Six Months in a New City

This week marks six months since I’ve moved back to London. I last lived here in 2015, so it’s been a solid few years away! Half a year on, I thought I’d reflect on what’s gone well, what’s gone less well, what I’ve learnt, and what I hope my future time in England’s capital.

For the first three months I was lodging with a couple. Without going into too much detail, this did not go particularly well - but I learnt from the experience. For example, while I want to live in a clean and tidy place, I’m not the type to vacuum the entire house multiple times a day. I also prefer a relatively social house, one where housemates speak with each other, guests are allowed, one without unspoken curfews. Also, I first-hand experienced the disadvantages of live-in landlords not requiring to hold a lodger’s deposit with a third party, but instead having total control over what they feel requires deductions. I also learnt about small claims court procedures.

Since then I’ve shared a two-bed flat with a guy, and it’s been great. We’re both equally responsible, and hence both look after it, and we agree our own rules (i.e. clean but not clinical, guests but not daily parties). It’s in a much better location than the place I was lodging, with better transport links, and a younger, more outgoing atmosphere in the local pubs, cafes, and parks. Because of this, I go out and do things more - the barrier to entry (of having fun) is lower. Also, as we’re tenants, our deposit legally must be protected by a third party.

In Manchester, where I was before London, I lived alone in a one-bed flat. Living alone certainly has it’s advantanges, but so does living with others, especially if you’re an ambivert. It can be therapeutic to have someone to chat with after a frustrating day at work, or hang out at home and watch the rugby with some beers. Living with one flatmate has benefits over living with two or more - for example, there’s a higher chance of having private time, and neither can deny responsibility for leaving a mess etc.

Still, it strongly depends on who you live with. For my current place, I found the guy on SpareRoom before I found the flat, and we hung out for a few weeks first to get to know each other, to ensure we were compatible as flatmates. I definitely recommend this option over simply moving into a spare room without knowing much about who you live with. I’ve done this before, only to discover you’re living with people who never clean up after themselves, steal food, and think 4AM weekday afterparties are acceptable.

One reason behind my move to London was work. My current company’s Manchester office is small, with fewer than half a dozen people regularly attending. On the other hand, their London office has at minimum dozens of people attending, hundreds on busy days. While I enjoy working from home, having no face-to-face contact with colleagues for extended periods led to feelings of isolation, of being a freelancer disconnected from the organisation. I also feel it hinders progression, as there are fewer opportunities to have spontaneous chats in the kitchen or the elevator. Unfortunately my team rarely frequents the office, and hence these days I too rarely go in, given the cost and hassle of commuting and the fact that even if I do I’ll still be working alone or on Teams calls. On the positive side, I now have the opportunity to go into the office if I do want to, such as to attend events or meet colleagues from other teams. The company is also introducing a hybrid work policy, where people must go to their local office 2~3 days a week, although given the pushback this has received, it will be interesting to see if and how this is enforced.

Beyond work, there are so many opportunities in London to get involved in interests, professional and otherwise. Almost every day there is an event related to sustainability, climate, energy, or business, and the communities are supportive and keen. Websites such as Londonist and ianVisits makes it easy to be kept updated on things to go and see and do, from talks to museums, festivals to sheep drives (yes, it’s a thing). There are hundreds of Meetups, and thousands of events on Eventbrite. And as much as people complain about the tube, public transport links makes getting around London quick and easy. You really never have to be bored.

I already have more friends in London than Manchester. Not only have I been able to reconnect with some old friends from when I last lived here, I’ve found it easier to meet people here. London has many people coming and going (either for a few months or a few years), resulting in more people are wanting to build new social circles. Compared with other UK cities, London is more multicultural, with more Europeans, Australasians, South Africans, Americans (North, Central, and South), and East Asians, making it easier to create multicultural friendship groups - which I find often lead to more interesting and satisfying relationships.

So, how to meet people? This is something I’m still working out, as I’ve never been big into nightlife, the “traditional” way to meet people. There are a huge number of Meetup events, although your mileage might vary - the “let’s go to a pub and chat” or “networking in a bar” ones typically aren’t great as they’re too noisy and the quantity of creepy guys is too high, but “themed” or interest-oriented ones (e.g. philosophy, psychology, book clubs, board games) provide a better opportunity to make genuine connections. I’m considering starting a meetup of my own in the coming months, the goal being to attract people with similar interests to myself.

I’ve joined a gym, although it hasn’t had as much of a community as I’d hoped when I signed up. I’ve recently started attending social sports (e.g. touch rugby), where there does seem to be more of a “let’s play then head to the pub” vibe. I have friends who followed this path and have met many of their good friends this way, so it’s definitely something I intend to pursue further over the coming months.

London’s “new to town” nature seems to make meeting people for dates easier, as many people move to the city single, and most single people use dating apps. I haven’t found the right woman for me yet, but I’ve been closer than in Manchester. Additionally, Bumble’s BFF and Bizz modes are worth a punt - I’ve met a few guys through them. I have a female friend who uses BFF and she’s met dozens of girls - so while it’s okay for guys meeting guys, I think it’s far better for girls meeting girls.

In general, making new friends as an adult in the 21st century is not the easiest task. The lack of community-level organisations (e.g. churches, village halls) makes it harder to join an established group, the increase in mobility results in people staying in an area for less time, working from home makes it harder to befriend colleagues, and more at-home entertainment (e.g. Netflix) and the higher prices of out-of-home entertainment (e.g. beers) discourages heading out of an evening. However, with so many people in London, and so many people wanting to make new friends, the solution is simple persistence.

Of course, you can’t really talk about living in London without talking about money. My rent has almost doubled, and at the same time I’ve gone from living in an apartment alone to sharing with another person. Eating and drinking at pubs and restaurants is more expensive, and given London life is more social, I’m doing it a lot more. Tube fares quickly add up.

My costs definitely went up more than my salary did, but my increase in life satisfaction more than counteracts it.

Living in London doesn’t have to be too expensive either. The easiest way for money to disappear is the forementioned bars and restaurants, so eat at home (excluding delivered meals) or invite mates over for drinks. You will need the tube given the size of London, but many areas are very walkable, and buses are surprisingly cheap (~£5/day for unlimited travel!)

Overall, it’s bloody brilliant to be back in London. Compared to Manchester, London has more opportunities, more variety of events and things to do, and is more multicultural. I’m far happier. The weather seems better too (although autumn has suddenly hit so ask be again in six months!)