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Routines
Routines
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

They told me it would be two years. That's what friends said, when I asked them how long it takes to settle into a new city, how long until it feels like home.

Two years, they agreed.

No way, I thought. It will be under a year. Tops. After all, I was moving back to New York, and I grew up in the metro area. I had lived in Chicago my whole adult life, but now I was moving back East to be near my family, near childhood and college friends.

And then a year ago, after the glamour had worn off, when I was miserable, I thought: Oh, boy. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I never should have left Chicago. Two years? I was sure it would take two decades before I felt at home. I thought vaguely about going back.

Now here we are, almost two years later. This morning, a few friends were having brunch at my apartment in Upper Manhattan. We sat at the table on the patio, the dogs circling our feet. It was my own Sex in the City moment, when I looked around and thought, I belong here. These are my people. I could see doing this every month forever.

Two years, almost exactly.

We tend to focus, in our nomadic society, on how easy it is to move from place to place, but not how hard it is to put down roots. Many of us have moved far from our hometowns - Gay people especially, since we traditionally gravitate toward the cities that will accept us when our smaller towns won't.

We move to where the girls or boys are - the big city, or San Francisco, or Portland, Ore., or Atlanta, or New York. And then we look for community in the bars, in the parades. And sometimes we find it there.

But roots, I've come to think, are partly built by routines, and that's why it takes two years. We need time to settle into work that we like, to learn which is our favorite grocery store, to figure out what we do regularly on weekends in this new, strange place.

In my honeymoon phase here, I know I let myself be overwhelmed with choices. Everything, anything was available at any time of day. Movie? Dinner? Shopping? Music? Yes. It was here. And it was dizzying.

I remember feeling overwhelmed when I first came to Chicago, too. There, I tried on whole neighborhoods. My first year, I went to a different summer festival every weekend.

In New York, I found myself running through the same script. I tried on friends and groups of friends. Often I found myself itching, as if I were wearing a tiny wool sweater. There are plenty of people in this cold city who are warming and lovely - but not a good fit for friendship, at least for me.

I tried out gyms and dance studios and yoga studios. I floated through a couple jobs and several roommates. I went to club meetings, meet-ups, classes, trying to find my place.

For a while it seemed impossible. But then, slowly, things started clicking. Saturday mornings are yoga and a pain du chocolat from a bustling French bakery. Sundays are church or brunch or both. Weeknights are for dinner with friends, or theater, or pilates, or catching up on reading, or art class, or guitar playing.

And once I had routines, I found people who shared them. People like my brunch buddies, who talk about yoga and foreign travel with the same wry attention.

Cities are lonely, or can be. Small towns are lonely, too, in a different way - in them, you can feel that you know everyone but that no one knows the real you.

In cities, you know that there are people who will understand you - the trouble is finding them. Sometimes it seems you need a real-life equivalent to Google, some search engine that will find this woman in her apartment in Chelsea and that one in her house in Queens, and neatly list their information for you.

Routines, I think, are life's search engine. They strip away what you yourself consider inessential - they gather the people who do what you do, because in some sense, you do what you are.

It's been two years. Two years to re-discover life's sweetness. Two to remember that it is routine and familiarity that help make a place home.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. Email her at jennifer.vanasco@gmail.com.

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