Do You Want to Live Near Friends? | #236
August 19th, 2023: Greetings from Taipei. We are feeling settled after a couple of weeks in Taiwan and starting to find a new routine and rhythm. I’ve been writing a lot in the mornings at cafes a couple of minutes from our apartment which makes me quite happy. I’ve been working on a very rough draft of a second book which seems more and more possible as I keep dumping words on the page. I’ll be sharing more on my overall writing plans in a coming issue.
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#1 On Living Near Friends wrote a great post on the impact of living near friends:
It turns out that living near friends or family is a huge boon to your happiness (provided your friend is also happy). And distance really matters. There is a huge difference between living 2 miles away and ½ a mile away.
A friend who lives within a mile (about 1.6 km) and who becomes happy increases the probability that you are happy by 25%
Within ½ a mile, this number is over 40%.
and in visual form:
I was talking with a friend from college a couple of years ago and she was telling me how in college I was outlining a vision for all of us to keep living together in adulthood. It never quite worked out but it didn’t stop me from trying to live with or near friends in all of adulthood.
In 2008 when I moved to Boston, I recruited a former college roommate to join me. When he moved out, I found two more friends from my school to join the same apartment. When I moved in 2010 at the start of grad school, it was to move in with one of my favorite co-workers. After grad school, I convinced my cousin and his then-girlfriend it would be fun to share an apartment. When I moved to New York City, I convinced my college roommate to live together again despite us both having the money to get our own place. I moved to Bali for two months because I had a friend going there and while there I was only 30 seconds from two friends, Jay and Jonny. Nothing beat waking up and walking to the kitchen to share a cup of coffee with them in the morning while we all did some writing.
I’ve probably lived with 50+ people in the last 15 years and with Angie, we’ve lived with people in coliving communities and stayed at friends’ places. We have more experience living with people than almost everyone else I know. My conclusion from this is the same as what the data says. When the friction is removed to meeting up with friends, it happens much more often and it seems to make me a lot happier.
We think about this as a major factor in picking the exact locations we will live. In Austin, we picked an apartment complex on the walking trail downtown because we knew it meant we would see more people. I probably ran into someone I knew four or five days per week. These unplanned encounters made me so happy. Growing up, my cousins lived in the same town and I saw them all the time. Showing up at each others houses without an invitation was normal.
The challenge with Austin long-term, however, and with many other cities in the US, is that for most of the people we know, living in a city is only a stop on the way to eventually living a house away from the city. Once you have kids, living in a city is often prohibitively expensive and what happens is that most people opt into the most expensive suburb they can afford. I sense, however, if most people could see all the potential ways of living and the costs of benefits of those decisions, they might will a “missing middle” into existence in the US.
It’s interesting to see how these kinds of default ways of living shape people’s behaviors and preferences, especially back in Taiwan. Here, most people live in cities that are filled with dense high-rises and bounties of the “missing middle” pictured above. In addition, the best schools for kids are in cities and most people grew up in cities so see it as normal to raise their kids that way too. While owning is extremely expensive in Taipei, renting can still be pretty reasonable and provides a lot more flexibility to a range of families. As I was walking around this week, I was noticing that you probably have every level of wealth imaginable living in Taipei. But in the US, people seem to sort into places where they are only surrounded by people of similar levels of wealth.
Catherine Woodwiss wrote a fantastic essay on some of these challenges in the US this week, reflecting on getting her own place:
Homeownership, romantic coupling, children…the single-family house, filled with a single family, is still the default sign of “normal” adulthood, and with it, assumed maturity and success. Most other arrangements, even if joyous for those in them, are looked at as a compromise, a dalliance, or a necessity — an admission that something, somewhere along the line, didn’t quite work out right.
This script is remarkably socially durable. I haven’t felt direct oppression from it, like many others have. But I have felt, my whole adulthood, the itchy, persistent loneliness of not especially caring about this particular playbook, and an awareness of the economic perks and social ease I’m missing out on by not pursuing it.
I’m far from alone — by the numbers, Millennials are getting married later, having children later, buying homes later or not at all. But we haven’t yet been able to enduringly, meaningfully complicate this social narrative for what living differently might look like. The alternative choices we collectively make, the variegated stories we tell each other, still feel like they are working very hard upstream.
The whole essay is worth reading and I think an important perspective that many people might secretly agree with. I hear from many friends in the US that they don’t really want to live in a suburb but feel like it is their only option once they have kids.
Having spent my twenties mostly in Boston, it’s been interesting to see that only two of my friends are still living in the city, one of which grew up in the city herself and saw it as something she wanted to do too. The rest of my friends are scattered in twenty different directions around the city, all sorted into suburbs based on different levels of wealth and income.
I like to say that on the default path, people sort by wealth and on the pathless path, they sort by interest.
The default path of where to live is stronger than the how one should work script in the US. I echo Catherine’s sentiment when she says, “I want to see more models for what thoughtful adulthood can look like.” But those models are hard when the kinds of housing that would need to exist just don’t quite exist yet. Not to mention the norm of centering your life only around the nuclear family. I think the meme of wanting to live with friends is not as much about the friends part but really different options of living where different kinds of behaviors and local support might make sense.
Despite my strong instincts to forge my own path, I still feel the pressure of needing to have a place we call “home.” Many couples that are from two different countries just end up picking one or the other as a home base. This is usually for work reasons and for now we just don’t have these constraints so we can be a little more creative. Having lived in so many locations, Angie and I have gotten really good at setting up a new place to feel like “home” in less than two days. And when we talk about what we really want out of our lives factoring in all trade-offs, owning a home (especially at these interest rates) just isn’t something that makes sense.
It weirdly feels more shameful to admit you don’t want a home in the US than not wanting to be employed in the normal way, especially once you have kids. But traveling the world, I am reminded that a good parent might be a bad parent in another country and vice versa. Said another way, we are what our scripts tell us we are. And I guess its up to us to write a new story.
+ The supernuclear substack is a great newsletter around many of the different ways people are actually experimenting with living and co-living in the real world. They just built a new tool you can check out here:
#2 Path-y Reads
I enjoyed the following reflections on people carving unconventional paths:
on the challenges of being on a pathless path:
I always thought once I figured life out I’d be confident, standing head held high as I walked into the sunset surrounded by a tight knit circle of co-conspirators. That didn’t exactly work out. Instead, I was shocked when I couldn’t hold a conversation with a lot of friends anymore. It was like sitting at a cafe in Paris, me trying to order in English while my date can only speak Russian. I was lonely when no one wanted to take time off work to enjoy the splendors of Montana summer at 11 am on a Wednesday. What do you mean you have to work? Seriously, don’t do that. I sometimes get frustrated when I can’t explain those feelings to anyone.
wrote about taking a sabbatical (and inspiration from my book and pod)
Initially, I thought about half-assing a change in my life by finding a new law job. I even called up a former colleague to be reference. I thought maybe if I worked at a different company, in a different industry, that it might change how I felt about law. If the culture, and management was different, maybe that would be enough. And then a day later, I realised that was insane. I couldn’t wake up in a decade still living this same bland, 9-5, corporate life. The thoughts about taking a sabbatical had been moulding into ideas. I needed a sabbatical to really rest and reflect.
I quit the next day.
A work friend asked how I was feeling the day I quit, and I said, “Fucking amazing”. He laughed and said, “Clearly it was the right decision because every time I’ve asked how you are for the last few months, you’ve half-heartedly said average.” That really summed me up at the time, lacking the energy to really care.
Once I finally left for good I did not look back. It was truly a weight off my shoulders.
has been writing a series on her sabbatical which is great. Here is a quote from a recent issue:
My whole career had been spent deriving value from pursuing stable(-ish) full-time jobs — as a result, the idea of walking off on my own felt off limits, like a path not meant for me.
Like many people, I was raised to pursue excellence in everything society expected of me: from school and extracurriculars to work and professional certifications. I followed the well-worn path, defaulting to playing the games that everyone else was playing: pursuing roles with more responsibility, working hard to ascend the ladder, etc. Whether or not we explicitly opt into these games, there’s a part of us that believes that we’ll find happiness or success in “winning” the game. After years of playing to win, I started questioning the belief that investing in this game was the end all be all. I spent enough time contemplating it that it eventually felt like I was betting against myself by continuing to play.
on how to get in right relationship with feeling “special”:
on having plans and now not having plans:
Maintaining "the special-feeling" seems to be the crux seduction for many writers online. This special-feeling is related to that dreaded word: narcissism. People say we are in a "narcissism epidemic," but we are probably in an epidemic of overusing the word narcissism.
People weaponized the word, dismissing others who creatively express themselves online. People fear expressing themselves creatively online because they fear being seen as narcissists. And online intellectuals engage in the "narcissistic fallacy," dismissing other online intellectuals' arguments because they are presumably narcissistic.
No one wants to be the kid who doesn’t have a plan for what’s next. God forbid you are, then you’re lost, directionless, behind. And if you’re any bit the insecure kid I was, you know “behind” is not where you want to be.
So at some point, to avoid those uncomfortable conversations, you search for a path, an answer. Maybe you read one on an Internet forum or hear one at the career fair from a 24-year-old who somehow aged eight years in two. Either way, it doesn’t sound half bad, so you claim it as your own.
“I’m pursuing investment banking so I can be around a group of diverse and driven individuals — those are the environments where I’ve grown the most.
Thanks For Reading!
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