Most Americans can claim a city of their own. They were either born there, or spent a great chunk of their lives there and have always felt welcome. Still, there are some of us who, despite our best efforts, consistently struggle to identify with those we live around. Below are ten things only someone who doesn’t have a true “hometown” will understand. For those of us who were born somewhere, but uprooted to another locale shortly after that moment, or who never seemed to make successful connections in any community we ever lived in, this is a list we might understand because, let’s face it, those of us without a “hometown” really face a special set of challenges.
Quick caveat with regards to military folks – because of the nature of the military lifestyle, support groups for soldiers and their families are often far more plentiful than those of non-military families.
1. We are unable feel “settled.” People without hometowns to call their own frequently try to settle in somewhere but, for whatever reason, it just never seems to stick. Either a career change, a challenge relating to neighbors, or a feeling that it’s just “not working” causes us to wonder why we can’t assimilate. We could live in the same place for years, even decades and, at some point, we feel completely isolation, smothered, or rejected. At that moment, the choice is often to make it work or move. Many of us prefer the latter.
2. We don’t “get” the local politics or rivalries. Understanding how the politics and rivalries of a city, town, or metro area is often essential to success. Folks without a hometown often have a very difficult time idea understanding this because, to us, it’s a foreign language we have to learn over and over, and it gets tiresome. We’d rather be hermits and isolate ourselves from the fray. In other cases, we regard it as trivial and nonsensical that something like a college or high school football game can create so much nastiness between communities.
3. Relationships are a dicey proposition. When people don’t have hometowns because they move from place to place, establishing lasting, meaning relationships is nearly impossible. As children, we often find ourselves isolated and shunned by others because we aren’t “locals.” Because of this, it’s often difficult to become the sort of “well adjusted adults” society expects to see of people. We want to love and be loved, but we are afraid of having to pick up and move and, consequently, harming those we care most about. Intimacy is often a matter of satisfying needs, and the bonds created become difficult to manage as a result.
4. Life is constant transition, so others see us as aloof and detached. When you don’t have a hometown because you move around, you develop defense mechanisms to protect yourself from the pain of getting close to people, only to have it turn to ash. For this reason, we are often seen, behaviorally, as not wanting to associate with people. The exact opposite is true. Most of us are seeking deep connections in order to create the sort of relationships and bonds we can carry with us. Unfortunately, we are so used to moving around, making these connections is, at best, difficult. For this reason, many of us often feel “lonely in a crowd.”
5. We tend to see minor emergencies others go nuts about as bumps in the road. A bounced check, a blown pipe, a flat tire; generally something an average adult would go cuckoo about, these are things which those of us without hometowns tend to look at and shrug our shoulders at. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking, and it can make us want to scream, but we do try our best to be reserved about it. After all, we have learned to be self-reliant, and these are just things which have to be attended to. They happen, and all we can do is learn from them and try to not repeat the pattern. That said, it doesn’t always work.
6. We are a contradiction of relying heavily on our inner circle, but are fiercely independent. Most people have a group of close friends and family who they know they can count on through thick and thin. We develop a strong inner circle who we will know will help us at the drop of a hat, but we prefer to be strong enough, both mentally, emotionally, and financially, to be able to “go it alone” if all else fails. Our independence means everything because, at the end of the day, we have nothing else.
7. We feel comfortable striking up conversations with perfect strangers. Because many of us have lived in different places, we are often able to pick up on human behavior and know when, how and why to say something. Others may find us intuitive, but that might be giving us a little too much credit. The reality is, we can seduce with the best of them, converse like experts at a French salon, and wax poetically like a Greek playwright.
8. We think nothing of packing up and leaving everyone behind. Others regard it as a moment for fanfare, parties and “good luck” cards. To those of us without a hometown, moving away is simply part of life, and it’s something we choose to do when we feel called to do so. It could be a career change, a life change, or simply choosing new surroundings. For others, it’s hard. For us, it’s merely another trail to blaze. The downside is that it can also make it hard for us to establish ourselves in one place for long and create a life which can be either emotionally of financially rewarding.
9. Romance is something we avoid like the plague. The problem with romance for those of us without hometowns is that all the preceding things conspire together to create mental and emotional scar tissue. The heart tends to harden with each break, and it becomes something which we prefer to avoid. Marriage is even more difficult to deal with, especially when our spouses have hometowns, because we have difficulty relating. Physical intimacy is especially frightening, because it requires we drop all our defenses and try to let someone else in when we know it could all end the next day for some reason.
10. Loneliness comes with the territory in social functions. When we are at parties, others could talk about schools or college and know each other for years. For many of us, that creates an awkward situation that makes it impossible for us to feel completely at ease. We cover it up by being either gregarious, or straight-out antisocial. It’s not personal, it’s simply how we operate because, honestly, we don’t know how to behave like most people.
Hopefully this list isn’t too presumptuous, but it is something which I chose to explore because, having been born in one city and moved around at critical junctures in my youth and later never really settling down, I’m certain others will be able to relate. Hopefully someone reading this will find some comfort knowing that another knows how they feel.
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