My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
Of course, hometown visits can also be boring. Talking about the holidays with my friends after they’d returned from visiting family all around the U.S., boredom was as much a theme as regression. After a few days rooting through high school yearbooks and catching up with parents or siblings, people may start looking for other entertainment. I at least find that when I’m visiting my family, I turn to my phone for distraction even more often than usual. If other people do the same over the holidays, they may end up opening up dating apps. But apps like Tinder are far more novel in a place that isn’t where one actually lives, and they can end up being more than merely distracting, offering insights into one’s hometown, and a way to either regress back to a former self, or explore an alternate one.