Returning Home: The Realities of Relationships

Ok after all my vague posts about being at home…These are my honest feelings on my adjustment to being home. Be warned: it’s long. And it’s a diary. But I guess I’m not good enough of a writer to succinctly tell you my lessons without giving you the whole back story…so here we go…

Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional roller coaster I would experience my first few months home. I experienced so many unexpected feelings, I felt like I was going crazy. It didn’t even compare to the stresses of traveling. WHen I returned home, I expected to be comforted. No surprises. But feeling lost in my own hometown left me uncomfortable, restless, and confused.

You might be wondering why the sudden change of mood since the last few entries have been about all the wonderful things about being home, and don’t get me wrong, being home has been glorious and humbling, but I knew there was something wrong.

The sole reason that really held me back from traveling was the idea of my relationships and friendships changing. It wasn’t the fear of not being able to pick up my career again, it wasn’t for my safety, it wasn’t for the lonely road. It was leaving my friends. I was finally in a place in my life where I was comfortable, happy, and grateful for the people I had been so lucky enough to call my friends, and I didn’t want that to change. But I knew I couldn’t let that keep me from taking the opportunity of a lifetime. And lucky for me, at my going away bonfire, my friends solidified my decision with more support than I could have ever asked for. “When you’re gone, don’t think about home. Because everyone here, is wishing they could be with you. And if you do, just listen to some Handful.” – David John. So off I went.

It wasn’t until this past December that I realized why I had been feeling so disoriented. I no longer felt that I was the one that left my friends behind, it was now them who had left me behind (unintentionally of course).

I still remembered David’s voice when I longed to be home. And I did listen to Handful. I created a playlist called “Home” of all of the fabulous musicians I knew in Seattle and listened to it whenever I missed home. And just like that, I was comforted with the memories of my friends back home.

Technology is crazy like that. I can be 7,700 miles away from home, but feel instantly connected with someone in seconds, and thanks to Skype, never miss a beat by getting some quality face time with everyone from around the world. Facebook made it so easy for me to see the highlights of everyone’s life, from engagements to baby news, career changes, etc. As long as we both made the effort, we were able to keep up with each other’s stories, and being able to chat about the day to day things made me feel like I wasn’t really missing all that much from home.

When Brandon picked me up from the airport the day I returned, I remember coming up northbound on I-5 and seeing the Seattle skyline start to peek out over the horizon. As we got closer, I remember feeling strangely calm. I was neither excited or sad to be home. In fact I didn’t feel there was anything special about my return. Everything looked just how it was when I left (minus the new ferris wheel in the skyline…that was weird), but I honestly felt as if I hadn’t been gone any longer than a week. Brandon still looked the same (though I was used to seeing his face on Skype often). And it didn’t seem weird to me that my best friend would pick me up after a short vacation.

I supposed my disorientation of home started when Brandon and I were passing downtown towards Kevin and Jamie’s house in Greenlake. The surreal-ness of seeing and being at home washed over me quickly as I tried to grasp my bearings and give Brandon directions. I hadn’t thought about navigating home in so long, that I mixed up exits and landmarks, and took us way north than we needed to go. To a place I call my second home, I couldn’t believe how much I had forgotten while I was away. And I know what you’re thinking, I’m asian and a woman, therefore a terrible driver. Well, A) Yes I am a woman AND a terrible driver, and I will fully admit that. but B) I have an excellent sense of direction and I’m a great navigator. Just ask any of my outdoorsy guy friends who have gotten us lost on a trail and went with my instincts (I got us back by the way). So the fact I couldn’t get back to some of my closest friend’s home, was in actuality, just hilarious.

But things shifted from hilarious to confusing over the next few months. In between the cheers and celebrations of being home, visiting all nostalgic places, and finding new adventures, I felt like something was wrong. At first I thought it was because I felt helpless being unemployed and living at home. It’s like I was cruising the world in a magic carpet and it suddenly unraveled and I found myself in the dust, unable to go anywhere. My friends were suddenly too busy to hang out beyond our initial “lets catch up happy hour”. As soon as I was “caught up” with people (somewhere around the end of summer), I had developed a lot of anxiety.

Why? To catch you up, I fell in love while I was traveling. And supposedly so did he. It was fast, furious, and a whirlwind of happiness. I made decisions I never thought I would ever make, which included the decision to return home with a boyfriend in tow! (This came as a miraculous shock to my close friends because I hadn’t had a boyfriend since 2008) He was still finishing what he had set out to do for his travels, so we agreed that he would move to Seattle in July and we would start to share our lives together. Unfortunately, like most of my dating experiences, it didn’t work out. In the most unfortunate way. I won’t go into the boring details, but I was left heartbroken, and while I put on my strong face and acted as if I knew it was coming, the truth was that I didn’t want to admit to myself that I made a decision based on a guy. I’ve always been the strong willed, unsettling girl, and I didn’t want to admit that I wanted to settle down. I wanted a home. I wanted a vegetable garden. I wanted a kitchen. But above all, I wanted to share all of those things with someone who wanted to share those things with me as well. The reality was, that the relationship I was counting on during my return home, no longer existed, and I had to decide what to do.

All this accumulated into a ridiculous dramatic breakdown at the end of summer, and when I was ready to just throw everything out and take off again, I was reminded by Brandon the other reason why I came home. Using a sneaky shortened URL, Brandon sent me an article he said he read once that was inspiring and he thought I would find useful.

I laughed and cried when I realized what it was. And it was in that moment, I realized that my home is wherever my inspiration and love lives. In that moment, Seattle was definitely winning. I was reminded of all of the built relationships I had here, and that none of my traveling meant a thing, if I didn’t have someone to share it with. As a solo traveler, that someone is everyone back home. I found a beautiful quote while watching a Ted Talk about traveling that summed it all perfectly:

“It’s only by stopping movement you can see where to go. It’s only by stepping out of your life and the world you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home…Movement is a fantastic privilege…and it allows us to do so much that our grandparents couldn’t have dreamed of doing. But movement ultimately only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. Home is not just a place where you sleep, it’s a place where you stand.” – Pico Iyer

So, everything seemed right in the world again. I was inspired to take charge of my life, and rebuild what I had, with or without someone by my side. I started my internship at Global WA in September, and started focusing on what new goals I wanted to pursue. Things were going pretty swimmingly, and I even landed myself a job great job in November!

By this point, I was realizing how long I had been at home (7 months), and couldn’t believe how little I had accomplished both professionally and personally. I had hardly gone on as many backpacking trips as hoped, nor was I able to get into new hobbies (due to lack of funds). The unsettling truth was that while I was busy starting a new life, my “old life” wasn’t keeping up. I had new friends, who I loved, but it was increasingly harder to keep up with the friendships I was so afraid of losing to begin with.

I felt out of place when one day I realized in an awkward car conversation that I didn’t know where Ashley’s boyfriend John worked. She’s one of my best friends, and the fact I couldn’t even remember where he worked confused me. It seemed like a minor detail that I would easily have known if I hadn’t been gone for so long. It wasn’t until one December day, Ashley surprised me with the fact that John had proposed. While I was ecstatic for this news, I felt like a ghost. My best friend was about to spend the rest of her life with someone who I hardly even knew!

Ashley and John were steady but nowhere near marriage before I left to travel. In fact once, John had jokingly tried to  fake propose to her just because he knew she would be angry with him about it. Because it would have been ridiculous, and like me, Ashley has long been the perpetually single lady. We both shared similar relationship woes, and the fact that what we have always talked about in theory (being proposed to, planning weddings, etc), was actually happening. I felt like we suddenly went from young professionals, to a whole other stage of life. You’ll have to understand she is the first of my circle of friends to get engaged. It just seemed like a strange reality. But the fact remained: My best friend was about to spend the rest of her life with someone and I don’t even have his number in my phone. WHO IS THIS PERSON?

I was scared, confused, and I couldn’t understand why! I was ridiculously happy for Ashley, and yet I felt like life was passing me by. That was when I realized, that’s what was happening exactly. Life at home was passing me by. This is the biggest sacrifice to long term traveling, in my opinion. The fact that life moves on with the ones you love, and you are simply not a part of it. You just can’t be. Even with all the technology in the world. You are not physically there to share and create memories with them, you can’t spontaneously bring a gift to cheer a friend up, you can’t hold their hand to comfort them, you can’t spend an evening celebrating an accomplishment.

I was so worried about keeping a friendship, I didn’t think about what was needed to help it grow. My friendships did not diminish while I was away, but they certainly did not grow in strength with me. They grew with everyone else around them. I don’t think there would have been a way for me to accomplish that without sacrificing much of my experience abroad. Even though Brandon and I maintained close contact, I wasn’t here to go on road trips, or go to family events, or start a blog like we always said we would do. He found someone else to partake in those activities, and essentially, I just missed out.

I missed being a part of my friend’s lives. I wasn’t there to create memories. I wasn’t there to share the troubles and celebrations of a friend’s relationship. All of this broke my heart. It was time that I knew I would never get back.

I missed all of Ellie’s birthdays because I had been traveling, but I was so happy I got to finally spend one with her his year!


This has been the hardest realization for me upon my return from traveling. While I was off gallivanting and sharing stories of my adventures, my parents grew older, my little brother was no longer little, my single circle of friends were all off getting married, and many other types of relationships have continued to move forward. And I wasn’t a part of any of it.

I didn’t even know what my identity was anymore. Instead my friends introducing me as “Sandy, the girl I go backpacking with”, I was “Sandy, the girl who travels”. Even months after being home again. And to be honest, I was tired of talking about my traveling. I wanted that part of my life to be over. I just wanted to move on and get back to my life before I traveled. But the realization, was that everything I left behind, was no longer there. I had returned to everyone in new stages of their life.

This made me feel as if everything I had accomplished prior to traveling didn’t even matter. I felt that my only identity now was travel related, and I didn’t like it. What happened to all the hard work I put into things like the Seattle music community, my first half marathon, and my career? I felt like none of that mattered to anyone else, and I was just adrift in the sea of friends.

Now…I was gone just 13 months…my theory is that if I was gone longer, it might have made this transition easier. I probably would have been in a completely new phase of my life as well. The fact that I returned at a point in time where people my age are making major life changes, and I was just returning from an extended vacation could make anyone feel at uneasy. But I definitely think it is something to consider when considering long term travel. Everyone told me that home will always be the same, but for me that wasn’t true.

Quality time is so important to me, and I wish I had considered that consequence while traveling. How would I feel being left out of everything? It may not have changed my decision to travel, but I wish someone had prepared me for the relationship shock I would experience. It’s ridiculous for me to expect my friends to not have had amazing experiences while I was gone. I’m amazed at my own selfishness sometimes.

Now that I’ve come to this realization, I’ve made it a priority to spend quality time with my friends, and try my best to just go with it. Ashley asked me to be a bridesmaid, which is rather exciting, since I don’t have any girl friends, let alone close ones. I may not have been here for the growth of their relationship, but man am I thankful that I get to be here as they step into this adventure called life together. Hopefully we and others in my life can continue to share more memories together and grow in life together.

*Sorry this is the downer entry…I’ll write one soon about all the awesome things in my life next. 🙂

2 Responses

Leave a Reply