In most places in the world it’s very difficult and uncommon to leave the city where you live or to move classes. I’m beginning to learn that while the US is the land of opportunity, leaving where you came from is still not easy.
I grew up in the county seat of a farming community in the heartland of America. My hometown has 4,000 people, so even if you don’t know everyone by name, you still recognize the regular faces in the grocery store. Life out there is simple in a way that only people that have lived in bigger cities could understand. The simplicity is represented in the lack of traffic lights or the churches that outnumber the bars, 5 to 1. I didn’t recognize the simplicity when I lived there, feeling like it was suffocatingly small and looking for every reason as to why I should leave my hometown. I found my escape to do that through men.
I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 18, disagreeing with their beliefs on how I should behave and feeling betrayed when they comforted an ex boyfriend of mine during our breakup because he didn’t have the same family support I had come from; my family had become that for him. Full of piss and vinegar I moved out to the country with my friend Jessie, only to learn she wasn’t the quality of friend I thought she was. I went to a technical college that was the next town over and was actively dating. During that time I met a guy, Nick, that was a total asshole to me from the beginning, but I seemed to be drawn to that after my last serious relationship was a guy I could walk all over. Nick lived about halfway between my hometown and Madison. As I was finishing up my Associate’s degree I moved in with him and commuted to school every day. Our relationship didn’t even make it 9 months as I realized how toxic we were. Thankfully I had less than a month left of school and had plans to get a job and move to Madison.
During this same time I met a guy, Tim, at a wedding that I’d gone to with a groomsman (who I’d made clear I was only friends with, but I knew he wanted more). Tim was the best man in the wedding and it was love at first site. I can still remember everything about my first time meeting him and interacting with him. I couldn’t even contain my flirting with him that evening, even though I knew how disrespectful it was to the guy I’d gone there with. I’d lost all self control.
He lived in Madison and came to my graduation. Shortly thereafter I moved in with my aunt and uncle that had just relocated to Madison, but spent most of my free time with Tim. I became to know the city through him, which essentially meant knowing the west side and eventually moving out into the suburbs with him. We parted ways after 5.5 years and I moved into an apartment in that same suburb.
A couple months later I decided to enroll in a global MBA program that would require me to quit my job and live in 5 different countries throughout the course of it. I ended my job in April and decided to take the summer off and move back to my hometown. That lasted two days. I realized that as an adult I couldn’t live with my parents again and no longer knew how to live in a small town; I had somehow outgrown it. I instead split my weeks between my hometown and living in another Madison suburb with a new boyfriend, Brett, before leaving.
I changed a lot during my time overseas. And, I realized pieces of me were being scattered everywhere. There were a lot of places I could see myself living. However, the hard truth was if I wanted to continue my (currently long distance) relationship it would require me to move back to Madison. Furthermore, the recession hit while I was overseas and my strongest network of potential employers was in Madison.
I got a job just a short couple of months after returning and settled into living in the suburbs with Brett. He promised to be open to the idea of relocating for his job, in knowing how much I wanted to spread my wings again. I felt unsettled in coming back to Madison, like all the things I’d learned and experienced during my time overseas were just a dream. On New Years Eve he told me that his company was looking at him for a position in Fargo. North Dakota. Yep. That Fargo. Thankfully he didn’t get that job, but instead got one in the Quad Cities (Moline, IL; Davenport, IA; Bettendorf, IA; Rock Island, IL). I very reluctantly relocated with him, but kept my job. I commuted during the week and then worked from home another couple of days a week. Quad Cities was not an area I felt was home and I think Brett and I both knew it. We broke up after 2.5 years and I had no option but to move back to the Madison area, where my job was.
I moved into an apartment in a Madison suburb and dreamed about where it was that I was going to live next. I’d looked into getting a visa to move to London. I talked to my friends in DC and started actively looking for jobs out there. All I knew was that Madison no longer felt like my home. About 8 months after moving back to Madison is when I met my KISA. He lived in downtown Madison and I began exploring that area of Madison, which I really hadn’t done in all the years I lived there. I fell in love with a different part of the city and we bought a house downtown. We spent a year and a half living downtown, but found that Madison still wasn’t our city. We were having trouble finding like minded people that were in relationships, but still wanted to go out. Plus, many of our friends had kids. He’d always spoke of his desire to move to San Francisco. I wasn’t opposed to it – my only desire was to live in a big city again.
We made our way west to San Francisco at the end of last January. We found it to be polar opposite of Madison in the sense that everyone goes out and many people are single. To have a kid in your late twenties or early thirties seems to be unheard of with the people we hang out with. We have embraced feeling youthful and he is officially home. I still am not, though. I love the city, don’t get me wrong. And, I’m doing what I set out to do. But, part of me feels like it’s not home for me. It’s not somewhere I’d see raising my kids. There aren’t a lot of people that share the same values as me. I feel like a prude because I don’t binge drink, I’m not into drugs, and I’ve never had casual sex. I’m not saying everyone here is like that, but there definitely seems to be a lot of them. I don’t feel like I belong in the vibrant energy that is San Francisco.
The problem is I no longer know where home is. I couldn’t live in my hometown or Madison as I feel I’ve outgrown them. I feel like I’m too old for San Francisco. Is it possible I’ve wandered too far and am now lost? Too far gone to go home and now homeless? Pieces of me are everywhere so will I ever be whole? Is there a place for people that leave their hometown but still want to keep their old values?