Jack Rubin, an acquaintance of mine from Park City, sent me an email with a comment on my post about people not being happy unless they are unhappy, and it got me thinking. He stated:
“A friend of mine gave me this theory a while ago; people say they want to be happy, but what they really want is to be in familiar territory. Comfort derived from personal historical norms is what is sought, not necessarily happiness. That might explain why abused children marry abusive spouses, etc. The more I have thought about it the more examples I can find. Perhaps that might explain some of the behavior you have noted in your piece.”
I think he has a valid point.
Seeking a comfort zone in our contemporary world isn’t the easiest thing to do.
We have become more mobile, more spread out and most of us are very likely to reside a great distance from the places and communities we were born in. We lived in Park City for almost 30 years, and it is a place nobody is from (of course there are some born there, but most adults migrated there). Rather than working for the same company or on a farm like my parents and grandparents did, my career has led me to travel all over the world and live abroad for a time. That’s something not many of the people in the 1977 graduating class of W.P. Daniel High School in New Albany, Mississippi had the opportunity to do.
No question that massive changes have occurred over the 46 years between a small-town graduation and where I am now. Technological advances, medical advances, and societal change have created a very different world than the one into which we were born, and most certainly a different world for our children and their children.
The concept of “home” has changed as well. When times were really hard and my wife and family needed safety, we went home to rural, small-town Mississippi– surrounded by family and lifelong friends – that’s isn’t nearly as possible as it once was. We carry our friends on our computers and phones today, but that phone doesn’t provide the same sanctuary as a shared physical location. This modern world of ours is not structured to provide the kind of solace we once had in the past. If you think about it, kids today have “friends” in the sense they are connected to a lot of other people, but how many truly close friends do they really have that they see in person on a frequent basis?
Having had a career in business for over forty years, I know there are limits to the span of control, communication, and information, and how difficult those are to maintain as an organization grows – I wonder if the same theories can be applied to the modern internet/social media world.
For a long time, I have thought that the reach of the Internet has become a net negative to the way we exist, and social media is one of the worst. I’ve thought for a long time that the greatest downside to social media is that we have exchanged the quality of friends for quantity of acquaintances – and it is even worse for kids who have grown up in this environment.
When I was growing up, I had maybe a dozen other kids I considered real friends. When I went to college, that number stayed relatively constant – I had many acquaintances, but none I would consider real friends. My closest friends were the ones from my hometown with whom I directly shared experiences in my journey to adulthood. Being a bit of an insecure introvert that was offset by bravado and arrogance, I preferred (and still prefer to this day), a very small circle of very, very close friends.
But I rarely engage in person to person contact with even my closest friends now because I keep up with them through social media and instant messaging.
It’s not the same as in-person, face-to-face contact and it makes me sad to think about what I have lost.
I evolved to this condition, but what about kids who begin at the point I am now? Are they mistaking acquaintances who barely know them for true friends? Are they being influenced by peers (and older people) whom they don’t really know and who do not know them in any meaningful way?
Could it be that people are getting married because they are “comfortable” rather than in love, and when the comfort fades, getting divorced?
When we communicate once removed the way we do today, we only show what we want others to see – and the “others” are doing the same. That’s not the case with friends who have personally seen you at your best, your worst and everything in between, and boy howdy, my close friends have seen me during some really interesting times in my life.
And I think this is what makes comfort and solace (or as Mr. Rubin termed it, “familiar territory”) far harder to find today than it has ever been.
Maybe it isn’t unhappiness that some seek, it is that they are looking for that familiar place and they can’t find it – because what they are seeking simply isn’t there.
Man, I knew you were a brudda. New Albany! So much of your point-of-view matches my own. I feel fortunate to have been raised in a small town, in the American South, connected in many ways to nature and physical reality (vs. virtual). Social media eventually rotted out some of my "friendships" (NO dissent allowed!) to where I simply deleted all of my accounts and set out looking for other ways to "connect". Substack has been very satisfying as a way to feel like I'm not a solo voice in the wilderness. Thanks for your eloquent contributions.
Michael - look up the word Hiraeth, a Welsh word that does not have a one word English translation.
I feel this way towards my home town that was literally destroyed by the progressives in what was called Urban Renewal. They even used the word Progressive in their selling of the concept to the townspeople during the 1960's.
It was a town of around 10,000 people, where we knew most everyone. We have great friends that we road bikes with, had picnics and cookouts with, studied with, and just hung out with. It was a very comfortable and safe place to be. And most all did not even lock their doors at night.
It was a town where many had guns, as it was home to Remington Arms, and never a school attack, or mass shooting, but there were shooting contests, and gun safety, and fish and game club, etc.
I so long for the old town, and the feeling that it held for me. Hiraeth - perhaps is what may be happening in several parts of the world, and yet not within reach.