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Why Vancouver? Why You?

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Vancouver: A Love Story

By Sarah Miller

When people fall in love in the movies, it takes about two hours. They meet in some cute way like bumping into each other in a crowded hallway or getting into the same taxicab. There’s mood lighting, there’s a dramatic soundtrack and everyone has perfect hair. The happy couple might have to overcome an obstacle or two, but it all works out in the end—usually right after someone makes a bold “I love you” speech in front of a crowd of bystanders.

In my limited real life experience, love doesn’t work like that. Real love takes time. You have to learn the other person’s quirks, strengths and weaknesses. You have to go through different seasons of life together. You might even go through periods where you don’t like each other all that much.

My story with Vancouver is a little bit like that. It took us a while to get to know each other. I gradually grew to appreciate the city’s quirks, and embrace its strengths and weaknesses. There were many seasons of joy and depression and rain. It was far from perfect and definitely not love at first sight.
I moved here nearly eight years ago to finish what I thought would be a degree in music. I was twenty-two and firmly set in my young ways. I never would have admitted it if you’d asked me back then, but I thought I knew everything. For the first little while, I compared every new experience I had here with what I’d always known or done back home. In my mind, it never measured up.

I had never lived anywhere except my parents’ house in Edmonton, and leaving behind my family, community and beloved hockey team proved to be harder than I thought it would be. The Oilers had just completed their flash-in-the-pan run to the Stanley Cup finals, and I was sure that I was leaving the city just as it was poised to reclaim hockey greatness. Sadly, this was not to be—they haven’t made the playoffs since I left town.

The worst part was leaving behind absolutely everything familiar, including the people who knew me inside and out. I felt claustrophobic for the first year or so, as if the crowds of people, cars, tall trees and buildings were all pressing in on me. I had one friend in the whole city and she lived in a basement suite in South Van, while I was in a spacious but creaky old apartment up on the hill in Burnaby Heights. We spent a lot of time driving back and forth, and developed those deep bonds of friendship that can only exist between transplanted Alberta girls who miss the same big sky. That friendship was a godsend and it has lasted through all my years here.

In my first year I thought about moving back to Edmonton every single day. I would alternate phone calls between my parents and my best friend back home, complaining about the never-ending rain or how no one looks you in the eye here. I would talk about Edmonton to anyone who would listen. All of the beautiful things about Vancouver that I later came to appreciate—the ocean, mountains, amazing places to eat and explore—were lost to my homesickness.

It’s impossible to pinpoint an exact moment when things began to change. Slowly I started making more friends. I got plugged in to a church community and began serving there. I spent my first summer in Vancouver and learned how different the city is in the sunshine when everyone’s mood changes. I got used to having people around me all the time. I got really good at parallel parking. To my great shame I have grown fully accustomed to the mild climate here, so much so that I can barely stand the cold when I go home for Christmas. Last year I even caught myself wondering, “How did I live through this for twenty-two winters?”

The friends I have made over the years here have become like family to me. More than any beach or good restaurant or beautiful park, it’s the people in my life that are home. Being able to host holiday dinners with friends—most of whom are fellow transplants from other provinces—makes me feel settled here. I am blessed to have such rich friendships in my life, because I know not everyone in this city has them. For all its mind-blowing beauty, Vancouver can be a lonely place. I hope that as I continue to make my home here for years to come I can open it up to people and offer friendship to those who need it.

It took a while, but I love this city and my life in it now. Vancouver and I met each other in a completely ordinary way, and over the course of nearly a decade now we’ve been getting to know each other. I have grown to love and celebrate its many strengths, and still get frustrated by its weaknesses (cyclists on the sidewalk). Like any great love it needed time to mature. I needed time to mature. I needed to learn that I don’t know everything. Our story may not exactly be love like in the movies, but I guess this is my bold “I Love You, Vancouver” speech in front of a crowd of bystanders.

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