I have made plenty of questionable decisions in my life based on my overexposure to the media. None of those decisions have been more questionable than the time I decided to move to southern California because it looked good on The O.C.
Before we delve into my epic folly, let’s talk about The O.C. for a second. We all know I love Gossip Girl, but before Josh Schwartz introduced us to the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite, he introduced us to the equally scandalous lives of Newport Beach’s elite. In fact, the first time I saw Gossip Girl, I was disappointed in how serious it was compared with the funnier vibe of The O.C. (though this changed in later seasons as GG went further into campiness and endless waffle jokes). The point is, The O.C. was my first love when it comes to shows about spoiled teenagers. The first two seasons were great; Marisa wasn’t that annoying yet, Anna was still on the show, and just like Gossip Girl is really about the friendship between Serena and Blair, the best part of The O.C. was watching the friendship between Ryan and Seth grow and develop. We learned about Chrismukkah, we overused “Welcome to the OC, bitch!” as a catchphrase, we were introduced to Death Cab for Cutie. They were the glory days, and I will not discuss the later seasons where Marisa dies and no one ever shuts up about Taylor Townsend. Those seasons never happened.
The O.C. was the second show that I was really obsessed with, in an overzealous “I need my life to be like this” kind of way. (The first show was Sabrina, The Teenage Witch; I distinctly remember being nine years old and wishing really hard for magic powers so that I could be just like Sabrina. Shockingly, this also did not work out for me.) Anyway, I think my obsession was largely due to the theme song. “California, California, here we coooooooooome.” Phantom Planet is the reason I got irrationally excited every time I got to drive on the 101. The song and the show made California seem like such a mysterious, glamorous, amazing place. I wanted to go to there. So when I got a job offer right out of college to move to the Golden State, I jumped.
Unfortunately, as a native east coaster, I didn’t really understand California. Specifically, I did not understand that Newport Beach was not, in fact, representative of the entire west coast. I have been to Newport Beach approximately twice, and it is just as posh and lovely as the television series portrays it, which means I cannot afford to live there. The rest of southern California is also lovely, but in a way that the O.C. had not prepared me for. Specifically, Seth Cohen was nowhere to be found. Every time I met a cute, dark haired witty nerd, he was inevitably visiting from San Francisco.
No, instead of finding a Seth, I found myself becoming a Ryan: an outsider who was never quite going to fit in, sat around brooding at parties, and wore a lot of tank tops. Unlike Ryan, I wasn’t from the wrong side of the tracks – I was just from the wrong side of the country. Sure, plenty of people move to California and easily take to the sun and the surf, I just wasn’t one of them. Maybe living in a house with Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows would have helped. Frankly, I don’t really know what it was about California that never really clicked for me; maybe it was just the unrealistic expectations imparted by a TV show. All I know is that California never really felt like home.
My point is this: do your research. When you decide that you might love a place because of how it looks on TV, perhaps do a weekend trip and check it out before you relocate your entire life there. I wouldn’t say I regret moving to California; I just wish I’d loved it the way I thought I would. It is entirely possible that I just didn’t try hard enough, but on the other hand, I’m now living in a fantastic new city where I feel like I can fit in without having to try. I have this theory about places: they’re like relationships and jobs and pretty much everything in life. You can make just about anything work, but some things are just a more natural fit that make things easier and more fun for everyone involved.
And having said all that, I’ll leave you with this: even now, with my lessons learned and a moving truck full of my stuff headed far away from California, listening to that Phantom Planet song still gives me goosebumps. There’s always something to be said for pursuing your dreams, regardless of the outcome or the absurdity of your motivation.