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Moving cities is heartbreaking | Cultspiracy

I’ve moved more than four times throughout my four years at Boston University. After spending my freshman year in Warren Towers, my friends and I moved into a lovely apartment in Kenmore. After developing some uncertainties about study abroad and summer internships, we decided not to sign the renewal lease. 

Since the start of senior year, I’ve been moving from sublease to sublease.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

I often think about the Kenmore apartment — it was perfect in every way. When we moved out last August, I was the final one to lock the door and hand in the keys. In the following weeks, I felt the heavy pain of longing every time I returned to my new sublease that felt so far from home. 

I started to read about the heartbreak of moving out. It seemed like a pretty common experience, at least according to the Reddit pages I found comfort in. Eventually, time moved on and so did I.

However, as graduation draws near, the feeling of heartbreak has slowly resurfaced. This time, however, it’s not concerning my Kenmore apartment — rather, I’m distraught at the prospect of leaving Boston. 

It’s obvious, but there is something validating about discovering terms or labels that describe a despairing experience. Knowing that such a phenomenon is so widely felt that it warrants a formal term helps to remove some of the alienation and isolation that often accompany feelings of hopelessness. 

As my heartbreak has resurfaced, I’ve been looking for a more apt term to express how I feel. Heartbreak doesn’t feel completely right. 

“Attachment theory” describes various attachment styles for personal relationships: secure, avoidant, anxious and disorganized. As I forecast my post-graduation sorrow, I have begun wondering whether I am anxiously attached to Boston. 

Attachment theory applies to how we emotionally connect ourselves with other people, but can it be extended to places?

There’s a vast literature on what is termed “place attachment,” which refers to “the unique emotional experiences and bonds of people with places,” according to social psychologists Setha M. Low and Irwin Altman.

Learning about place attachment has helped alleviate some of the worries I’ve had in the face of graduation. 

According to Low and Altman, place attachment considers a variety of factors such as the personal relationships developed, the amount of time spent in a place and geographic places varying in “scale, specificity and tangibility.”

So yes, being attached to a place is a real phenomenon, albeit different from the framework of the four-pronged interpersonal attachment theory. But rather than there being different styles of place attachment, the phenomenon exists in a manner that is all-encompassing of the factors listed above.

As a philosophy major, one of my primary interests lies in phenomenology, which is “the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This quite literally means that phenomenology is concerned with “phenomena” — how things “appear” to us, how we experience them and whether or how these experiences come to have meaning.

The connection between phenomenology and place attachment is necessary — they intersect the role embodiment plays in how we come to make spaces our own, as we make them into our home. 

Think about how the bare walls of your dorm room may have looked when you first moved in versus how they seem to you when they return to that barren state when you move out. Embodiment is a two-way street — as we begin to embody a space, the space in turn embodies us. 

This may seem like a pretty intuitive or obvious notion. However, upon finding the literature on place attachment, I’ve found a way to make sense of my emotional turmoil as graduation approaches. 

When I moved out of my Kenmore apartment, I remember feeling unjustifiably sad — why was I so distraught over a physical space? Was I crazy to be crying over some walls, a roof and a floor? Wasn’t this type of reaction supposed to be reserved only for ugly break-ups and other interpersonal affairs?

The notion of place attachment can be a grounding force for graduating seniors who are overwhelmed at the many changes they are facing. Moving is logistically stressful, of course, but it’s also emotionally taxing. 

As we move on to the next chapter of our lives, it is important to remember that as family, friends and partners become part of who we are and how we see ourselves, so do the spaces we inhabit and the places that offer us both memory and meaning.

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