Chicago Suburbs: The Bermuda Triangle of Friendships

Chicago Suburbs: The Bermuda Triangle of Friendships

I love living in Chicago.  Congestion, concrete, the lady at Corner Bakery who curses out loud, to herself – love it, love it, and love her.  There’s something about urban life, with its unique combination of electricity, eccentricity, anonymity, and limitless possibilities that I, a former country bumpkin, thrive on.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying city dwelling is for everyone.  In fact, I avoid the city/suburb debate because, let’s face it, each of us is different.  It would be like saying we’d all look fabulous in a DVF wrap-around dress.  Nice in theory, but clearly not going to happen.

Yet there’s one aspect of city life that’s a big bummer and seems to be happening more and more lately.  In fact, I’ve experienced it three times since June, all with the same discouraging results.  So what is it about city life that brings me down?  It’s when friends move to the Chicago suburbs, never to be heard from again.

The phenomenon starts in a similar way each time, with grumblings about schools, sales tax, and street parking.  Before I know it, the movers have been hired, the boxes are packed, and we’re doing the good-bye, of-course-we’ll-still-see-each-other hug.

But something happens as their car zips up I-94.  That highway is like the Bermuda Triangle of friendships; people enter on their way to life in the suburbs and poof! – they disappear.  I’ve lived in other cities like NYC and Boston.  Friends there moved to Westchester or Wellesley yet still managed to stay in touch – and frequently.  What is it about the Chicago suburbs that turns 20 miles into a long-distance relationship?

While social scientists spend the next decade or so trying to figure that out, I’ve decided to create a screening process for potential friends here in the city.  I'm not trying to be a meanie – I’m just trying to reduce the number of sad goodbyes and missing person searches I’ll have to endure over the next few years.

Here are the questions:

1.  When you hear the words “tons of closet space,” do you ...

A. Shrug

B. Drool

2.  On a Sunday morning, would you rather …

A. Rake leaves/shovel snow

B. Do random acts of internal home maintenance

C. Hang out at a hip diner with the little ones, who spend their time running around with other little ones, annoying everyone in the place

3.  Do you talk incessantly about how great it is to live in the city, with all of its arts and culture, and then hardly ever take advantage of any of it?

A. Yes

B. No

C. I prefer not to answer (which means yes)

4.   When you think “play space,” do you picture…

A. Your basement

B. Little Beans Cafe and Kookaburra Play Cafe

5.  Do restaurant chains like Olive Garden remind you of…

A. College

B. Tuesday’s dinner

6.  When you need a caffeine infusion, do you envision…

A. A drive-through

B. A faux small town café that's filled with unemployed lawyers, wannabe writers, and double strollers that practically don’t fit through the door (and don’t let anyone pass by once they’re through)

7.  Is public transportation something you…

A. Enjoy seeing in movies

B. Enjoy seeing on the street but never use except when absolutely necessary

8.  When going food shopping, do you…

A. Grab enough groceries to fill the bottom of your stroller and hope there’s still enough milk at home for tomorrow - Oh, and then forget to pay for the items smushed next to sleeping child.

B. Take a full cart of groceries to your car, load up your trunk, park in your house’s garage and then have someone help you put everything away in your spacious pantry.

9. When out-of-town guests are visiting, do they stay in…

A. A hotel

B. Your guest room, which may also have its own private bathroom

C. Your guest bed, which during the day serves as your living room couch

What’s the 10th question you would ask in your city questionnaire?  Why do you think it’s hard to keep up friendships when one person moves to the suburbs?

By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop

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    I think the difference versus New York or Boston is that the cultural distance here is greater...not at the city limits, but beyond the first layer of suburbs or so. If your friends were going to Evanston you'd probably still see them, but Evanston is too urban for them I reckon -- Cicero and Berwyn certainly so. I guess you could say that the dynamics of it works out that many of the Boston or New York suburbs are really more analogous to our outer neighborhoods within the city, and the Evanston-like zone goes farther.

    Also, I think that the New York suburbanites have a higher commuter rail market share. This means that they can come into the city for leisure more readily without dreading yet another trip on the expressway. Basically, your #7 hits the nail on the head, because the way people get around says a lot about them. Most of Chicago, especially anywhere within 2 or 3 miles of the lake or so, really isn't that friendly to personal cars and never has been (with the exception of the Outer Drive outside rush hour, but when you get off, parking is convenient or affordable -- pick one), though people shoehorn them in. Most people in the farther suburbs probably don't like Metra very much and can't bother with city parking (or expressway traffic of which they likely get their fill when commuting).

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