The years between being a teenager and becoming an independent adult are a time of shifting homes and self-exploration. Many young adults leave their childhood homes to attend university, forced to create a new temporary home.
They grow and their personalities develop and they find that their childhood home is lacking, while their new home still feels, well, too new to be stable.
A friend of mine confided in me that she had returned home from college for Christmas to find that things were different. Her parents had plans to go out that night, her brother was out with friends and none of her own friends had returned yet. That's when she realized life had gone on without her. It feels weird, she said, to return and find that everything looks the same, but very little is.
There are two things I think we struggle with upon returning home after graduating high school: the realization that we've outgrown the past, and accepting that there's no future there for us anymore.
The former can be felt in many ways. It could pertain to friendships that have faded, friends that have moved away or, perhaps the most heart-breaking: realizing that you have no more in common with people you love.
It could be that you see everyone returning to their old ways, visiting the same venues, putting on the same acts, playing nice, when it's plain that things have changed. Letting go of the past is a bold and intimidating thing, and so often we delay it.
But if you move on amidst a group that refuses to, then it's easy to feel like an outsider.
The second reason we don't feel quite the same in our old homes is because we've realized our hometown lacks the future we now imagine for ourselves.
Noticing that the opportunities we want would never be found in our hometown almost forces us into preferring somewhere else. It's hard to reconcile the town we knew as granting us our first opportunities, and its present lack of mature opportunities.
Sometimes this makes my hometown feel foreign to me, like I've outgrown it, like I can't be of use to it anymore. It makes me feel like I don't belong and as if I were unwelcome.
But a big part of the problem (or at least my problem) is viewing the hometown through the lens of the past. The house where you grew up, the parties you hosted, the places you laughed and cried and whispered into the phone when your parents were sleeping, it's all tied to that house, to your home.
All your memories are interlaced with that home. To untangle it all and realize it's gone leaves you feeling hollow and nostalgic. Though it's necessary to move on.
In the "Great Gatsby," Fitzgerald writes, “It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.”
Adjusting our perspectives to the present by being rid of the lens of the past is a slow and trying process. It takes enormous effort to pull apart the people we used to be from the spaces we inhabited. When everywhere you look there's a memory, it's easy to get stuck.
But the more stuck we get, the more tension we feel, and the more life urges us to move on. So we do, I think, move past this point. We do so in our own time and in our own ways.
Life makes it clear after all that the norm is change. Life flows and shifts endlessly, so people adjust (even reluctantly) and grow. As dear as our old home is to us, unfortunately, it doesn't always belong in our future. It is to be cherished but not idealized.