I left my heart in San Francisco

I feel it's time to return to the city I love, but family and practical matters hold me back.

By Cary Tennis
August 27, 2005 12:14AM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I have a situation and can't tell if I'm being an idiot, or merely practical.

The situation is, I want to move back to San Francisco.

These are the obstacles:

A) My boyfriend (we live together in another California city), though I don't think we'll be together permanently.


B) Family ties. They really, really bind.

C) I quit my job here in May because I wasn't being paid enough, and then went on a vacation and haven't worked much since (and therefore have no money except my long-term investments).

D) I just found a therapist I click with.


My therapist says it might take 18 months to fix me, but I'm afraid she's saying that because she wants my money. And because I'm charming and she wants to see me. (That's a joke.)

My friend, who seems very psychologically astute, said I should get the hell out of town now! This friend seems so sure about this, that it disarmed me.

But is the move urgent enough to cash in some of my future and cause a big ruckus? My friend seems to think so, pointing to my sensually (note that I'm not saying "sexually") abusive-in-the-past father, my controlling-yet-uninterested mother, and my sister who has problems with my intelligence and has recently hired me to do some work on her house for a low wage (since I need the money).


My friend says the move will cost me, yes, but that it's just money and I'll make more. But I'm debt free, and she has a shitload of debt. So maybe I'm just being practical? Plus, she left a city to get away from her mom, but her mom is clinically mental; mine is just really, really annoying/manipulative.

I love San Francisco and have never felt at home anywhere else. It has all the stuff I love and it feels like writing and books and politics and food and drink and sex are important there; you know. I felt, when I lived there before (a few years ago; I came back here due to a family illness), that I was finding out who I was, apart from my family.


But now I have this therapist. What would you do? Would you go now and cash in some chips and just get a new therapist? Would you go on Jan. 1? Or on tax day? Or 18 months from now? I'm 36, limp, and ...

Terminally Confused

Dear Terminally Confused,

As I read your letter over, a story emerges. Not too long ago, when you were in your 20s or early 30s, you were living in San Francisco, drinking in the culture, finding fulfillment in being with like-minded people. Your life in San Francisco was perhaps, as it is for many people, an identity-forming or identity-confirming experience. As you say, you felt at home here.


Then came a family illness that required you to move back to your hometown. You feel close to your family. There probably was no question in your mind at the time that it was the right thing to do. But being in your hometown dealing with this illness may have brought back old memories and old patterns of behavior that you thought you had overcome during your time in San Francisco. With them perhaps returned that old urge to flee!

Now the illness has presumably run its course. You again feel the pull of San Francisco. You may also by this time fear that you are getting stuck in your hometown. Your friend senses this and urges you to get out now -- perhaps projecting a little of her own desire to leave. But at the age of 36, you are maybe not as impetuous as you used to be, which is good. This time you are considering the practical implications of such a move. Still, your soul calls you; its call is no less urgent now than it was the first time you moved.

You have resources you can use for the transition, but you don't want to squander them. So you will have to plan well. Rents are high here. The economy seems good but the competition for jobs can be fierce. Life here, as anywhere, can be difficult if you have neither a job nor a place to live.


So my hope for you is that you plan carefully for your move while continuing to attend therapy in your hometown. As you suggest, a target date would be helpful -- tax day, perhaps. That would give you about eight months. During that time, why not try to focus some of your work in therapy on this future return to San Francisco? Among other things, you will want to discuss ways to maintain your ties to your family.

I detect the hint of a conflict with your therapist over your plans to leave -- or were you just kidding around? Naturally it seems that therapy would be a good place to discuss your plans to return to San Francisco. If your therapist objects, that might be a difficulty. But why would your therapist object? Surely your therapist would respect what such a move represents to you, and would want to help you sort out the conflicts and difficulties it will entail, and help you think about how it relates to the other issues you have been discussing. If not, then maybe, as you say, she just enjoys your company!

As I sit here out in the boring old Sunset District of San Francisco, on the first sunny day in over six weeks, I imagine you and all the people of similar spirit who come here and find their thirst for a certain kind of existence slaked, and I am very happy to be a small part of your journey. I know that sounds hopelessly corny, but it's true. I'm sort of a partisan, I guess, when it comes to this city. So good luck with your preparations. The city will welcome you back with open arms and open saloon doors.


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