I moved to London just before my 29th birthday. I'd flirted with the idea for years before that, but I loved Dublin (still do), I had plenty of friends there, and work was going well. The primary motivation behind my decision to move was the imminent arrival of my 30s. The first real arbitrarily assigned milestone that makes you question/doubt/hate everything in your life, it probably wasn't the best time to make a massive decision, but off I went.
I was very lucky when I did it, because it was a choice and not out of necessity, and I knew lots of people there. I wanted to live in London because I was restless. I wanted new experiences, to perhaps broaden my career prospects – or at least, be in a place big enough for those things to seem genuinely possible.
I don't have a particularly idealistic view of London. I'm well aware of its flaws. It can be an infuriating, dysfunctional, depressing and alienating place. But, on a good day – and there are many of those in this city – nowhere else can make you feel more alive. The buzz and the energy of London are palpable the moment you step out into it. You have a staggering level of choice here in just about every respect: entertainment, dating, accommodation, work, social groups – you name it.
Yes, it's a huge place, but it can also be only as big as you need it to be. It gives you the option to be as safe or adventurous as you like– and the comfort is that you know you can dramatically shake things up or reinvent yourself just by hopping on a Tube or making a new acquaintance. Every different part of this city is like a new city in itself.
London is the "one eye constantly looking over the shoulder" city – everyone is looking for something or someone better or more exciting. Yes, that can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening, but it's also addictive. It adds a competitive edge to living here.
Even after four years, I still feel like I haven't cracked London yet. If I were to leave now, it would have bested me. As it happens I just spent the weekend seeing London through the new eyes of a friend visiting for first time. Seeing his astonished reactions to the scale and variety around him, it made me realise I've been taking the place for granted. And it's inspired me to make some changes. Time for another classic London reinvention.
Will I stay here forever? Living in London is like a sneaky afternoon nap or going to the pub "for one": the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave. Most people here seem to reach the five-year anniversary, and then have a major rethink. Some move on, some move back, and some stay put. Maybe ask me that question again this time next year. But for now, still, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent