Dating Your Place

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With Valentine’s Day upon us, it is the perfect time to reflect on the dates that we’ve been on (both good and bad dates). Ones where we feel an immediate and lasting connection. And ones where we know right away (or pretty soon) that we never will. It’s not necessarily because the person is a good or bad. But more of the result of how much compatibility — that seed of belonging — we feel when we are with them.

Same is true for places. You have to get to know a place to determine if it is the place for you. And your conclusion is not necessarily a judgment about the place, but rather its compatibility with you.

In my book, Place Match: The City Doctor’s Guide to Finding Where You Belong, I provide some tips in dating your place. Here is a preview:

  1. Date it for a while before making a commitment. Shotgun weddings are often shaky at best. Research indicates that people’s attachment to a place can generally first peaks at the 3-5 year mark. So take your time, if you can, in getting to know the place before making a permanent financial or personal commitment. You may not even make it to the 3 year mark if you determine early on that it’s not the place for you.  No need to string each other along.
  2. Don’t decide while on vacation. This is like eloping to Vegas when you’re still in the early stages of dating. Again, not generally advisable. Being a vacationer in a place, even over many trips over time, is going to be much different than living there.  Ask any vacationer turned resident.
  3. Don’t choose potential place partners based on top 10 lists. Online dating is an option, but the profiles only represent one data point. So these top 10 lists of “best places to [fill in the blank]” are also just one data point on your search.  Remember, a place that looks good on paper (ranks highly), is only truly good if it feels right to you. The data crunchers may or may not be measuring things that would make a world of difference to you living there.
  4. In general, we feel the highest sense of belonging and attachment to places where we enjoy: (1) the opportunities for positive social interaction, (2) the physical attractiveness with the place, and (3) where we feel accepted to be ourselves. Notice how those three factors aren’t really that different than the top things we often look for in a partner.
  5. Do get to know the good and the bad about your place. As Dr. Phil says: “Never marry anyone until you’ve seen them with the flu.” You have to also know the “bless your heart” moments about your place to see if you still feel the willingness to love it anyway and even help it through the rough spots.
  6. On a related point, don’t seek perfection in your place. No relationship is perfect.  No relationship is perfect.  No place is perfect. Or goal with our relationship with place is similar to our goal with our partner: resilience.  Bad days, stresses and challenges are inevitable, but how well do you bounce back together is the true test.  If resentments build, challenges are not satisfactorily solved, or connection is lost, then a sustained relationship is less likely.
  7. Notice how you feel in the place. As humans we take cues from our environment constantly and draw conclusions as a result. We either feel like we thrive, belong, are accepted and just feel good in the presence of people and places that we are compatible with.
  8. Be ok with a “for now” Place Match as you’re dating. The truth is our needs in our relationships can change over time as we change, grow and experience over time. Some places are a just a better match for a fresh college graduate, while others are much more aligned for families with young children or seniors.  Sometimes one place can be “the one” for you through all your life stages.  But more often than not, it won’t be. So realize that your Place Match may change over time.
  9. It’s ok to have a “side place.” I’m going to tread carefully here in making parallel comparisons to our relationships with people. But not every place may suit all of your needs.  I often hear people say that they are having an affair with another city, perhaps seasonally or as they prepare to make the leap to another place.  This happens so don’t be surprised if it happens to you.
  10. Even after you marry your place, date nights with your place are critical for the bond of belonging to endure. Relationships have to be worked on and invested in to survive. Date nights with your place can help in keeping that connection alive and also serve as a good litmus test on how well the relationship is going in general.

People have really responded positively to this idea of “dating your place”.  So much so that the Date Your Place app and related products are in the works! Residents like the idea because it gives importance to the very important decision of where you’ll live and gives a roadmap to the process.  Leaders also like the idea because it presents an easy framework for understanding some sometimes complex place concepts, while encouraging them to ask some important questions: What is our dating profile as a place? Loveable? Struggles to put itself out there? Hard to get to know? Presenting a false front that creates a “bait and switch” feel to residents? Good on paper but not in real life execution?

Our relationship with place is among the most important of our lives.  For it will affect every aspect of our lives.  So give this decision the thought and consideration it deserves by effectively dating your place before making the commitment.

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