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My Contentious Relationship With Vancouver

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People often ask me why I left Vancouver. If you look up articles online on the most liveable cities in the world it’s in the top ten quite often. The city has countless parks, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, a pro-work-life balance culture, amazing cuisine and mountain air so fresh you’d wanna package it into an aerosol can and probably get away with charging $100. 

But do a deeper search on the web, and you’ll find similar posts to this one…one painting a different picture of the city, exposing a facade. I reflect without fresh feelings of just having left (it’s been four years). And while time is effective in making you look back from an objective view, I cannot agree this was the case with my relationship with Vancouver. There are scars.

If you live in Vancouver and are happy, power to you. I know people who found the love of their lives in Vancouver. I know people who found solace in its’ nature. And I know people who just love yoga. 

Full disclosure: I did love the city for the first few years I was there. But if I’m really transparent– especially to myself– I started to fall out of love with it around year four of being there. I stayed for another nine because I had a hard time letting go. Vancouver was the place I stayed at the longest while I was creatively blocked; the mountains felt like walls.

In my early twenties, I came to Vancouver with excitement and vibrancy but left realizing I needed it to heal. I needed the solitude the trails offered to reflect, which later became a form of escapism. I needed to pick the wrong men for me to learn my value (Vancouver had a lot of those for me), learned through unbelievably brutal lessons. And lastly–probably the most distressing of all realizations–I learned that my personality trait of being resistant to change was exacerbated and I self-destructed after being in a (miserable) comfortable environment. Comfort breeds stagnancy. I didn’t want to be stagnant.

Reasons for Leaving

I had to say goodbye.

There were other factors, like the expensive housing market and lack of upward work mobility (depending on which industry you were in). But for the most part, I was in a rent-controlled apartment building and had a good job that paid well. My career was just…ok and I drove a kick-ass sports car. I was grateful for all these things.

But I said goodbye because I didn’t fit. 

Photo by Khantushig Khosbayar

Yoga was not a lifestyle but simply a coping mechanism for me. There were only so many poses I could do before I started to sense it was a way to avoid my problems. Just go to the mat they say. The mat was there to clear my head, not to make me stay there forever. Gone was the need to get on with the business of living, when coping skills became the form of living.

The sushi was of great quality considering how cheap it was but it didn’t automatically mean Vancouver was a global hub for cuisine. Indian, Latin American, Middle-Eastern and all the other types of food became fringes, not equal players in the culinary space.

I’m not white and I’m not skinny.  Aritzia (founded in Vancouver) generated great styles but as a voluptuous size 14, I didn’t appreciate it when a girl working there inauthentically smiled and told me I looked great in one of their clothes when I clearly looked like a sausage; it was ok to say to suggest another outfit–I would have respected her more for it.

I managed to find spiritual healers who easily recognized my struggle and helped shepherd me out. The city has many people who are in spiritual crises and their services were needed more than ever. What’s unnerving is that many citizens didn’t even realize it.

Vancouver’s transplant community perpetuated an air of not caring about each other, instead choosing to escape to nature instead of connecting with real humans (“I can’t deal with this bullshit, I’m going for a hike”). It was easy to become passive. People stopped caring because it wasn’t cool to care, and became too scared to show true feelings about things for the fear of appearing vulnerable.

Every day I met people who came, loving it but didn’t realize they were slowly conforming to a lifestyle that placed more weight on appearances instead of true substance. It was a city that valued the need to appear hipster, without practising its true core values.  When individuality becomes generic–that’s when it’s time to stop, look around and question. I needed to see homogeny to appreciate my uniqueness.

After tapping into its’ dating pool, I recognized Vancouver as a gorgeous man that would have been a trophy husband but shitty in bed and emotionally unavailable. I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to travel where I would regularly get a reality check of my value. I was luckier meeting men out of town who saw and appreciated me –this kept my self-esteem in check. I don’t need men to validate me, but when they liked me for reasons that resonated with my values it was an indicator I was on the right track.

The sunsets were gorgeous but they didn’t fulfill me–I was content but not happy. The moment I realized I became passive, I became so angry, realizing I needed to feel something again. That’s when I knew that sitting stagnant and watching the beautiful sunsets wasn’t enough to truly maximize what life had to offer.

Image by Jerry Coli from Pixabay

Post Departure Observations

At the time of writing this post, I’ve been gone from Vancouver four years after having lived there for thirteen. I’m not quite as settled in Toronto (where I am now), but it’s starting to feel more like the life better suited to who I am. In my new city, I have friends who share values in line with mine and have a job that’s a reflection of the multicultural nature of the city.

I’ve let my curly hair run wild as opposed to straightening it to mimic the typical Vancouver look which I did for years. I was literally straightening myself there. Now, while my weight is slightly heavier, I feel more comfortable in my skin than the endless hiking, running and dieting I used to suffer through in order to achieve the archetypical thin, svelte, body type that West Coast culture encourages. 

Now, as I scroll through my social media feeds and see friends’ posts of those who still live there, it looks like a caricature I couldn’t see for the longest time because I lived in it. People hiking in their Lululemon yoga wear, photos of super healthy, organic $10 smoothies, biking around the Stanley Park Seawall, and hanging out in local breweries.

Of course, nothing is wrong with any of these images, but it made me see why the stereotypes of the West Coast exist. Heck, for the longest time I was like that too. But now…not so much. Or rather, I tried to fit into an environment that wasn’t really right for me.

I chose to drive towards the sunrise–where there was uncertainty, culture and reality. I took that gamble—and it was worth it.

Thank you, Vancouver, for the tearful lessons. I do plan to visit, but only to remember how far I have come.

How about you? Have you lived in places that made you feel like you were out of place?

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