Going back to San Francisco I had conflicting feelings. When I left I knew that I would return one day to live for a long time. After dreaming about moving there for 15 years and having the best time of my life while I lived there, I had developed the feeling that SF was my place. And then that feeling was confirmed as I saw other cities around the world and still maintained a love for SF. So naturally I was worried that I was setting myself up for trouble. Would I be able to leave once I returned? Or once I set foot back in the city I saw as my place would I want to forsake my plan to continue traveling and settle back into a new version of my old life?
At the same time, I was looking forward to it. I was about to return to my place as my enhanced self, and even better I was about to see all my close friends and family who still lived there. The anticipation was palpable.
Both the worry and excitement stemmed from a strong love for the city. So imagine my surprise when, after just three days, I was ready to get the hell out of there.
It felt so strange to be back. The city still looked like San Francisco but it didn’t feel like it. Something had shifted. I don’t want to repeat the conversation that everyone is having about the gentrification of SF, but suffice it to say that I felt it was no longer the city I had idolized since I was 8 years old. It’s hard to express what exactly it was – I could talk about any of the usual suspects like the unavoidable homeless situation or tech industry dominance – but in the end it comes down to a feeling. In the year I was away, we, San Francisco and I, had grown in different directions.
Being back around talk about rent prices, office life, and IPOs was jarring. There were times I went silent and just observed the conversation around me. It wasn’t just an inability to contribute but a feeling of distance. The subject matter was so vastly different from what I had grown used to and, in all honesty, not something I missed. I had spent a year talking to people who found value in experience not in the workforce, and it’s not that either one is better than the other it’s just a difference of opinion. I had chosen the experience, removed myself from the workforce, and fallen in love with that decision. Now that I was back in that world I could see just how divergent I felt.
I was happy I had planned the trip to wander around Vancouver Island for 6 days. I needed to get out of there, and the first night sitting next to a campfire on a random beach underneath the stars I felt more like myself than I had the whole week. It was a necessary break from the shock of returning.
When I went back to SF the second time I felt much better. This could partially be because the first week back was such a whirlwind of seeing people, trying to say hi to everyone I possibly could while I was in town (something I did to myself and in no way regret), and this time I was much more low key. But I think it also has to do with expectations. I had gotten the initial “this isn’t what I thought it would be like” out of the way and was okay with the fact that I did not want to be there. I was even happy about it; if I had still felt such a strong connection to the city then it would have been much harder to leave again. How things turned out, I have no doubts in my mind about staying away for a couple more years. It made the nomadic choice easier to accept that I thought it would.
Having said all that, I am incredibly happy I went back to San Francisco en route to Vermont. I couldn’t imagine not having seen my SF friends when I returned to the US and I had a fantastic time catching up with them. I was able to celebrate my birthday and my friend’s birthday in the same week with tons of friends at some old favorite places and with food I didn’t even know I’d missed (BBQ and tacos); I got to experience some of the best parts of wedding planning with my sister and her fiance (a catering tasting and dress shopping); I played laser tag in the streets of the Marina to celebrate the big 3-0 with the craziest twins I know (it was as fun as it sounds); and from brunches, lunches, and dinners to late nights at apartments I got to be a part of my friends’ lives again. It was everything I wanted my time in town to be and I thank you all for welcoming me back with open arms.