Home is not a place but a feeling of belonging

As someone that has lived in three different states in the past three years, sometimes I feel all over the place. My heart yearns for places I’ve been, I miss the past—you could say I have a version of romanticized nostalgia, always wanting that precious moment of time and happiness slipping through my fingers.

That elusive moment where one feels completely content….and at home. Home is not a place, but a feeling of belonging. I grew up in Southern California (LA area) most of my life. I liked it well enough, even felt spoiled by it. There are some Angelenos who think LA is the center of the universe and anyone who’d ever leave is out of their mind. The weather is gorgeous, lots of diversity, arts and culture and of course there is the whole entertainment industry, which creeps into almost every aspect of life there.

It was a great place to grow up. It was an awesome place to have my first real job, working downtown, in the arts and having fun. But I never really felt at home in LA. I couldn’t really put my finger on it or explain it; it just didn’t feel like me.

I then left LA for graduate school in New York City. Everyone warned me. It’s hard, it’s tough, and you’ll either love it or hate it. I fell madly, deeply in love. New York is vibrant, the people are real (compared to some of the fakery you see rampant in LA), everyone is hustlin’ to do something and you could pretty much do whatever you want, whenever you want. Although, I fell in love fast it wasn’t always easy. The first six months were rough—I was an intense graduate program, I had almost no friends and for the first time ever I found myself in a long distance relationship. I felt so lonely and isolated—on the converse side of my mad love affair, New York can be really isolating. Somehow you are alone with everyone though, which provides some solace.

After two years in New York, master’s in tow, I was working, creating and having a good time. New York felt like home to me. I could see myself there for many years. But my heart ached for the one I loved and as I was done with school (and he wasn’t), so I moved to Portland, Oregon.

This was the hardest decision of my life, aside from deciding to go to graduate school. I had just moved from one coast to the other, and then I was returning back to a city that didn’t give me butterflies. But my partner did and he was there. At the time of the move, we had been dating 3.5 years and we survived the two toughest years doing long distance. I didn’t want to throw away my love and I knew I had to move if I wanted to make it work.

Moving to Portland at first was tough. Coming from LA and NYC, Portland seemed so small, white and un-ambitious. I felt like I didn’t fit in here. It did not feel like home, but a place to stay. If New York was my hot love affair, Portland was the nice guy next door that I knew was a good catch, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like him back. I’m a big city girl and prefer it that way, so the move was hard. Being with my love was great, but also brought its own set of challenges- re-adjusting to living together, adapting to a new city, finding a place together, finding work (which has been so much harder here than it was before!).

After 15 months of being in Portland, I have my ups and downs. Sometimes I can’t stand it here. The economy, the rain, the weather. My sunshine programmed LA brain can’t deal with all the gloom. Some days, like this weekend I fall in love with Portland. I love the great coffee, great beer, nature, people are so friendly and everything is so cheap (relative to where I’ve lived). It’s a nice place and I think I’ve just had a particularly hard re-adjustment period.

The main question now is where I will end up. My partner graduates in June and my contract is up in May. We are both not opposed to staying here if we find the right opportunities.

I’ve been thinking a lot about home and happiness lately because I’m reading a fascinating book, The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. The tag line is “one grump’s search for the happiest places in the world”. He travels to different countries, based on some interesting research and facts about happiness, to get the real scoop. Iceland is apparently one of the happiest nations in the world! Even with an economic crisis and crazy weather.

In the book, he mentions people feeling like they were supposed to be born somewhere else. In essence not feeling at home with where they live. I can relate a lot, as I never see myself going back to LA, much to the dismay of both of our families.  He also mentions people moving to other places and feeling at home, due to a better ‘cultural fit’.

I think about where I want to end up and the two places I feel at home are San Francisco, CA and New York City, NY. I do at some point want to live abroad as well, but that’s a different story. I’ve lived in New York and visited SF many times and have this overwhelming sense of calm, of place, of everything will be ok. Sometimes I feel like a stranger here, a tourist, waiting for the next opportunity.

Although SF and NYC are more of a cultural fit for me, is it a better economic fit? Of course my two cities of choice have to be the most expensive in the country. In some ways, I wish I didn’t feel that way. I wish I could be happier in Portland, as my rent will never be this cheap again. There are more job opportunities for me in those cities than there are in Portland, but you pay the high price of living. In Portland, I can pretty much figure things out pretty easily, at least to pay rent.

My biggest goals right now are paying off debt and finding a permanent job. Some days I wish it would happen in Portland, as if I made any kind of full time, permanent salary I know I can kill the debt quicker. But crunching some numbers, I realized I am taking home the relational equivalent that I was in NYC working three jobs. The cost of living in Portland is low, but so is the pay.

We’ll see where this year takes me—I’ll continue on my journey towards debt freedom and happiness.

Some questions for my readers:

Do you like where you live?

Where would you live if you could live anywhere?

What does ‘cultural fit’ mean to you?


13 responses to “Home is not a place but a feeling of belonging

  1. That”s interesting because we’re somewhat in a similar situation – I lived in both NYC and LA and survived less than a year. I loved the energy but had a hard time keeping pace, so I moved back to SD. I like the laid-back feeling here, but it’s so expensive so I’m not tied to it. Job opportunities and family proximity is what we’re evaluating to decide our next move.

  2. It’s funny, I just wrote about why I decided to go to Dallas after graduate school (like you, I’m from SoCal). I’ve decided that there are a lot of places I can be happy at – as long as they are warm enough and have the job opportunities that I want. There are cities where the pay is can be comparable or just a little bit lower than LA/SF/NYC (I’m thinking Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta?), but where the cost of living is so much more reasonable. Seattle is not too far from Portland, and my understanding is that job market there is better.

  3. Oh I hear ya! I’m totally going through this decision myself about where I want to live. I love the LA weather and lifestyle, but the cost is killing me with what I’m currently making. Even if I made twice what I made last year, I’m still not getting really far ahead in LA, which I guess is OK. I want to sign up for classes and travel, and I just can’t do that right now. I like mid-sized cities like Portland (I used to live in Seattle), but the weather would be so hard to go back to. I still don’t know what to do yet.

    • It’s hard making that decision, I know. The weather here is so tough on me coming from LA! At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for you.

  4. Feeling at home is so very important. I love the feeling of “home”. Knowing where you want to be and that you want it to be for the long run is a wonderful feeling.

  5. I’m on the flip side of your situation – I finally got back to Portland after being in the Bay Area for 6 years. I grew up on the east coast and fell madly in love with Portland and lived here for 10 years before heading south. Life in the Bay Area came together beautifully for me (great job, commute, friends, neighborhood, apartment) but every single day I knew I wanted to be in Portland. I finally made the move and haven’t regretted it a second.

    So my advice is, listen to your heart. I’d recommend SF over NYC based on where your family is (otherwise you’ll burn a lot of vacation time doing cross-country trips home), but if you want to be somewhere else, believe yourself and make it happen! Good luck.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence! I hope to make it to NYC or SF soon. Permanently. We will see, as my partner needs to finish school and we need to assess opportunities. I am warming up to Portland. I just have my days….maybe we can meetup?

  6. I moved to Michigan after graduating college and was miserable and lonely. Lived there 3.5 years before moving to Chicago. I lived in the suburbs for 3.5 years and downtown for about 7 months. Big city living is not for me by any means. I hated traffic and all the people and the expense!!! I don’t regret living downtown for that short time as I have many fond memories. I am currently living in Utah and I love it. This is the first time I can honestly say I love where I live. I just bought a beautiful house with one sweet mountain view, I have a great job and the best boyfriend I could ask for. It took me until I was almost 31 to figure out where “home” was for me. But I found it!

  7. I can relate to the cultural fit vs. economic fit situation. I currently live in the capital of Norway, Oslo, which is the biggest city in Norway, and thus the most expensive one. But this is where I like to live. I`ve lived 4 other places in completely different parts of the country, but I`ve never felt like I fitted in. I still don`t feel like that here in Oslo, but I think I like because here people come from all over the country, and from other european countries. It`s the variation I like. But the place I`ve ever felt
    most at home was actually a small fisherman`s village in Spain!

    • Oslo! I’d love to go there– by ancestry I’m Norwegian/Finnish. Interesting that you felt most at home in a small fisherman’s village in Spain….but Spain can do that to you, something so magical about that place. It’s hard when your cultural fit happens to be so expensive, but sometimes it’s the price to pay to be happy.

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