After an afternoon of customer meetings, my manager and I were sitting at the airport, eating burrito bowls and discussing life growing up in a semi-major city (San Francisco) versus a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, where he grew up. He now lives in Oakland in a house that he and his wife, also from the same hometown, bought, but spent most of his time in the Bay Area living in San Francisco proper. I obviously live in New York City, and it doesn’t look like Chris and I have any intention of leaving anytime soon.
“Do you think you’ll ever move back?” he asked between bites of chicken and rice.
It’s kind of a loaded question for me. I love San Francisco. I love its easy proximity to the outdoors, the clean air there, its reputation as a progressive, open-minded urban area. I love the different neighborhoods and how different they are. I actually even appreciate the odd micro climates that vasty vary from district to district.
But like anyone who gets bored easily, who is constantly looking for something new and unique and different, who doesn’t want the same experiences as everyone else around her, I do not find the idea of moving back to San Francisco exciting or even remotely interesting or pleasurable. It feels extremely mundane and to a degree, almost like I’m saying that I’ve given up on life and am resigning myself to the same ol’ same ol’ that the people I grew up with have and continue to have. And that is… gross to me. I don’t want the same life, even if San Francisco is not the same as what it was when I left it as a permanent residence.
No matter where you go in this country, the average American barely lives 18 miles away from his/her parents or where s/he grew up. Obviously, a multitude of factors contribute to why this is the way it is, but what this ultimately says to me is that at the core, most people do not crave change or a different experience to what his/her parents had, or a different experience to what s/he grew up with. Or maybe they had their period or “phase” or whatever you want to call it where they spread their wings, flew away… but decided to come back to the nest because it was time to “settle down.” When I hear about old classmates living in the same neighborhood as their parents in San Francisco or god forbid, in the same house, I immediately feel disgusted and can barely hide it from my face.
It’s actually a bit of a tragedy to think that our parents and grandparents or even great-grandparents left their families and homeland for a better life here, so they were far bigger risk takers than this current generation when it comes to uprooting oneself and choosing a “better life,” however you would like to define that. And so I explained this to my manager today while at the airport. I told him I just think it’s boring to “settle down” in the same place as one grew up… because I don’t really want my kids to go to the same middle or high school or even be familiar with the exact same neighborhoods as I was. That sounds senselessly boring to me. The mindsets in a single place never really change, either, and the ignorances you experienced while there will still persist today. San Francisco is a city full of liberal-minded people who sometimes are so blinded by their beliefs that they just can’t see outside of their perspectives. Living in other places gives you perspective. They do not get this.
My manager, having grown up in suburban Ohio, found this really interesting because he always thought that people felt this way in very non-diverse towns, but had never really heard of a “city girl” like me, coming from a relatively diverse place, complain about lack of perspective and finding her urban metropolis uninspiring, or get irritated by the fact that people from her hometown just don’t want to leave or even entertain the idea of living somewhere else. “I guess any place can be perceived as boring or uninspiring regardless of how diverse and open it is if that’s what you are used to,” he responded. Closed-mindedness exists everywhere, no matter how “great” or “diverse” of a place you live. I told him even living here in New York, I get annoyed easily by people who were born and raised in the Tri-State area and make massively sweeping (and flat out wrong) generalizations of “Cali” or San Francisco or pretty much any place that they’ve visited briefly for a work trip or vacation, but just think these three states are the best possible places to live in the entire world. That type of thinking exists everywhere. People think that wherever they are, it’s the best place. Perhaps it is the best place for them if they want the same thing constantly and to never have their perceptions or levels of comfort challenged, but that doesn’t make it the best place period.
And also, “moving back home” is more complicated by the fact that I married someone who is not just not from San Francisco, not from the United States, and not even from the North American continent. So while it might be “moving back” for me, it would not be moving back for him. He has his own version of “moving back” dread that I have, but in a totally different country and continent.
It’s been over 10 years now since I moved to New York. I originally thought I’d be here only 2-4 years and leave to go back to San Francisco. Clearly, that never happened. And I’m still not bored of it here. This city pisses me off all the time, but I still love it so much. You can’t have love without some hate. And it’s got airports that can take me directly to so many great destinations.
“New York is just a travel hub for you and Chris to travel to other places!” my manager exclaimed, laughing. “This IS a good place for travel to pretty much everywhere.”
That is definitely true, isn’t it?