you find your answer. It looks like you have had some very constructive input 🙂

  33. Are you still going to do psychotherapy? What happens to your current patients? Are you concerned about licensing requirements in your new state? Or is simply calling what you’re doing “coaching” even though you are a licensed clinical psychologist enough to make licensing boards happy? Prediction: these will not be issues in thirty years, as all states (except maybe Texas!) will have reciprocity for medicine and psychology.

    1. I will continue to work by Skype with all of my existing clients and any new ones. As for licensure, I am a “psychoanalyst” which is an unregulated profession in most states. I agree that this will eventually become irrelevant.

  34. My husband’s work has taken us to Africa, Central America and as he is British we decided to live in England. In these odd places I have had to scramble for a social group — and have done it. Friends are indeed everywhere, even when few people speak English.
    I have had the wonderful experience of living in London but as we start considering retirement, I have some grave concerns. The National Health Service is extremely strained in London with so many mentally ill and impoverished people, which you find in any large urban environment. (Out in the rural sticks of Greater London where we live, we have a tranquil yet boring time of it). Also, it is easy to trip on the pavements in London and take a bad fall — break a hip. Sounds like small beer at 60, but not too great as you get into your late 70’s. You get shoved around a lot on the mass transport. Buses aren’t too bad, but the tube is a nightmare during rush hour and there are so many stairs and lack of lifts to get around for those that are slower walking. My point being that as exciting as London seems, it is not an easy place to be retired unless you have a great deal of money for all life’s conveniences such as taxis and doormen.
    The idea of ‘attachment issues’ really rings home for me. Despite years of therapy, I worry about the abandonment of those around me — that my children will leave and not maintain close contact, that friends will move, that there will be no one new. And this is a legitimate fear. But perhaps there is no ‘friendship group’ that will erase this. I have decided that I’ll need to stay very involved in local community groups that interest me and that most of the friends I meet may well be somewhat transient. There will need to be some intellectual depth to these people, or I will go bonkers (and I have already struggled with this where we are living). When I am really old I want to do telephone work with others who are homebound — i.e. to never give up with the connection-making. We will gather dear friends and we will lose some of those friends when their lives move them in new directions.
    Over all things, the abandonment is my greatest fear. I just keep plugging away at these core issues and find I am replacing quality solitude (i.e. writing) which plugs the social gaps.
    Finally, my mother is extremely happy on Tybee Island off of Savannah. There is this somewhat bohemian (year round only) population there, right on the beach breaking all the rules. They come from the Northeast for retirement and are intellectually stimulating. They aren’t Southern. You might want to have a look.

    1. Your points about the difficulty of retirement in London are well taken — all the more reason to get my fill before I’m too old! I have been thinking about the islands off the southern coast and Tybee was at the very edge of my radar. I will check it out. Thanks, Dawn1

  35. I grew up in Sydney but left there 30 odd yrs ago. Since, I’ve lived in rural locations and by the sea. Didn’t like the energy of beach living( though I love the sea), couldn’t return to a city to live.. Each time I visit one, the energy from so many people together and so many buildings not to mention cars/ cars and cars.. Just zaps my clarity.
    What I love so much about where I live, is it’s green. Trees and birds and quiet. And I don’t sense a lot of human misery/ depression. Whereas in cities, I sense the darkness of those energies. Guess, what I’m saying is- really tune into , for both you and your wife, what basic energies you need. It can be easy, when kids about to all be gone, to maybe panic a bit and wanna be gone too.

    1. The green and trees and birds and quiet — that is why I have Colorado and I truly love it here. But I need some urban time to balance it out. Thanks, Dolma.

  36. Hi Dr Joe, My family moved every couple years as my Dad was in the Air force. Some children living this kinda life, diplomat’s. academic’s & other roving parent’s kids, learned to make and keep permanent connections with friends. I didn’t, and instead learned not to get emotionally close because we’d be moving on after a while. College was the longest I’d stayed anywhere, but I made few friends and kept 2 after graduation. The venues of school & work seem to offer the mot natural possibilities of finding and making friends, and after grad school I worked with a few fellow students and profs from that program who became friends until they died or moved away – one I’m still very close to still lives and works around here.

    I think I’ll have to make more and younger friends here, and I don’t go out of my way to facilitate that – I feel I belong with my wife, who’s also a close friend. I’m nott leading up to any other insight or suggestion than I’ve already made. Without some shared interest/task, five years or so with the same people seems necessary to grow into some close friendships, if that’s gonna’ happen. I wish both you and myself greater openness to whoever’s around to allow and nourish the new friendships we both need. bd

    1. Thanks, Bob. The “five years” necessary for friendship — is that based on your experience or are there actually studies that bear this out? I have found that to be true, although going through a particular trauma together also seems to speed things up in the development of intimacy.

  37. my first question is: why move? why “retire and move somewhere else?” what’s wrong with staying with a community where you feel you belong?

  38. and I recommend Pacific Northwest, by the way. It’s hard not to fall in love with this part of the country.

  39. “I can’t afford to live in New York or London (lifelong dreams) and besides, as a writer/therapist in private practice, how would I meet people?”

    It seems to me that you want to live in New York or London, and you’re putting obstacles in your way. If you have a home to sell, you could sell it and rent in either city. You could lower your standard of living to have the life you want, get rid of your car, sell off assets that you don’t need for city living. Maybe even sacrifice something for what you want? Therapists in large cities can earn more per hour: put your rates up, take on more clients, develop a business.

    Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    As a writer / therapist you can meet people in just the same way that anyone else does. How did you meet people when you were younger? Do that. Online, in coffee houses, at churches, in bars, through writers groups (yes, they exist in London and New York).

    How about you flip a coin, just decide on one place or other, then move? Yes, you’ll lose the comfort of what you have, but you at least won’t regret not having tried it.

    Can you tell I’m biased? Personally, I’ve spent the last few years creating excuses for why I’m not making the choices I want to make rather than just making the choice, and seeing what happens. The penny dropped for me last month when I realised I’ve been avoiding the same choice for about 3 years, and still whining about the same things, hoping someone else will sort them for me. That’s never going to happen, cos it’s MY life, and I’m the only one who can take responsibility for either making my dreams happen or choosing to let go of them.

    1. Sage advice, Martyn. I do put obstacles in my way, but some of those obstacles happen to be within my family. They don’t want me to move and they don’t want to move with me to New York or London.

      I think long-term rentals (months, not weeks or years) are the answer for me. Let me know how you do with your own choice. And thanks for the encouragement.

  40. JB, this made me think of the song by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood: “My elusive dreams”. It also strikes me that there may be more a matter of fugitivism than of dreams or projections. There is an old danish/norwegian saying of a man about to move away from the gnome living at his house, but from top of the carriage the gnome was laughing ” I think we are both moving” .

    Oh, in many ways I relate to the subject, although I have no hopes or dreams, at least not so near the surface that I can see them. I am 70 and very detatched from others, including wife, children and grandchildren. I`ve given a lot of time, attention and economic help to them, and I know I`ll do it again if necessary. Yet,I am quite aware that I do not belong. I feel an outsider. An outsider willing to help, unable to love.

    Unable to love people, yet grateful for a lot, like food on the table, flowers, books, music….
    This song title is for all of you: “Ojala, que te vaya bonito.” (If you lack spanish, a poor translation goes:” All the best!”

  41. Community is very important to me. It is why I live where I live. I know what you mean about wanting to live near like-minded people. Now, even though I live in a small city that used to have a lot of people with similar views to me, I’m finding it’s harder to feel as connected. Partly, I’ve grown and have a different expectation of what I want in my primary social groups. And, partly, the people in this area are getting more and more detached than they used to be. I think this second factor is affecting many places.

    So, I’ve had to seek out other like-minded people, as I grow apart from some of my old relationships. I found that meetup groups (Google “meetup groups”) are a good way to meet new people. I would think that checking out the types of meetup groups they have in the areas you’re considering will reveal a lot about the population’s way of thinking and living. I think if you move to a metropolitan area, the subsection you select would be important. As an example, I think of the Atlanta area. It would have a range of neighborhoods from super conservative to super liberal, with differing housing prices, micro-climates and such.

  42. Hi JB,

    In therapy this week my therapist and I termed my personal struggle: it is to learn to belong to myself so that I can belong with others. How do you reconcile belonging within yourself so that you belong with others? How are you, JB, reconciling them? Why is your belonging within not translating to belong outside? Why are you moving, looking to belong? How am I to belong to belong to myself?


  43. “home need not always be a place. It can be a territory, a relationship, a craft, a way of expression. Home is an experience of belonging, a feeling of being whole and known, sometimes too close for comfort. It’s those attachments that liberate us more than they constrain. As the expression suggests, home is where we are from — the place where we begin to be.”
    Entire article is here:
    It’s from my MBA organizational Behavior teacher…

  44. I’m a little late to the party but you would fit in so well in Melbourne, Australia. Mediterranean climate, multicultural, huge arts and psychoanalytic community. But I realise a little far from your family.
    Loneliness and belonging are such deep existential issues. They are still terribly difficult for me now in my 30s because I felt completely rejected and unwanted by my parents and family of origin. It was my birthday a few weeks ago and I spent a number of days contemplating what being born actually meant and it was devastating to realise that to my family of origin, it did not mean much at all unless I functioned as a narcissistic extension of them. Even though I have my own family, I struggle to feel special, wanted and that I truly belong and am deeply valued and worthy of attention, love, care and spoiling simply for being who I am. Its a terrible burden that I fear i will never extract myself from. Thanks for writing! 🙂

    1. I’m hoping to go to Australia in Spring 2016 after my new book comes out there and I will definitely take a look at Melbourne. I think that those of us who grew up in narcissistic families always struggle to some degree with self-worth. It gets better but it never goes away entirely.

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