I’ve had it in the back of my mind for several years now to write a blog post on surviving relocation. I’m a bit of an expert. I don’t stay anywhere for much longer than a couple of years, moving around the country in the name of my career. And it can be hard. Until you actually do it, you don’t realise what a massive thing it is that you’re doing. It’s not like going to university, where everyone’s in the same boat, constantly on the look-out for opportunities to make friends and get a social life going. You’re dropping yourself into an existing situation; the people around you are living and working there already; some are settled with partners and families; others are in their own routine. Yet there are lots of us doing this; not just librarians, but young and not-so-young people everywhere – we tell ourselves that it’s all about the next promotion, or we get itchy feet, or an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss (or sometimes, in these times of austerity, the only opportunity we’re going to get right now). And so we load our belongings into a van and start a new life somewhere else, some of us multiple times.
The first time I did it, moving to Bristol after library school in Sheffield, it took me about six months to make friends. I didn’t really know where to start. I tried a socialising website; you were allowed one free event, then you had to pay an extortionate fee to keep attending. We all met in a city centre pub; the host ticked our names off on his sheet, starred the non-attendees for the blacklist, then went off to claim his free drinks, leaving the rest of us to mingle. Because it was so expensive to attend again, we all tried to make our new best friends in the space of a few hours. I exchanged numbers with another young woman, and we started meeting up. She liked spending the whole of Sunday shopping. I definitely did not. After a few evenings of stilted conversation over dinner in a chain restaurant, we silently, mutually conceded that we were not compatible, and that was that. Eventually I started meeting other local librarians at events, and began to build myself a small social life there.
When I moved to Bedford, I was determined to try harder. I felt I hadn’t made the most of Bristol. Despite my previous experience of a socialising website, I decided to search online for social groups, and I found one for people in their 20s and 30s, hosted on the site Meetup.com, which was new to me. It had a very small annual fee (£2) to join and seemed much less formal. There was a meet-up in a pub about 10 minutes walk from my flat the first weekend I was living here; I thought it would be worth a go, and I could always make my excuses if it was awful.
It turned out to be a really welcoming group. In the past almost two years we’ve run the Race for Life together, gone wine-tasting and cocktail-making, taken a day trip on the train to Paris, gone to the theatre and cinema, and done a lot of dancing and drinking (oh god, so much drinking). I was able to explore the nightlife in the safe company of others, and made some genuine friends, not ones of convenience. This group has impacted profoundly and positively on my life in Bedford (a town which, I’m sorry to admit, I still don’t like) and I can’t imagine what I would have done with myself without it.
The reason I’m finally writing this post now is because today that group has ceased to exist. After a few changes of leadership, the final lead organiser has stepped down, and no one has pressed the button in the 15-day grace period to rescue it. The URL leads to a message that the page cannot be found. Just like that, it’s gone. I expected to feel sad…but actually, it’s OK. Because this is the nature of Meetup. It’s transient. Groups disappear once they’ve run their time, and every day new groups appear; people meeting up around an interest or commonality, or simply to make friends. And this reflects the transient nature of the lifestyles that so many of us lead; moving on every so often when we need to, with minimal looking back. Last year our group was in its hey-day, with so many events on the calendar I couldn’t possibly keep up, and nearly burnt out when I tried to; now it’s gone, but other local groups flourish. I have contact with the friends I’ve made through other means, and I can join other groups to make more. The nature of all of the Meetup groups I’m familiar with is that most members can and do dip in and out of the activity; making the group fit our schedules rather than the other way round. All the time, people leave, and new people join, just as people ebb in and out of the towns and cities, on their way throughout their life.
It’s often said now that there “is no such thing as a job for life any more”. I think this is true, and with that comes all of the other elements of our lives; for those of us moving frequently, nothing is stable. Meetup.com reflects that and gives us a means of trying to fit in, to make a life for ourselves, however temporary, wherever we go.