During my four-year Ph.D. program at Florida State, it was difficult to imagine the end. But once my dissertation was approved, my rented cap and gown returned, and all the champagne guzzled, leaving Tallahassee became a reality. I’d have to go somewhere, and it seemed only right that I move to Jacksonville, where my boyfriend lived. For nearly two years, our relationship had consisted of a week or two apart punctuated with quick bursts of time together, sometimes less than 24 hours. I kept most of my clothes in my car and rarely unpacked it. I lived on I-10, and the constant travel was fueled by massive amounts of caffeine and the Spotify playlists of love songs we often exchanged.
When we first met, and I began to visit him in Jacksonville, I was overwhelmed. First, with the googly-eyed infatuation that hit like a semi-truck, but then with how leaving the house felt like a receiving line at a wedding I never chose to attend. From grabbing a coffee to grocery shopping, we were bombarded with people he knew. I was annoyed, and it soon became resentment. I felt like an outsider, a transient. Soon, it became paranoia. In my imagination, every woman we ran into was a former fling or long-lost love. It was exhausting. I felt unseen, and as if I took up no space here. I was resentful that my boyfriend had roots so deep in Jacksonville that I’d never be able to keep up. How could I infiltrate such an enclave and become an active member of the community while not selling my soul to be a social climber?
My move to Jax was never in our plan, so even that felt like a failure. We’d hoped to make our way to Atlanta, that our connections there would land us jobs and we could finally begin a life in a new city that was entirely ours. That plan never came to fruition, so I was stuck doing the thing I said I’d never do: move to Riverside.
It seemed like a given, but felt fraught to me. What type of woman was I to move for a man to a place where I had few friends and no job lined up? I didn’t want to move into his world. I wanted our own. But I did it, and we found ourselves excited.
Once that buzz wore off, though, I was back to feeling lonely, and without purpose. Nothing here felt mine. Every restaurant was a place we went together; every friend was someone he’d introduced me to. I barely knew how to navigate the city. Those feelings were only exacerbated when I signed a lease down the street from him and made it official. There was no going back. But after my apartment was fully decorated and I could think of no more reasons for Target runs, I was paralyzed. The grace period of moving in was over and I was crippled by the lack of structure.
The jobs I felt entitled to went to someone else. I stopped writing, and for a while, it was a struggle to leave the house. I took no initiative. I wasted days meditating on everything that had gone wrong. I thought graduation would leave me triumphant, but I became an untethered balloon. My boyfriend tried his best, but it wasn’t his job to find my niche here. I made efforts, but they weren’t enough. I wasn’t comfortable hustling in the way that was necessary. I’d hoped my credentials and demeanor would be enough. I’d hoped something would fall into my lap, but that was immature and lazy thinking. I wasn’t guaranteed a professorship because of my degrees and publications, nor a community of supportive friends just because I showed up. God forbid I’d have to lift a finger to be fulfilled. I felt owed, but this city didn’t owe me a damn thing.
The lesson of attachment is one I learn (and write about) over and over again. My expectations bred resentment. I’d been so intent on our vision of entering new fields, leaving Florida, and escaping the “everyone knows everyone” culture of our neighborhood, that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy it or make it my own. It’s taken nearly a year for me to feel like Jacksonville is home. So much of that is due to making myself wholly uncomfortable. Just the other day, I forced myself to walk back inside an event after leaving because I knew my aspirations require (I hate this word) networking.
After six months of being unemployed, I found a job with Girls, Inc, a nonprofit devoted to female empowerment in elementary schools. I never imagined I’d spend my days handing out juice boxes and wiping tears, all the while trying my damndest to make underprivileged girls feel strong, smart, and bold. But I also didn’t know I had it in me to manage a classroom of 15 headstrong first and second graders. The transition from teaching at a university to running an after-school program for little girls was humbling, to say the least. What I mean to say is that none of this is what I pictured, but the image is slowly becoming clearer. It was love that made me move to Jacksonville, but so much more to make me stay.
Written by Anna Claire Hodge; PhD, accomplished writer, and monthly columnist for The Boutique Next Door. Find more of her work on her website, www.annaclairehodge.com, and follow her endeavors on Instagram @to.thine.own.self.be.trill.