I’m a Suburban Millennial, and I Love It

I never planned to leave New York City. Being a creative with a career dependent on building a large, city-based community, many people in the acting world (my chosen field) consider heading off to the suburbs equivalent to throwing in the towel. But reality has a way of challenging your best-laid plans. Especially when those plans didn’t really allow you to be much of a “planner.”

Several years into my NYC stay, as rent and train costs climbed beyond my means and the city’s population seemed to burst at the seams more every day, the unexpected call of the suburbs grew louder and louder. The convenience factor of living in the city seemed to vanish as well — unpredictable trains made me late to work, crowds left me incessantly exhausted, and with nowhere to truly unwind amidst the energy of the city, my creativity plummeted.

And so, even with the majority of millennials heading to mid-sized cities, my husband and I took the unexpected leap toward tree-lined streets, commuter trains, and earlier nights in.

In spite of our own skepticism, moving to the arts-packed suburb of Montclair, NJ helped us not only develop individually, but in wildly unexpected ways as well. Surrounded by the tranquility of our little suburban haven, I think more clearly, feel more creative, and connect with my town in ways I never could in New York. Nowadays, even as we run for the last train out of Penn Station at the end of the night, we could never see ourselves heading back to the city where we started.

Finding our People

Losing our supportive social circle was one of our largest fears when we left for the suburbs. NYC was an easy extension of college living, surrounded by friends on all sides, with always something to join in on if you needed to get out. But friends came and went as rents grew and needs changed, everyone shifted around to adjust, never quite providing the sense of a well-developed community.

But here in the suburbs, the faces tend to stay the same. And that’s a good thing. As a freelance writer, I spend half my days working in a local coffee shop where the baristas know me by name, and occasionally throw me a free muffin or let me try a menu item they’re testing out. On my way home, I pass the tailor who asks me how my knee is feeling today. We’re not quite Grover’s Corners, but in a town so enthusiastic about creating community, it’s hard to head into any small business without a lengthy conversation about your day.

In a smaller town, my husband and I have more time to develop a family-tight relationship with the five couples we spend most of our time with. We watch each other’s pets, host Friendsgiving and Passover dinners and most importantly, give each other a call when we simply need to sit and have a drink at the end of a tough day. The best part? None of these friends are as transient as our city pals are (or we were). All of my dog-sitting drinking buddies will most likely be around next year, and the year after, and beyond.

Although lower rent prices initially drew us to the charms of the suburbs, living here also changed the way we viewed our long-term financial plans.

Yes, It’s Cheaper

Although lower rent prices initially drew us to the charms of the suburbs, living here also changed the way we viewed our long-term financial plans.

First of all, we knew we could stay in one place without our rent changing significantly over time. Even moving to a larger apartment within town remained within our price range. We now feel stable enough to look ahead, keeping our eyes on future plans, past next year’s lease.

Also, unlike NYC, I can head out for a drink or an occasional lunch without setting my money on fire. Gone are the $10 beers, jacked-up grocery bills, and subway costs attached to every social outing.

Self-control in a large city is, of course, possible with practice, but requires much more effort to seek out those rare, inexpensive ways to spend a day. Here, we have the option to host more at home and spend more time outside, cutting out the need to spend money at a bar. And everything from coffee to car insurance comes with much less sticker shock.

Predictability combined with a lower cost of living means we can save for the future with far more confidence.

The City-Suburb Balancing Act

Each morning, my husband hops on the train to Manhattan for work, balancing out the peace of the suburbs with the energy of the city. When my own work takes me there, I find myself appreciating the rush of the crowds and the beauty of each neighborhood far more than when I called it my home. At the end of the day, we escape to our little quiet haven, wave goodnight to our neighbors, and sit in the backyard with a beer.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a few meltdowns in Penn Station when the last train of the night gets canceled without explanation, but this is far less common than waiting for a late-night subway to Queens that may never arrive. Strangely enough, I spend less time sitting in train cars than I did while living in Queens, something that always spiked my anxiety.

But now I get the best of both worlds. The extroverted side of me gets to play in the big city whenever the mood strikes me, while my inner introvert has a place to hide in the ‘burbs. I really don’t have to pick a side.

It’s So Damn Hard to Get Out

Imagine this scene: It’s early evening on a Friday and you throw your bags in the trunk to hit the open road for a weekend getaway. Except the road’s not open at all. You sit in traffic, inching along for hours, becoming more aware by the moment exactly what you’re trying to escape.

In addition to our daily travel, taking a road trip to explore a new town or to see family for a day is no longer a massive ordeal. Even if we’d had a car in NYC, which we happily did not, the enormous moat of traffic that encircles the city often discouraged day or even weekend trips. And with “everything at our fingertips,” it was easy to talk yourself out of leaving the city for the day. Knowing I can now hop in the car and head to a new hiking trail or visit my parents in less than an hour is a game changer.

Laying Down Some Roots

For the first time, my husband and I confidently feel like we’re here to stay, at least for this phase in our lives. Without another distant move on the horizon, I feel myself aligning my identity with the town. I’ve found creative groups to collaborate with, organizations to support and political organizations to rally behind. Over time, familiar faces throughout town become friends, and friends become family. Finding a sense of ownership, whether it be in the city or in the middle of the country, allows you to focus back on yourself, instead of where you plan to head off to next.

If I could tell 23-year-old Ginny that she’d be right back in a suburb less than a decade after college, she probably would have panicked. My preconceived ideas of these squeaky-clean towns often meant settling down, and cutting myself off from opportunity and growth. But living in the center of the action was simply not right for my husband and me — and admitting this, despite the popular trend or warning against suburban life — was the best decision we’ve made for our relationship, our careers and our overall sense of balance. In the end, the key to finding a true home comes down to making choices that allow you to flourish at each stage in your life, welcoming unexpected change no matter how much it goes against the grain.

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Author: Ginny Bartolone

Ginny is a freelance writer and actress based in Montclair, NJ. She regularly contributes to a range of wedding, lifestyle and spirituality websites, as well as in her own blog, MaybeThereWillBeCupcakes.com. She is also currently completing a book about her two hikes across Spain.

I’m a Suburban Millennial, and I Love It