Our Comfort Zone

On my second trip to San Francisco I bought a light green vintage t-shirt that said "I wish you were here." I did not even think twice about buying it. I did not try it on. I did not look at the price tag. As I packed for my third trip I made sure it was folded neatly in my bag. Unlike every article of clothing that I asked the necessity of as I attempted to downsize my luggage, this I packed without hesitation. This was my third trip to SanFransisco. The first time was with an old boyfriend when we were 21. The second time was just about eight months ago with a close friend.

This time I was visiting a friend from college, Holly, who was transferred here from New York and was only on her seventh week of residency in the Marina section of SanFransisco. Holly, without exception, is a talented person's "favorite person." She is naturally beautiful, equally inside and out, both fashionable in her introspective opinions and her ability to make simple style look genuine and sheek. By all standards, Holly is that girl that everyone can define by one word, "cool." I was drawn to her in college because of how outwardly different and inwardly similar we are. Like me she is down to earth, patient, low maintenance, strong, and reflective. Unlike me she is what her mother calls her "independent daughter." She is random in that she has a collection of friends that she has maintained through different ages and stages in her life that are very different from each other yet united by one very important and common love: Holly. I too feel successful about the variety and amount of relationships I have maintained over the years. The difference being that those people that are of a different age or at a different stage then me that I have remained close with are just not the people I call up on a Saturday night to see what they are doing. Holly does. Holly takes risks, accrues opportunity, and follows her heart. When she begins to feel comfortable with a certain place or a certain group of people … she makes a CHANGE. To her, there is not comfort in a comfort zone, there is danger. Danger in becoming closed mind to different types of people and different kinds of chances. Danger in staying still, in doing nothing, she thinks that takes no courage at all.

So SanFransisco, at this moment in time, is clearly the place for her. When I first arrived her small apartment was crowded with a few people who never met each other. They were all very different from one another, from their religion to race to sexual orientation to political affiliations. They truly embroidered each other's company immediately, curious about what the other did and loved, excited at the prospect of spending the entire night with brand new people. At first, I was a bit uncomfortable. Back home in Philadelphia the incidences of us having a get together with people that not only do not know each other, but do not know each other well are few and far between. The chance that I would walk into a party (as I did on this day) and someone would ask me what I am passionate about is extremely slim. For the first few moments of listening to these strangers converse and openly reflect on their feelings about their lives I started to feel bad about the fact that our conversations at home tend to center around wherever to go to Kildare's or the US Hotel. But I quickly realized that we do not spend as much time on these conversations because we usually know the answers, the people at my parties are usually my best friends. In many ways we look the same, act the same, and love the same things. So begins my process of trying to figure out whether this is a good thing … or a bad thing …

As we (the strangers and I) left Holly's one room apartment to head out to the bars, I commented how these living arrangements are in stark contrast to our at home. If you live alone in various parts of our city I assume it's because you have an exceptionally good job or you do not have that many friends. We live in big old houses with close friend's right down the street from all our other close friends. There are exceptions of course, our friends that have chosen to buy homes in places that are more affordable like New Jersey or the suburbs, our friends that have chosen to get married earlier and have committed to a lifestyle of going out to dinner with their " Couple "friends, having a glass of wine and coming home (that was a joke … kind of), our friends that have happily left the circle of people that at times can feel suffocating, monotonous, and dramatic. So of course the lifestyle I am about to explain is not representative of all the people my age that live in Philadelphia. But for the most part, the Californians were surprised to hear how many people our age freely choose our lifestyle. I would come to find out, that I was equally surprised to see how many people freely chose their.

In Philadelphia we barely leave our comfort zones. In our view … why the hell would we … we are very comfortable there (oh, and they hardly curse in California … another difference.) They noted on the cursing as much as they made me say words like "bad , "" Water, "and" towel "over and over again). Our circles of friends and acquaintances are filled almost entirely with people from the Philadelphia area. It is friends from high school; Friends from college, old boyfriends, friends from the shore, friends of our families, friends of our friends. When you meet someone new in your life, the chances are that they are already in someway connected with someone old. It is the familiar faces that you see in the same few bars on Main Street in Manayunk, and the same bar on Dune Drive in Avalon. The entire circle moves from their homes in Manayunk in the winter to their homes on Twenty-first street in the summer (I've been saying "one last summer" since I was twenty three … at twenty seven I've given it Up). We move in herds. We congregate in circles. We live in groups. And even pushing thirty this is yet to be uncommon, it's quite the opposite … still very desirable.

There's a shirt that they sell in the bar in Avalon that says "When I grow up I am going to go the Princeton just like my mommy and daddy did." If we continue on this path, although laughable, purchasing this shirt at some point is looking more and more likely. I thought of this shirt when one of the California people asked me about the dating scene in Philadelphia. I had to laugh at how my "dates" consist of going out with the same ten people to the same places and then seeing what happens at three in the morning. It's very difficult when you are brought up in a group of people to ever choose people and places outside your comfort zone. It's like groundhogs day … the same day over and over again. It can be frustrating, it can also be comforting. Although at times it feels lonely, it will never allow you to be alone. After many conversations with single friends in this situation we all agree that our future husbands and wives may not be staying in our present comfort zone … not for lack of effort either. There is some point when I guess you let go of the fairytale notice that we all will just grow up and marry each other and live on the same street forever happily ever after. While I can not say I have completely let go of that fantasy, we all recognize the need to "get out there" more … we just do not want to.

So if you are actively looking for your "soul mate," if you believe there is only one person you are mean to be with, you may think the chances are slim that it just happens to coincidentally be the guy that lives down the street in Man
ayunk or the one that stands in your corner at the Princeton. If you're looking to meet new people, start over, get a second chance, then move to SanFransisco. It's a place of new beginnings. Now you will not find a shirt there like the one at the Princeton. No one lasts long enough to establish a corner of the bar. The majority of people I met in SanFransisco were "transplanted" there, and they actually call themselves that – "transplants." They have made their friends through the jobs they moved out here for and by being set up by friends of friends who knew someone out here. They are less likely to belong to a group of friends and more likely to have a collection of different people that seem to me quite "random" and to them quite "diverse." I was so interested in all their stories, how they got here, how long they want to stay, what they'll do next. Most of them moved because of a job or because they wanted a change of scene, or they are simply bored by their lives. Many of them were afraid of being "stuck" somewhere without actually living their life or allowing anything new to happen to them.

When I have this fear, my first instinct in to move also. But I do not. When asking them how long they will stay most of them said they were unsure, "maybe a year or two." I could not help but wonder, "Are you happy here? Why do you only predict you'll only stay for such a short period of time?" I kept thinking, "Where is home to you?" As we drank more I felt brave enough to ask this question of them (since they asked what I was passionate about within minutes of my arrival … I felt I had the right to get a bit personal). Oddly enough most of them cited home as the place they originally came from. Again I could not help but think, "Then why are you running away?" I have come to understand though through keeping friends like Holly's and having a brother who took up traveling as soon as he was old enough, that its not that they are "running away" its just that they are more comfortable running. I assume they find home in pursuing their passion or constant change or a variety of things. Or maybe they are not in pursuit of home at all or just do not feel the need to be located there.

I see home in the route I drive to work from Manayunk to Devon even though it's the Schuylkill and there are not mountains and oceans in the background. I see it in my parent's eyes and the smell of Havertown in the fall. I see it in the way the air changes as you drive over the bridge to the shore and everything in that moment seems right with world. I see it when a friend from high school smiles across the bar, or we tease other in our group of friends not because we are tired of each other but because we just know each other so well. I feel it as the seasons change. I feel it when I drink too much but am not worried that I'd be left alone because I am surrounded by people that have known me well and love me for who I was, who I am, and who I will be. When I am away from this for too long I have this overwhelming homesickness. I enjoy traveling, especially to San Francisco. But as I walked the hills, adapted the architecture and the view that seemed to linger forever, as I walked into places that were often just as foreign to me as the people I was with, I thought of all those people that are "home" To me, I looked down at my t-shirt and could not help but think, "I wish you were here."

As my trip continued I learned even more about the culture of life here in SanFransisco and was able to remain open minded about the pros and cons. What they have provided for each other is a new beginning. They are unable to judge each other on their pasts but they are also unable to be forgiving because of them. They are able to be more understanding and accepting of the person you are not but less likely to understand the person you are. They are not suspicious of new people or exclusive in whom they invite on a night out or a weekend away, but they lack the mentality of a group of friends that is well established and close knit. There is something about the lure of a new beginning, just as there is something beyond compare about an old friend. It all depends on what you need to be happy. And for the most part, although everyone has a story, they all appeared very happy in their new setting. They took so many pictures of so many people on so many trips, I called these "activity weekends" in which they would spontaneously go hiking in Northern California or boating in Sand Diego or skiing in Tahoe. I could not help but feel jealous of the money they must all make to maintain this lifestyle, and how active they remain. I could not help but feel lazy and guilty about the fact that on our weekends … we sit around and drink. I could not help but feel proud of the fact that most of my pictures, however minimal, although not all photographs of beaches or ski slopes, contain images of my closest friends and are snapshots of memories that are significant to our lives in Philadelphia. To say that I know all these people in my pictures seems like an understatement until I came to California and realized how little these people know each other in comparison. It was obvious in the lack of inside jokes, or reminiscing, or the back and forth banter that is characteristic of close friends. I realize that I see safety in a comfort zone, I see loyalty, and I see unconventional love. "Safety," "predictable," "comfort" – these are all words that I now know prompt some people to Run and others to STAY. Maybe we can learn from each other.

As my trip winded down I was surprised to recognize that my longing for home this time was as strong as my desire to stay. While I was here I felt less burdened by the conventions of our day to day life, my outlook seemed more open minded, my thoughts more liberal, my goals more reachable, my mind more free. I had decisions to make, and I was able to do that out there. Maybe that's how you feel on any vacation, but this seemed different somehow. I learned a lot by exploring these two different but equally enticing atmospheres. I definitely need to travel more. When you leave your comfort zone, for any length of time, there is still a lot of courage needed and learning involved. Mine has been invaluable. What I know for sure is that home certainly is, as they say, where the heart is. Mine is in Philadelphia, nurtured and cared for by the people that define my comfort zone. I imagine I will raise children here one day whether or not I meet their father at the Princeton. I imagine that if I move cross country one day I would still need to be surrounded not only by people I love but by the people I love the most. I imagine that when I get home I will take a long walk on Main Street and wear my t-shirt and think of Holly in her great new city. I will think "I wish you were here" but I will know that she is where she should be just as I am where I belong … home.

Copyright 2005 Bridget Nolen