From a young age, I knew I didn’t want to spend my life in Muncie, Indiana. Reared on cable TV, I was hungry to see firsthand the worlds that gleamed at me through the box in the living room. Not to speak ill of Muncie, but it lacked the heart-quickening electricity of places where people spoke different languages, cut deals in the streets, rode trains underground and ate rice and raw fish rolled in seaweed.
The older I grew, the more I yearned to leave. Some of my reasons were superficial. For one, I simply couldn’t abide telling old friends who were moving on to Chicago, Seattle and New York City that I had settled down in Muncie.
So I left. But a series of events, some of them unfortunate, landed me in Muncie again during a significant stretch of my mid-20s. And this time, I not only wanted, but needed out — for a very visceral reason: I was lonely.
Being a college-educated, single 26-year-old in Muncie, Ind. is like being an endangered species. And this NY Mag article suggests that living there during that time could have been bad for my physical and mental health.
The article’s author — a long-time New York resident — uses data and scholastic opinions to back up her argument that, contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers aren’t lonelier than Joe Six-Pack and Jane Wine-Box. She argues that rather than atomizing people, New York and other large urban communities draw people together. She says that community virtues are stronger in New York City than in, oh, say, Wasilla, Alaska. And she says that this may make New Yorkers both happier and physically healthier than, oh, say, people living in Muncie, Indiana.
I’ll be returning to Muncie tomorrow for Thanksgiving. And when I do, the gray, ineffable mist of loneliness will descend upon me. It always does. I always assumed it was because the place is literally a ghost town of memories for me. But maybe that melancholy is radiated out toward me by Muncie itself. If cities are less lonely than their small-town counterparts — and if major metro areas rather than Middletown, USA are the “ultimate expression of our humanity” — maybe that is the source of my Muncie-borne malaise.
This is not to suggest that Muncie is incapable of fostering meaningful, authentic, fulfilling relationships. If you’re a member of a large, healthy, tightly-knit family, or if you are active in a large community through church or or an educational institution, then you probably can live a perfectly healthy, happy life in a place like Muncie. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy any of those luxuries. And believe me, it got lonely.